Grant writing classes traditionally don't draw a crowd. In fact, some were canceled 20 years ago for lack of interest on the part of state and local agencies, nonprofits and other groups.
Even much more recently, Housing and Urban Development Field Services Director Tony Ramirez said a workshop would draw only about 40 people.
But the recession changed that. As Ramirez opened a training session in Reno on Tuesday, he told the crowded auditorium at McKinley Park school they were among 170 who signed up for the two-day workshop.
That was the capacity of the room, he said, forcing them to turn away dozens more who wanted to get in.
Those attending ranged from state employees to Reno, Sparks and employees from every surrounding county as well as a long list of nonprofit corporation workers. At all levels, those entities have seen the pot of money they rely on shrink or disappear, making federal grants much more important to support programs and services.
"There's a lot more interest," said state Director of Administration Jeff Mohlenkamp. "Usually this is a small event. This is not small. This is terrific."
Mohlenkamp told the audience what they are learning is especially important in Nevada because "the state of Nevada has a very low return of federal dollars." It has been estimated the state gets back only about 77 cents for every tax dollar it sends to the federal government.
That doesn't mean there isn't money available.
"We just don't do the job in getting grants," Mohlenkamp said. "This is one of those efforts that's going to turn the tide."
He told the auditorium the state has finally begun to realize the importance of aggressively seeking federal grants, creating a grants management office in the last legislative session. While that office is small, he said it will do its best to help those seeking federal awards by communicating grant opportunities, working with locals and nonprofits and helping with administration of grants after they are awarded.
Ramirez said the training aims to provide particularly smaller entities that can't afford grants writers the knowledge to successfully apply for and win competitive grants.
"We need to build capacity in the nonprofit community," he said.
Susan Lisagor of Sen. Harry Reid's office said the turnout was "an amazing showing." She said Reid has information on grant opportunities on his official website as well and that she is willing to help callers find what they need.
But she cautioned that federal grants aren't forever, so those seeking them should begin looking for other funding streams that can sustain them into the future.
The two-day training program was provided at no cost to participants by the state and HUD. The city of Reno even donated the use of the auditorium in the converted elementary school.