The executive director of the Churchill Economic Development Authority has stepped down to accept a similar position in Mesquite, a growing southern Nevada community 90 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
Rachel Dahl, who was appointed to head CEDA in March 2014, said the Mesquite area is similar in size to Churchill County’s 24,000 inhabitants.
“It began as a farming community and is on Interstate 15 midway between St. George, Utah, and Las Vegas. That gives it a real strategic difference (to Fallon),” Dahl said.
Dahl, who begins her newest venture on Monday, said she applied for the position after seeing an advertisement in a trade publication. She said a main focus of the area is on transportation with a rail line 20 miles away, an airport and the interstate. Additionally, Dahl said the area is focusing on housing and manufacturing.
Mesquite and the surrounding area, which also includes Overton and Logandale, is playing off its quality of life and location. Prior to the recession in 2008, Mesquite experienced high growth, but after the economy’s downturn, she said the growth slowed down.
Dahl, who grew up in Fallon, said she has mixed feelings about leaving Churchill County. She worked for CEDA and then director Shirley Walker from 1992-1993 and then served with the Lahontan Valley Environmental Alliance from 1994-2000. She left that position to work for former Nevada U.S. Sen. John Ensign. After working for Engsign’s Northern Nevada office for several years, she returned to Fallon to become a consultant. She taught English for the Churchill County School District from 2007-2014.
When Dahl took the CEDA position, she had to resign her City Council seat midway through her second four-year term.
During her time at CEDA, the county showed signs of climbing out of the recession and attracting increased interest for new businesses. Most of all, though, she said the greatest success may have come from building a cohesive team.
“They are so productive and capable,” she said, adding the staff has been very responsive to firms that either want to move to Churchill County or expand.
One of her goals focused on downtown revitalization in order to make the Maine Street corridor the place to go for trade and enjoyment. Inspired by a grant to establish a food hub in the downtown area, Dahl and her staff began work in 2015 to get the community on board with the idea.
Jason Espie and Amanda Douglas from the Renaissance Planning Group guided participants through various stages in building the local food economy during a two-day workshop earlier in the year. Dahl showed both presenters what the county has to offer.
The Food Hub opened in March 2016 and provides fresh produce and other items grown in Churchill County and surrounding areas such as Yerington.
Dahl, along with the CEDA staff and other government entities, has been working on attracting businesses to build on the railroad line near Hazen. She said Reno has become saturated with businesses located next to the rail line, and Fernley is slowly going that direction.
“That leaves the next area as Fallon,” she said. “This is a perfect resource for the line that runs from San Francisco to Chicago. The demand is beginning to grow, and we need to be ready to go.”
She said Fallon could be a benefactor from the growth at the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center midway between Reno and Fernley. She said “chain industry projects” associated with TRIC must be located within 60 miles to provide services. Fallon is 45 miles east.
During the past year, other developments included CC Communications bringing gigabit broadband speeds to residents and businesses and Fallon being named as one of two locations being considered for an underground laboratory to conduct research on enhanced geothermal systems.
Dahl said she is pleased with CEDA’s accomplishments to improve the quality of life for country residents including the merger of the Fallon Cantaloupe Festival and Country Fair and being part of a group of interested residents to save the historic theater.
Dahl said CEDA worked well with the city of Fallon and the county, a point echoed by Churchill County Commissioner Pete Olsen. He said during the past two years, Dahl has built a bullet point list of accomplishments.
“Overall she got CEDA revitalized,” he said, “but I would have liked to see her stay longer.”
Olsen said Nathan Strong has been appointed interim director. According to Olsen a search will begin in January, and he would like to see the search focus on applicants from the West who have a better understanding of issues that affect this region. By February, he said the commission will interview candidates.