RENO — The Biggest Little City has never been bigger — and its reputation has, arguably, never been better.
In 2019, the Reno metro area saw its job growth jump 4 percent and its unemployment rate drop below 3 percent. In all, 10,000 new jobs were added in greater Reno-Sparks last year.
What’s more, a whopping $15.5 billion is currently invested in major projects in Northern Nevada — from the Park Lane development to the Northern Nevada Sierra Medical Center to the recently announced Reno City Center, among many others.
In other words, the great recession is deep in Reno’s rear-view mirror as it rolls into 2020.
All that accelerated growth, however, presents its share of speed bumps.
After all, more jobs require more housing, and Reno-Sparks isn’t building fast enough — not even close. Yearly housing permits continue to fall woefully short of pre-recession numbers, and construction companies are struggling to attract — and house — a workforce.
This is why it was no surprise job growth and housing demand were the headlining topics at the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada’s annual State of the Economy luncheon on Thursday.
All told, Reno-Sparks has created 57,200 jobs across a wide spectrum of sectors in the last five years.
In 2019, EDAWN helped 22 companies (including 14 headquarters) relocate or expand to Reno-Sparks, injecting more than 1,300 new jobs with an average salary north of $64,000. Twelve of the 22 companies, many of which are in the tech industry, came from California.
In fact, the newest tech company to stake its flag in Reno was announced at Thursday’s event — DayaMed, a health tech company focused on medication adherence and disease management using artificial intelligence analytics.
According to EDAWN, the Ontario, Canada-based company that also has an office in Memphis, Tenn., plans to eventually create 300 new jobs with an average wage of $40 per hour.
“We’re really excited about the transition of the economy going forward. We see more technology and more high-paying jobs,” EDAWN CEO Mike Kazmierski said during the event at the Peppermill casino/resort. “We’re really focused on the Bay Area. We see the Bay Area as a real opportunity. Many companies still don’t know what’s going on here (in Reno-Sparks). We’re there once or twice a month to try to get people to look at us to relocate or grow.
“But, we do have some challenges associated with growth.”
Above all, Kazmierski said affordable housing is the most pressing obstacle to overcome in order to sustain Reno’s booming economy.
“It’s not just housing — if you’ve got $1 million you’re going to find a place to live,” he said. “It’s affordable housing. If we bring someone in for a job in manufacturing that gets $60,000 a year? Even at $60,000, a good housing price is $1,500 a month. You can’t find an apartment now even for $1,500 a month that’s in a good neighborhood.”
Simply put, there isn’t enough available — and affordable — housing for the employees of the present (and future), especially those making median-wage, Kazmierski said.
Notably, in November 2019, Reno’s median home price jumped to $413,405, a 4 percent increase from the same month a year ago, according to previous reports.
“We have more working homeless now than we ever have,” Kazmierski said. “Our cost of housing is really exacerbating the problem.”
Jeremy Aguero, principal with Las Vegas-based Applied Analysis, who also presented at the EDAWN luncheon, added that about “eight out of every 10 jobs” created in Reno-Sparks are jobs that can’t afford a median price home.
“That’s an immediate problem for us,” he added.
Helping matters for the region, however, is its increasingly diverse economy, Aguero said. In short, gone are the days of Reno-Sparks surviving on gaming and tourism as it did in years past.
“What stands out to me is the amount of job creation and diversification that we’ve seen in Northern Nevada,” he said. “We’ve seen new jobs being created in almost every sector of the economy. You’re bringing in not only new businesses but also new employees for existing businesses that are continuing to expand.”
The leading driver for new jobs in Reno-Sparks in 2019 was professional and business services, which added 3,500 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.
The area’s other top sectors for job growth last year were trade, transportation and utilities (2,100), construction (1,700) and manufacturing (1,500).