What a difference a decade can make. Back in 2011, unemployment across Nevada was around 13 percent as the state — Northern Nevada in particular — was extremely slow to shake off the effects of the recession that started near the end of the previous decade. Employment at Tahoe Reno Industrial Center back then was just shy of 2,000. Ten years later, employment at TRI tops 15,000, and some of the world’s best-known companies have built world-class facilities at the massive industrial park in the Northern Nevada high desert east of Sparks in Storey County. Along with the jobs, the buildout of Tahoe Reno Industrial Center and the addition of technology companies such as Tesla, Google, Switch, Apple and others, along with a host of advanced manufacturers and distribution and fulfillment centers, has provided a buffer against future recession and economic downturn that was lacking a decade ago. Mike Kazmierski, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, said the industrial park was an important asset because it allowed his team to pitch shovel-ready land to prospective companies, many of which planted their flags here and have since helped diversify the regional economy. “(TRI) was an amazing asset,” he said. “The land was available and (the developers) were very effective at selling the project. The community was ready to transition from gaming and tourism, and (TRI) allowed that to happen fairly quickly.”
While the nation hasn’t witnessed a financial downturn or correction that parallels the Great Recession, it did experience a nasty economic speedbump last year when the COVID-19 pandemic led to government mandated shutdowns of non-essential businesses. Although brick-and-mortar retail came to a standstill, it was business as usual for most companies at Tahoe Reno Industrial Center. And the ensuing nationwide shift to online shopping and ecommerce, hastened by the pandemic, further demonstrated the region’s numerous distribution and fulfillment centers, many of which are located at TRI, will help insulate Northern Nevada from economic hardship. Tahoe Reno Industrial Center broker Lance Gilman, speaking on a video call from his vacation home in Florida last week, said many of the companies that do business at TRI are formidable blue-chip companies that are self-financed — they don’t depend on Wall Street to write checks, so they aren’t susceptible to bear markets. “That culminates with an industry base that is insulated from recession,” said Gilman, who’s also an elected member of the Storey County Commission. “Those jobs will continue, and we have seen such wonderful growth in payrolls because there is so much competition.” Kris Thompson, TRI project manager, said annual payroll at the center is about $750 million. “When they first bought out there, everyone thought they were nuts — why would someone drive 25 minutes out of Reno or Sparks as opposed to getting a job in Reno?” Thompson said. “But we brought in Wall Street companies, and they have good pay, benefits and promotions.” After Kazmierski landed here in November 2011, EDAWN retooled its marketing efforts to bring more manufacturing firms to the region. In the next three years, more than 140 manufacturing companies relocated to Greater Reno-Sparks, many of which planted their flags at TRI, Kazmierski said. “We got aggressive,” he said. “Now, a third of the companies coming into this region are in manufacturing, and those jobs pay $60,000 to $80,000 a year. “Our region and Tahoe Reno Industrial Center were a perfect fit. They were looking for low-cost facilities, a place where there is talent in the region, energy costs are reasonable, and they didn’t want inventory and other taxes.” Developers Don Roger Norman and Gilman started the industrial center with a modest land purchase but ramped it up to a total of 107,000 acres by 1999. Their first land sale was 200 acres to Dermody Properties, which built an industrial park at the Patrick exit off Interstate 80, and a short time later the developers sold a parcel of land to Walmart for a western region distribution center. When Walmart inked its deal, there wasn’t even an access road to its property, Gilman recalled. “They were way off the freeway up into the park,” he said. “There was no asphalt up there, no utilities. But they believed in us and bought on, and we guaranteed them road access before they got their building permit, and that’s what happened. That energized us to put in USA Parkway, and quickly, to fulfill that Walmart deal.” Gilman said that with Walmart signing on, the developers felt other big companies would soon follow. However, 9/11 and the national recession a few years later stifled the pace of development. Businesses continued to trickle into the park, but nothing had a bigger impact on land sales than Tesla’s decision to build its Gigafactory in Northern Nevada. In a meeting with the TRI team, Gilman guaranteed grading permits within seven days of submission and building permits issued within two weeks or less. “That piqued their interest,” he said, “and their vision grew. Their first site was 100 acres, and then it grew to 1,000. They eventually took 3,330 acres because they found in Northern Nevada a culture that was very friendly to development. “Nowhere else in America did they find that.” Tesla proved to be a game changer that led to Switch canceling plans to locate in Arizona and moving its operations to Northern Nevada. “Switch now owns more than 2,000 acres and will invest more than $20 billion in Northern Nevada,” Gilman said. Technology firm Blockchains purchased the remaining developable land at TRI — more than 67,000 acres — back in 2018, which led the TRI developers to cast their eye toward Fernley. The duo already has assembled another large land package for a second large master-planned industrial park, called TRI II. Gilman can seemingly talk endlessly about land development. And despite having most of his 70s in the rearview, there’s no slowdown in him. Yet, rather than coast into their golden years, he and Norman, his development partner of nearly five decades, have their feet mashed on the gas and are in the midst of developing the 20,000-acre industrial park on the south side of Fernley. “When you have had the kind of successes we have enjoyed, it is pretty hard to walk away,” Gilman said. “For Roger and I, it’s really not about the money; it’s about the game and playing on the chessboard. “Being on the board and in the field of play, it is more satisfying than putting checks in the bank. And once you’ve learned how to do something, it is pretty easy to recreate it.”
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