It takes a team to create economic development
Northern Nevada Business Weekly
Attraction of new companies into Carson City and neighboring counties no longer can be a spectator sport, says Rob Hooper, the executive director of Northern Nevada Development Authority.
Hooper and other executives of the Carson City-based group are turning economic development on its head.
Rather than operating NNDA as a secretive place, where only the staff knows details about companies that are scouting the area for new locations, Hooper is inviting dozens of people in the area into the inner sanctum.
And instead of funneling information about the region exclusively through the economic development staff out to prospective new employers, NNDA executives encourage contact directly between local experts and executives of target companies.
“Instead of keeping our best players on the bench, we’re bringing them onto the field with us,” says Hooper, who came to NNDA early this year after working as chief operating officer of Vitamin Research Products in Carson City.
Mike Skaggs, who heads the Nevada Commission on Economic Developments staff, has dubbed NNDA’s approach as “open-source economic development.”
Members of the community teams that NNDA is assembling sign confidentiality agreements, and members of the teams have been firm in their desire to invite only trustworthy folks to participate.
About 55 people have signed up for one of three teams that are currently operating, and NNDA this month will organize a committee of experts in residential real estate.
The point person working with each prospect is a member of NNDA’s commercial real estate team, assigned in rotation.
Other teams provide detailed information ranging from data about workforce to lists of potential factory and office locations to companies that are scouting locations in Carson City and Douglas, Lyon and Storey counties.
In some instance, a team of financial specialists tries to figure out ways to provide financing – bank loans, venture capital – for employers whose expansion plans into northern Nevada are stymied by the credit crunch.
“We’re trying to be as creative as we can,” says Hooper. “We’ll do anything it takes to get the job done. Our job is not to organize the information package and put it in the mail. We have to be a hand-holding concierge that walks our clients through every step.”
So far, he says, prospective employers and the site selectors that they hire have embraced the new approach.
At the same time that team members are providing information about workforce, schools and lifestyle amenities, a group of financial professionals help potential new employers calculate their operating costs for facilities in Nevada.
Danny Campos, the group’s director of investor relations, notes that the organization’s approach demands a new philosophy among members to accompany the new structure.
In the past, Campos says, participants in NNDA and other economic development groups often sought an immediate payback – looking to the economic development group as a source of sales leads among new companies.
But members of NNDA teams, Campos says, need to be visionaries who recognize that improvements in the region’s economy will bring benefits that are more important than an edge on winning an individual client.
The economic development targets vary widely across the territory served by NNDA.
In Carson City, companies that produce digital media will be in the spotlight, particularly as plans progress for a downtown center anchored by production facilities.
In Douglas County, a primary focus is companies that manufacture recreational equipment ranging from skis to equestrian gear.
Storey County, home of Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, can attract traditional industrial users, while development in Lyon County can focus on an aviation-related campus at the Silver Springs Airport as well as renewable energy resources north of Yerington.
And across the Sierra region, Hooper believes in the development of clean rooms for industries ranging from electronics to pharmaceuticals.
When he joined NNDA, Hooper’s background included years of marketing experience – much of it in the ski industry – but not a day’s worth of work in economic development.
Still, he says the same business model will work in either economic development or the private sector.
“You’ve got to have a dynamite sales organization,” Hooper says, and he views the growing committee structure of NNDA as the group’s sales arm.
With that sales organization in place, NNDA is stepping up the marketing effort that will generate sales leads.
And the third piece, Hooper says, is maintenance of an operating environment that allows companies to thrive in northern Nevada.
“We look at this like we’re selling a product,” he says.