Skilled workforce in Carson City key to success in 2015 and beyond
Drilling a new generation of industry workers is one key for Carson City and area commerce in 2015.
Drilling for downtown dollars, a second key this year, comes via initial steps in a probable project that may include a technology conference center, hotel and retailing complex near the Carson Nugget casino. A third key is the hoped-for reopening of the Ormsby House hotel and casino, according to some people surveyed about 2014 business and 2015 prospects. Work force needs, though, are uppermost in many minds here.
Various private and public sector people involved in finding and drilling future workers to master pertinent industrial, business and technological skills say upping the local game in that regard is crucial because Tesla Motors is bringing a major battery factory to Northern Nevada. Skilled workers already were needed, so it adds pressure.
“An educated and trained work force is a critical component of economic development in our community and the region,” said Mayor Robert Crowell.
“The announcement of the Tesla investment in Storey County,” said Collie Hutter, president of Carson City-based Click Bond, Inc., “raised the awareness of the need for a skilled work force in Northern Nevada, not only for Tesla but for all of the other companies who have announced their intention to move to Nevada and, most important, for those companies already here.”
Hutter said another 2014 factor unleashing heightened manufacturers’ interest in the city and region, along with hopes for growth by existing local industries, was the spurning by Nevada voters of the margins tax initiative in last November’s general election. Coupled with Tesla’s decision, it spurred ongoing moves toward growing and relocating industry in Nevada’s state capital and this region.
“Investment plans by local businesses and those looking to move into the region were on hold until after the election,” said Hutter, whose aerospace fastener supply firm is one of Carson City’s largest and best known industries.
“Most business people recognize that the current tax structure of the State of Nevada is not sufficient to provide for the needs of the state,” Hutter said, “but this particular tax initiative was not the solution.”
A spokesman for Carson City-based Western Nevada College (WNC), along with the mayor, cited a major work force development grant as among last year’s highlights for business and commerce. David Steiger, WNC director of economic development and continuing education, said WNC’s portion of a Department of Labor grant was $4.4 million. He said it should help with the growing need.
“The demand for trained workers in Northern Nevada is about to explode,” Steiger said. “The region’s community colleges are ready and eager to work with business and our work force economic development partners in meeting that demand.” Among those development partners is Rob Hooper, executive director of Northern Nevada Development Authority (NNDA).
Hooper said NNDA and the region face “a real challenge ahead of us when it comes to the work force. It’s only going to get harder as we go into this year.” The leader of the Carson City-based development authority has a hand in various economic initiatives, not only those concerned with work force, and one of the others is the No. 2 matter turning Carson City heads as 2015 gets traction.
Hooper and Matt MacRitchie are managing partners of Carson City Center Development LLC, a limited liability company registered with Nevada’s Secretary of State, and they say drilling downtown for core samples to get pertinent project site information is on the radar screen. A proposed technology conference center, hotel and retailing complex is the goal near the Carson Nugget, property of the Hop & Mae Adams Foundation.
Neither Hooper nor MacRitchie would drill down in detail regarding the proposal, but the latter — who also is president and CEO of MacCompany’s based in the Midwest — said he is “feeling really good” during these early stages of putting a deal together. MacCompany’s is a developer and financier firm based in Illinois’ Chicago area.
MacRitchie said a civil engineering firm had been hired, site drilling will proceed along with other preliminary work, and he added “there’s a lot happening.” He said letters of intent involving thousands of square feet in the prospective multi-block project near the Nugget are in hand, though they don’t amount to final commitments, yet. Offering assurances “everything is great,” he promised eventual public announcements.
“We want to make a clean and crystal clear message to Carson City residents,” he said, adding that would transpire at an appropriate time after key commitments and players fall into place.
Carson City’s mayor, without mentioning that project, did include kudos for the Hop & Mae Adams Foundation named for the late owners of the Carson Nugget.
“We are fortunate to have the foundation and its substantial assets as a development partner in our community,” said Crowell. The mayor made that remark right after calling it a 2014 highlight the Adams Hub, a business and technology incubator, opened in the old Stewart Title building downtown at Carson and Proctor streets across from City Hall.
The foundation also is involved as the Lake Tahoe Brewery building north across Proctor Street from the Adams Hub gets redone inside and out. That new microbrewery and restaurant business intends to open later this month.
In addition, the foundation is a key player in rehabilitation of the former Citibank building a block to the west, which sits just southwest of Telegraph Square at Telegraph and Curry streets. It was gutted last year and was going to become commercial space for tenants after a redesign and rejuvenation, which was expected to include a face lift aimed at better fitting in with the historic milieu west of Carson Street downtown.
Though few in city government are vocal about the potential private-sector hotel/conference tech center/retail project a few blocks east across Carson Street near the Nugget, likely due to nondisclosure pledges, Supervisor Jim Shirk didn’t sign such a nondisclosure document. He has talked about it openly, speculating it could bring a $200 million infusion downtown. Shirk voiced project support despite his displeasure it wasn’t part of a dialogue about downtown Carson Street public sector streetscape changes. Both he and Hooper have said the city center proposal is a private sector plan.
Another development downtown, but without a foundation tie, is a plaza spinoff of the Carson Street public sector streetscape project that is an additional upgrade on the community radar screen. Approved in 2014, the Robert McFadden plaza is possible later this year.
Slated for a closed block of West 3rd Street between Carson and Curry streets, it will be done with mainly private but some public money for underground utility work. The bulk of a nearly $800,000 estimated cost comes from a donation by the McFadden family. McFadden, who was a realtor, resurrected downtown properties before his death and was a tireless advocate for a commercial renaissance in the city’s core.
Another business matter of great interest this year was cited by the mayor, WNC’s Steiger and was on many residents’ minds. It’s the Ormsby House at Carson and 5th streets, several blocks south of the planned plaza. The lodging and gaming facility is closed and a major reconstruction project has been under way there for years. The mayor listed a reopening as one of his major hopes for 2015.
“The Ormsby House is a landmark in our community and our downtown core area,” said Crowell. “It is important to work with the owners to see this important economic asset once again become a mainstay in our community.”
In an assessment list covering potential key 2015 events, WNC’s Steiger includes the issue of whether the Ormsby House reopens and asked parenthetically: “Doesn’t everyone have to include this?”
Don Lehr, one of the owners, has said he wants to reopen the hotel-casino but declines to answer questions about time or set a date whenever anyone presses him about it.
Crowell, Steiger, Hutter, Hooper and a host of others, meanwhile, were like a chorus in urging advances in work force development progress during 2015 and beyond. The mayor mentioned there has been good news regarding a declining jobless rate for the city but voiced hope for continuation of that this year. He said overall health of Carson City “improves in direct proportion to the decline in our unemployment.”
Kris Holt, Nevada Business Connections executive director, listed education as one of the six key components for a positive business climate. They also include infrastructure, taxation, regulations, entrepreneurship and business-friendly attitudes.
“The exciting news is 2015 will be a positive year,” Holt said. Echoing Hutter that turning back the business margins tax was a plus, he said manufacturers believed a recovery was underway and were gearing up for improved markets by ordering more raw materials and updating equipment. “This will not be a breakout year,” he said, “but an improving, solid year.”
Michael Salogga, city government’s business development manager, said training of workers tops the list of concerns.
“The big deal is going to be work force,” he said. He cited a “shift from an employers’ market to an employees’ market” as Tesla and smaller firms establish a presence in the region even as existing companies grow.
Ray Bacon, executive director of the Nevada Manufacturers Association, a long time advocate of work force training, expresses concern about whether state government and Nevada’s Legislature, which meets this year, can get geared up for matters at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center in Storey County, where Tesla is building its battery plant. He cited statewide needs at the K-12 education levels and beyond.
“We’ve got a huge step to make on that,” he said.
In Carson City, meanwhile, the mayor and the head of the Chamber of Commerce also looked back to 2014 to cite local commercial advances. Crowell talked of continued improvement in the city’s sales tax take, an uptick in “development ‘buzz,’” the opening of the Adams Hub, and enhancement of outdoor activities.
Crowell views open space, new community trails and a designation of Carson City as a bicycle-friendly community as aids in luring visitors or new residents.
Ronni Hannaman, chamber executive director, cited the opening or relocation of major national chain retailers in Carson City such as Sportsman’s Warehouse, Beall’s, Dunkin Donuts and others. She said during the recession and recovery, before 2014, despite other national players trickling into the city there had been “pent up demand” for additional options in the community.