How Storey County was saved |

How Storey County was saved

Dave Frank
Nevada Appeal Staff Writer
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

Storey County could have collapsed and been divided among surrounding counties if it wasn’t for one idea.

Even after the county reached an agreement with industrial park developers in 2000, the state taxation department put the 4,100-person rural Northern Nevada county on a financial watch list.

Storey County made the list because it was overextended in spending, said Terry Rubald, a department division chief.

Storey County was closer to failing than most people realize, County Manager Pat Whitten said, describing the county’s situation early in the decade as “almost

bankrupt” and “in dire financial straits.”

County audits from 1999 to 2003 show tourism in the historic mining towns, including Virginia City, down or flat. They repeatedly complain about deficits and overspending.

The 2003 audit points to “major cash shortfalls” in the general fund and other special funds.

However, annual county revenues have tripled since developers bought more than 100,000 acres of county agricultural land in 1999. Land values in the park have gone from $350 an acre to $100,000 an acre. Distribution centers for businesses including Wal-Mart, PetSmart and Pittsburgh Paint have added buildings to help create more that 8 million square feet of floor space in the park.

Industrial park developers have spent $100 million on infrastructure, including power plants, rail service and about five miles of what will be a 17-mile road connecting

Interstate 80 and Highway 50.

“It really turned us around,” Whitten said.

Lance Gilman, broker for the park and owner of the county’s two brothels, said the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center will look next to major alternative energy projects.

Businesses are looking at buying up to 1,000 acres in the park despite a slowdown in business during the last year, he said.

The park has only been able to grow as quickly as it has because of the corporation of the county, he said.

“In this community, you can see, feel, taste, the benefit of your bargain,” Gilman said.

But the growth of the industrial park also has brought some problems for the county.

The county is fighting a lawsuit against a developer who wants to build a nearby subdivision that could quadruple the county’s population. The growth would be too fast, the county says, and a subdivision that size doesn’t belong next to the industrial park.

Expenses for the county have tripled along with revenues during the last 10 years. The county also has agreed to pay park developers back through tax rebates for their $100 million infrastructure investment.

Some have criticized a corrections company that has recently said it is considering building a 3,000-inmate private prison at the industrial park.

But the park has saved the county despite its costs, county officials say.

It has even helped the county’s old economic engine, said Susan Sutton, executive director of Virginia City Convention & Tourism Authority.

Taxes from the park have given the authority money for more staff, programs, tours and new postcards and brochures, she said.

The park she called a “godsend” also has brought new visitors and interest to Virginia City.

“In the midst of these terrible economic times, we’re where we need to be,” she said.

An industrial park, the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center that represents more than half of the 260-square-mile county, saved an economy based on tourism and brothels, said Storey County Community Development Director Dean Haymore.

“If we didn’t have TRI,” he said, “we wouldn’t be Storey County.”

But the 60 companies and 4,000 to 5,000 employees currently in the park didn’t start to flood in immediately.

– Contact reporter Dave Frank at or 881-1212.