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NNDA committees working in new spirit of cooperation

BRIAN DUGGAN
bduggan@nevadaappeal.com

Economic development in Nevada used to rely on one constant: Companies moving to Nevada from California.

But as the economy faltered, that flow of California companies stopped, said Rob Hooper, who was appointed the Northern Nevada Development Authority’s executive director in early 2009.

“What happened, in my opinion, economic development had an old way of doing things and everybody was clinging to that old way,” Hooper said. “And it quit working.”

Today, the NNDA has built nine committees comprised of nearly 190 area professionals with expertise in banking, business feasibility, commercial real estate and others. All are volunteers and meet frequently to further a single mission: Create jobs by giving any company considering the region the resources necessary to make a move.

Many in the organization say this system is a unique model for any economic development agency.

“I sometimes feel like I’m working full time on NNDA deals, but that’s a good thing,” said Andie Wilson, vice chair of the commercial real estate committee. “The reality is the only people who sit on our committee are people who are willing to make the sacrifice.”

Project Dave

Since last year, the NNDA has helped seven companies relocate to the region, bringing 288 jobs with them. Dozens of other companies are at least considering the area.

“We no longer have members, we have investment partners,” said Hooper, who calls the process “open source economic development.” “We’re all coming together to play together.”

When a company contacts the NNDA, a member of the commercial real estate committee, largely comprised of brokers with more than five years experience in industrial properties, will be assigned to the company.

That means they’ll know its identity and have direct contact with the company, a unique mechanism for economic development, Hooper said.

Because these conversations are kept private – only one member on the committee will know the identity of the company – the NNDA gives code names like “Project Dave” so the company’s intentions of relocating are not leaked prematurely, and risk the deal.

Bruce Robertson, the chairman of the commercial real estate committee, said he’s been impressed by the committee’s brokers – normally competitive outside of the NNDA – willingly give another committee member a company if they aren’t the right fit.

“And it’s happened with other brokers on the committee multiple times,” he said. “It is about bringing jobs to Northern Nevada.”

Banking & finance

For six months, Larry Rodriguez, of Wells Fargo Commercial, has led NNDA’s Banking and Finance committee as its chairman, forming what he now calls a “brain trust,” comprised of representatives from area banks and government organizations like the Small Business Administration. It’s the other committee that is privy to confidential information.

Their mission is obvious: Helping secure financing for businesses considering a move to the region.

What wasn’t as clear, at least in the initial stages of the committee, was how to organize a collection of bankers around a common table when only one at a time would be allowed to know the identity of the company.

So whenever a company lands on their table, they rotate who gets to take the case. A similar process happens in the commercial real estate committee.

“The committee just continues to rotate, it doesn’t matter what it is, it doesn’t matter who it is,” said Rodriguez, who was the president of NNDA’s board from 2003 to 2007. “It’s all confidential.”

Open Source

Aside from the commercial real estate and the banking and finance committee (which includes a subcommittee) there are six others focused on what Hooper calls “open source economic development.”

They include: Residential Real Estate and Affiliates, Business and Professional Services, Workforce and Education, Feasibility Analysis, Marketing and Media and Ambassadors, which focus on recruiting members to the committees. Some have existed for about a year, others just a couple months.

Hooper considers the Workforce and Education Committee, chaired by GE’s Lee Bonner, to be one of the most important. Its focus is on addressing the region’s education system and how to improve it given steep budget cuts looming on the horizon.

“It’s developing the right mindset and bringing a program to the state where we could have different tracks of skill sets,” Bonner said. That means finding partnerships with local schools and eventually creating programs that may offer Nevadans more opportunities in the future.

Other committees will offer their services to companies considering a move.

The residential real estate committee, chaired by Coldwell Banker Best Sellers Realtor Bob Fredlund, will try to put companies in contact with Realtors to find housing for their employees. In turn, the Marketing and Media committee, chaired by the Nevada Appeal’s Advertising Manager Rob Galloway, is creating an informational publication filled with regional data to show to companies.

Other committees are focused on helping companies already in the region improve their business models, like the business and professional services committee, which is chaired by Tom Taormina, who has worked as a business management consultant for 20 years.

So far, the company has directly worked with one Northern Nevada company, Patmont Motor Werks in Minden, which makes the Go-Ped. The process, he said, is time consuming but worth it.

“What sucks people into giving their time like that? Our motto is do well while you’re doing good,” Taormina said. “What’s in it for me is, hopefully, I’ll do some consulting work, but that’s not why we did it to start with. It’s to fill a vacuum.”

For Stevan Lyon, the chairman of the feasibility analysis committee and a financial adviser with Waddell and Reed, the last five months have meant developing a system to give businesses an idea as to how much they may (or may not) save by moving to the region.

The committee is made up of financial planning experts, accountants and logistics experts who are given access to the business costs for companies who approach the NNDA for help.

“We’re not sugar coating it in any way shape or form, and in some circumstances pieces of the puzzle look better in another state and so we’ll include that data in the analysis,” Lyon said. “But when you look at the overall big picture this state, especially the northern part, has a lot to offer.”