Selling Northern Nevada: Business leaders court medical manufacturers at trade show in Calif. |

Selling Northern Nevada: Business leaders court medical manufacturers at trade show in Calif.

Brian Duggan/Nevada Appeal

From their booth at a trade show in Anaheim, Calif., last week, members of the Northern Nevada Development Authority were preaching the gospel of Northern Nevada.

Be it low taxes or proximity to Interstate 80 and Lake Tahoe, the 13 “ambassadors” were making their pitch to thousands of medical device manufacturers that filled the Anaheim Convention Center. A collection of other development agencies, from places such as Washington, Arizona and even Nicaragua, also were there vying for attention from potential employers.

The push at the Medical Design and Manufacturing West trade show is something new for the NNDA, which spent $3,900 to rent its booth with money provided by a grant from the Western Nevada Development District, said executive director Robert Hooper. On the last night of the convention, Bill Miles of Miles Construction Co. in Carson City and NV Energy paid for the Anaheim Marriott’s presidential suite to host a soiree, which included Nevada-made brew and food, for companies eyeing the Silver State.

As Hooper put it, “it’s Marketing 101.”

“It’s really thinking strategically and we’re doing that,” he said. “In the past it was, ‘y’all come,’ it was the Motel 6 philosophy, and we ended up with a lot of companies that have already left because they got a better deal somewhere else.”

The idea is to create a cluster of medical device makers in the area that could feed off each other. The challenge is presenting the region as an attractive alternative to competing states and cities, namely Salt Lake, Phoenix, Albuquerque and Denver, he said.

Among those advertising the benefits of the region was Anne Marie Dixon, a longtime Washoe Valley resident and managing partner of Cleanroom Management Association Inc. She has been involved with the industry since 1976.

“If we’re going to grow the business in our state, we can’t sit back and expect the world is going to come to us,” Dixon said. “We have a lot to share, a lot to offer and a lot to show, but that means sometimes we have to take the first step.”

She said Northern Nevada is a good fit for clean room manufacturers, which produce everything from food to computer chips in sterile rooms, largely because of its low humidity and relatively moderate temperatures.

Leslie Osmera, who has worked in the biotechnology industry for 26 years and is starting her own small clean room business in Southern California to develop medical tools, has known Dixon for years and has hired her as a consultant.

She said her reasons for staying in Southern California, despite the higher cost of doing business there, is to be near family. But there are other areas she would consider, including Northern Nevada.

At the top of her list is the Phoenix area, which is actively working to train people at its junior colleges for a career in clean room manufacturing. Northern Nevada would have some catching up to do, she said.

“It’s a beautiful area,” Osmera said. “You have a major interstate there, you have a major airport there, you do have those incentives at this point. It might be attractive to some companies to do that sort of work, but it also takes having that workforce in place. I know even for Arizona it’s been really tough.”

Amber Hansen, who was at the trade show representing an economic development group from Washington, noted their state, like Nevada, doesn’t have corporate, inventory or personal income taxes. It also boasts the highest per capita cluster of Ph.D.s in the country, she said.

“You can’t even begin to touch that in California,” Hansen said.

But Mary Ingersoll, the executive director of Team California, an economic development group, said competition from the Silver State is negligible. After all, she said, California has the industry clusters and the workforce already in place to keep companies in the Golden State.

“Nevada has a reputation for having a very transient workforce,” she said. “But the fact that the (NNDA) team was at the conference would send the signal to companies that the state is serious about recruiting them.”

John Lindstedt, the president of Artistic Plating Co., in Milwaukee, Wis., said his company is interested in moving West.

“The Western states are pro-business, they’re interested in bringing businesses, which are jobs,” Lindstedt said from his convention booth. “While the Eastern states talk that talk, they don’t walk that walk.”

He said his company looked at Nevada for a potential move, but was more attracted to South Dakota because of its lower energy costs.

“Energy costs in my industry are a huge thing, and I was incredibly impressed by the energy savings in South Dakota,” he said. “My company would save about $5,000 a month. When I brought up the energy question to the state of Nevada, it wasn’t nearly as attractive.”

According to the federal statistics, average energy costs for Nevada industrial operations, as of October 2009, were 7.96 cents per kilowatt hour compared to 5.64 cents per kilowatt hour in South Dakota. Wisconsin cost 6.53 cents per kilowatt hour on average.

Jeremy Walker, a California businessman who said he is planning on bringing a carbon fiber manufacturing facility to Minden with 50 employees this year, said where companies decide to relocate depends on many variables, not just tax environments and the workforce.

“Essentially coming to Nevada isn’t right for every company, coming to California isn’t right for every company, going to China and manufacturing isn’t right for every company,” Walker said. “But there are some specific attributes of the particular company that I’m going to bring which make Nevada a no-brainer.”

Still, it will take time to tell whether or not the NNDA’s push to create a cluster of medical device manufacturers in the area will work.

“We got Northern Nevada as a brand in front of literally thousands of companies, now it’s up to us as a team to reach out to those companies,” Hooper said. “This isn’t an overnight thing. We’ll have to keep knocking at the door to sell the opportunity.”