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The graying of Carson – and what’s being done to stop it

Andrew Pridgen
Appeal Staff Writer
Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal Owners of Carson City financial planning business, Abowd and Rose, Eric Abowd, left, and Steve Rose, both 27, are going against the trend and taking an active role in reversing Carson City's demographic decline of young professionals.
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Geritol and walkers may be in shorter supply at the local Wal-Mart these days as Carson City’s retirement-age population has crept above the state average. An upstart group of young business leaders and City Hall aim to reverse this trend.

“The answer is yes, we’re concerned about the community skewed to favor one age group,” said Joe McCarthy, economic development and redevelopment manager for Carson City. “Community’s with a level demographic are the most economically viable long-term.

McCarthy’s concern about the demographic is backed by recent numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Between 2000 and 2006 Carson City has grown 5.4 percent (from 52,457 to 55,289) while the rest of the state has grown 24.9 percent. While growth is below average here, at 15.7 percent, Carson City exceeds the state average of persons 65 or older.

The state average is just over 11 percent.

“Carson City is very vigorously at looking at what we have to offer. We’ve got Western Nevada College which has gone from a two-year to a four-year institution. We’re the only community in the state that taxes itself to preserve open space – the recent acquisition of the Anderson Ranch a good example of that. We’ve gone through a very intense three-year program which will translate into a downtown vision.”

Neighbors to the north, Reno and Sparks, are simultaneously experiencing a boom of young professionals.

A census report released last year showed of the 204,000 Reno residents 22,600 were 65 or older. More than 60,000, or almost one-third of Reno’s population, is in the coveted 25 to 44 age group.

Moreover, 50 percent of those currently working in Carson City do not live here, according statistics released by the city’s economic redevelopment office.

“What attracts that group is bringing the most investment to communities,” Carson City’s McCarthy said. “Those people 25 to 45 have a way of defining communities and they’re connected 24/7. They’re optimistic. They certainly are self-reliant and an inclusive group – and they’re entrepreneurial and success-driven.”

One Carson businessman who fits the above description is Eric Abowd, 27, who started his business here specifically because it isn’t Reno or Sparks.

“It’s a close-knit community, people like to see your face,” he said. “They like to know you’re eating at their restaurants, shopping at their stores. In Carson City, you have the advantage of getting local business as well as business from Reno and Tahoe.

“Plus, getting around Reno is a mess and the overall affordability seems to be better here than in Reno and definitely Tahoe.”

Abowd, who was raised in Carson and returned after receiving a degree in finance at Drake University, said his three-year-old financial planning business, Abowd and Rose, has flourished here.

He predicts more positive change to lure other upwardly mobile professionals.

“Carson is growing and it’s trying to become more hip,” he said. “Even though you’re in a small town, people still want – there’s still an attraction – to the new, the modern. Carson City is attempting to do a catch up, so to speak: new stores, restaurants and a new movie theater.”

Indeed, if the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada’s recent survey of 1,400 professionals from around the nation holds any truth – Abowd’s gut feeling may be the right one.

“In terms of motivators, why people choose a place to live, the top motivator is financial – cost of living, cost of housing and salary,” said Lorna Shepard, a spokeswoman for Truckee-based Red Dog Consulting, which recently conducted a study of what young professionals (21 to 44) want and how to get them to Northern Nevada. “In Carson City, you can offer a good quality of life for families. As far as which place offers greatest access to other Northern Nevada communities, Carson City stands to win.”

The graying of Carson has others who follow Nevada’s business trends feeling less certain about the future of the Silver State’s capital.

“This trend of a shrinking working-age demographic is also a product of national population trends,” said Joe Reel, director of research and business development at the Nevada Commission on Economic Development. “Nevada’s economy has grown typically faster than the national average and that has presented opportunities here.”

“Carson City has some impressive redevelopment plans, they need time to make that happen,” Shepard said. “Maybe it’s not the best place for a young family now. It takes time to upgrade the product and takes time to get it to where it needs to be.

“There’s nothing wrong with Carson City, but there are some great plans and by the time redevelopment takes a foothold, we’ll be able to deliver on the promise.”

City Hall agrees that patience and that “getting in on the ground floor” sentiment may have to carry the day for the foreseeable future.

“It’s going to take awhile,” Carson City’s McCarthy admitted. “We’re fully aware of the fact that Carson City’s not a community where young folks starting out are looking to live in because we don’t have a full menu of amenities.

“The key is taking back our main street. Once the freeway is built we can take back the main street and add some real value downtown. Things will happen. Our citizens spoke loud and clear over the community master plan – they want targeted investment that will move from maintenance to growth.”

Jarrod Lopiccolo, 27, an entrepreneur who four years ago started Noble Studios – a Web development and marketing agency downtown Carson, said he’s banking on a revitalized town center.

“It’s the untapped market,” he said. “You’ve got Reno that’s already being redeveloped. And not that you don’t have competition here, but it’s a fresh start and the centerpiece for all the regions and all the counties.”

Lopiccolo’s idea to market Carson as a place with a small-town sensibility and sophisticated aspirations may be the answer, EDAWN president Chuck Alvey said.

“We’re getting more young professionals but as a percentage of the population – their numbers are shrinking,” he said. “I had an impromptu lunch with some young entrepreneurs from the Bay area and they said they wanted to live in (Northern Nevada), but in a more rural area.

“In Carson or Minden, they can get quite a ways out in the country and with a short commute, still get to the center of it all.”

And getting there will happen if residents have their way, Carson City’s McCarthy said.

“We’re a mirror,” he said. “We reflect back what the community wants. They want a viable downtown, an emphasis on open space, art and culture amenities and quality schools.”

By the numbers

2000-2006

Carson City growth: 5.4 percent

• 2000 52,457

• 2006 55,289

State of Nevada growth: 24.9 percent

2006 census 2.5 million

People 65 or older:

In Carson City: 15.7 percent

State of Nevada: 11 percent

1990

People 65 or older in Carson City: 14 percent

Population: 40,443

Statewide: 1.2 million

Over 65 statewide: 127,631

• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at apridgen@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.