1/6/2002 01:31 pm
Northern Nevada�s success in diversifying its economy won headlines in the nation�s second-largest newspaper last week � and area officials are pouncing
on all the attention. "This is an independent validation; You can�t get better coverage than that," Chuck Alvey, president of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, said of the story (at right) in Wednesday�s edition of The Wall Street Journal. Alvey and others are working to get the word out that a newspaper with a weekday circulation of more than 1.8 million put northern Nevada�s economic success story on the front page of its Marketplace section. But in so doing, the Journal compared northern Nevada with Las Vegas, the nation�s fastest-growing area in the 1990s thanks largely to casino growth.
"Reno is growing far differently than Las Vegas in terms of its reliance on the gaming industry as a primary employer," wrote Robert Gavin, the Olympia, Wash.-based reporter for the Journal. That miffed one southern Nevada economic development official who insisted the region is succeeding in diversifying its business base. "It�s a bunch of malarkey," Somer Hollingsworth, president of the Las Vegas-based Nevada Development Authority, said of the story. "The resort industry here now holds a smaller percentage of employment than 10 years ago."
The story outlined the Reno area�s growth in warehousing, technology and other industries as gaming faces threats from the proliferation of Indian casinos in northern California. Yet the story made no mention of ongoing challenges faced in downtown Reno, where 11 casinos have closed since 1995, including the Flamingo hotel-casino in October. "My focus was on diversification and the community�s efforts to build new industries, new employment sectors other than gaming," Gavin said in a telephone call with the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Alvey said Gavin first contacted him in mid-November. "He was looking at various cities with an angle on the impact of the faltering economy on tourism," Alvey said. "He wanted to know why we weren�t impacted as some other cities were." Gavin spent two days in mid-December touring Reno-Carson City with Alvey and
"We showed him downtown and told him we are working to develop downtown," said Michael Thomas, executive director of the TechAlliance. "He couldn�t get
everything in the story. He chose to focus on diversification." Kris Holt, executive director of the Northern Nevada Development Authority in Carson City, said he was disappointed the capital�s manufacturing industry got no mention. "But the story is great exposure, and we will use it," Holt said. "It shows we�re trying to make things happen and not sitting back on our haunches."
Bob Shriver, Nevada Commission on Economic Development executive director, also spent time with Gavin. "He was looking at the aftermath of Sept. 11 on Las Vegas," Shriver said of the 10,000-plus layoffs at Las Vegas resorts after terrorism-wary air travelers stayed away from airplanes. Indeed, Gavin�s story cited the nearly 2-point spike in unemployment in Clark County in October and November, while Washoe County�s jobless rate edged up slightly. Clark�s increase was pegged to the fact that the Las Vegas-area relies heavily on the airline industry for its tourists. Northern Nevada, more reliant on vehicle travelers, was affected far less. But both regions are succeeding in economic diversification, Nevada economists say.
"The nongaming economy has grown as fast as gaming," said Keith Schwer, economist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "The problem in southern Nevada is, it gets swamped under the weight of 125,000 hotel rooms." Tom Cargill, economist at the University of Nevada, Reno, said it�s wrong to interpret the Journal story as saying northern Nevada has done something different than the south. "It�s quite understandable with northern Nevada less impacted by gaming," he said. "We�ve done better with economic diversification, but it doesn�t mean we have some magic key that southern Nevada lacks. It doesn�t mean northern Nevada doesn�t face a serious shot across the border from Indian gaming (in California)."
Yet California is taking notice of northern Nevada, according to results of last summer�s "Why Nevada" advertising campaign in the Silicon Valley funded
primarily by Nevada businesses. Alvey said the number of inquiries from California businesses jumped from 117 in 2000 to 163 in 2001. And at least two companies have visited northern Nevada after seeing the newspaper ads and mailings, he said. Now, with a potential of 1.8 million-plus Journal readers taking notice of the
region�s diversification efforts, Alvey and others hope to reap the benefits. "Seventy percent of Journal readers are decision-makers. This will turn people�s
views upside down about Reno," said Thomas. "We�re encouraging people to go out and spread the news. We�re going to get the article into people�s hands."
"The value of such publicity is tough to gauge", Alvey said. "When people see it, it just puts us in their minds, and you never know when that pays off. It could be two days, or two months, or two years later."