Monday, September 29, 2014

Reno Is the New... No, Wait...

(In light of this latest round of navel gazing, we figure now's a good time to revisit this piece from March 2012 analyzing the truth behind the "Reno is the new Silicon Valley!!!" hype. And by the way, we'll have more on Tesla later.)

Yesterday, KRNV News 4 asked.

“The number one choice of why we're in Northern Nevada is quality of life,” says co-founder of Noble Studios, Season Lopiccolo.

For the diverse group of tech-savvy professionals at Noble Studios, Reno has something for everyone.

“Some snowboard, some like to dress up and pretend to be someone else, we have musicians, people with their own bands, all different walks of life,” says Lopiccolo.

Downtown Reno is in the midst of an image makeover, shifting from a place known for its bright lights and casinos to a world-renowned high tech hub.
And the supportive and entrepreneurial friendly environment within the biggest little city is making a big difference.

“One of the main reasons why we moved to Northern Nevada is that a handshake means something here,” says Lopiccolo.

I'll do my best to answer.

Is it possible? Sure. Is it probable? Perhaps when we get serious about investing in public infrastructure.

But then again, at least Reno has public infrastructure. Las Vegas doesn't have much of any left, so it's much more difficult to work on diversifying Southern Nevada's economy. Tony Hsieh is trying to do the same thing in Downtown Las Vegas. But if no one could even step up to save the Nevada Cancer Institute (which was ultimately gobbled up by a CALIFORNIA college), how can we really grow our own tech sector? As long as we fail to properly invest in our future, our economy will continue to suck.

At least Northern Nevada has UNR...

And to their credit, folks at UNR have been doing a great job in partnering with the greater communities around the Reno-Carson metropolitan area to work on economic diversification. This at least partially explains why Northern Nevada's economy hasn't been as devastated by continuing weakness in the gaming & tourism sector as Southern Nevada was when "The Great Recession" first hit.

However, the same set of data also shows that continuing gaming weakness IS harming economic recovery up north. Not even Reno is immune from it. And as we continue to see expansion of tribal casinos in California and online gaming worldwide, Northern Nevada will need to continue working on diversification to build a brighter future that isn't just based on fickle gamblers.

And again, we in Southern Nevada can't depend on fickle gamblers for our future, either. We also have to face the reality staring us down as Macau continues to grow, online gaming goes live, and new casino projects are being proposed everywhere from South Florida to Baja California (Mexico). While gaming will likely always be in our blood, there's no reason why we shouldn't look beyond physical casinos to start attracting new gaming technology companies, online gaming innovators, as well as infrastructure support and consulting services.

But as long as our schools suck and as long as the rest of our public infrastructure continues to lag, Southern Nevada will continue to suffer our addiction to the extreme highs and extreme lows of "the bubble based economy". I'm sure I sound like a broken record sometimes, but I nonetheless feel the need to continue talking about this until we finally see some real action and real solutions. We really do have the potential to bring more high tech jobs into this state, especially in sectors like gaming and renewable energy where we have natural strength, but we'll never realize that potential if we don't invest in our "human capital".

Reno is already seeing some success in bringing in new high tech jobs. They just need to finish the job in diversifying the economy up there. And Las Vegas still has plenty of catching up to do in that department. And ultimately, both ends of the state need more investment in public education to ultimately be successful.

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