Economic development in Nevada has a direct, deliberate, effect on Nevada’s technology industry. Then again, Nevada’s technology industry is having a definite effect on economic development. It’s like the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercials – where the collision of chocolate and peanut butter create a happy symbiosis.
In this case, the combination is intentional. Technology is one of the industry sectors pinpointed by economic development authorities. Steps taken to attract technology companies to Nevada have paid off: Nevada’s one of six states FAA-approved for unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, testing. In addtion, Apple picked Reno Technology Park for its green data center and last September’s decision by Tesla to build its $5 billion battery Gigafactory at Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center put Nevada in national headlines for months.
Technology in Nevada
“Tesla had a huge impact on the notoriety of the region,” said Michael Thomas, partner and CMO of Noble Studios, a digital marketing firm. “We’ve always had to address the question, ‘Why are you in Reno?’” Every time, Noble Studios personnel responded with the economic development pitch – quality of life, low taxes, proximity to the Bay Area. Now that pitch is bolstered by facts: Tesla chose Nevada. Apple is here. Switch is coming. “Those are all changing the perception of the area,” said Thomas.
Having big names matters. But it’s not just about bringing in more tech companies and employees. It’s about growing our own. “You can’t stop the entrepreneurial spirit,” said Thomas. In regions with a healthy technology industry, employees often go off on their own, creating new tech startups.
“You hope that they’ll become attached enough to the region to grow their businesses here,” said Thomas. It’s worked in Silicon Valley with companies like Google, Autodesk, Intuit and Yahoo that chose to do something amazing in the place they call home. “That’s the real value of drawing companies here that have a known brand name, the idea that people latch on to the region and you see a tremendous startup business.”
While technology and economic development may both be currently driving Nevada’s post-recession economy, they fall into two categories, said Dave Archer, president and CEO, Nevada’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (NCET). “There are the Teslas and the Apples and the Switches, big companies doing big things, and that’s absolutely wonderful. Then at the same time you’ve got all the startups. The difference between Tesla and a startup is one of capital investment.” NCET is a non-profit that assists individuals and businesses in the use of technology.
Tesla is about a $1 billion investment in the economy. A startup, Archer explained, is usually a laptop and an internet connection. Not only is a business friendly environment like Nevada’s a major plus for startups, but a regulatory environment like California’s can make Nevada an easy choice for startups that aren’t capital intensive.
Drawing technology companies to Nevada is a statewide initiative. UNLV’s Technology Transfer and Economic Development department considers economic development the outward-facing office that collaborates with private partners and foundations for R&D projects. The technology transfer side works with new inventions, innovations, technologies and ideas from inside the University and partners with private entities on the outside, according to Zachary Miles, executive director. “We do a lot of assessment of new ideas to try and determine which have commercial viability and protect and market those that may have success in the marketplace.”
Startups may be smaller than brand names, but 1,000 small companies hiring one person is the equivalent of one company hiring 1,000 people. “I think you want both, the Teslas and the Apples and the Switches, but you also want the organic growth that comes from startups,” said Archer.
Sometimes it’s more about connecting businesses than starting them up. Archer said he’d like to see a closer alignment between UNR and the community in Reno. The Innevation Center Switch is bringing to Reno may provide that solution. University of Nevada, Reno, recently acquired an old fire department building on Sinclair Street. Earlier plans for the facility were upgraded when Switch “put a half a million in additional funding into it. It’s a way of connecting the University and business community,” said Archer.
Switch announced plans in January to create a $1 billion, 3-million-square-foot Supernap facility on 1,000 acres near Reno. The company provides colocation, connectivity, collaboration and cloud ecosystems for its clients. Supernap facilities are carrier-neutral colocation data centers. Not only will Switch bring the e-commerce company eBay Inc to Nevada, but the company’s new fiber loop will connect Northern and Southern Nevada and extend to the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. Information will travel at 7 milliseconds between cities.
Switch is also planning a million-square-feet of new data center space in Las Vegas, for a total investment of $2 billion which, Governor Sandoval said, will make Nevada the most digitally connected state in the nation.
The Sinclair Street Innevation Center, looks to bring together University technology students, researchers and faculty with the tech business community, investors, entrepreneurs and local businesses. The Innevation Center in Reno, much like the one already in Las Vegas, will be used for conference and meeting space and offer mentoring and the opportunity to make connections. It will also become the base of operations for Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center (NAASIC).
Read the rest of Jennifer’s article at nevadabusiness.com.