Rural Nevada Grinding Towards Economic Diversity

The rural job market is a mixed bag.

Rural counties in the United States gained about 150,000 jobs over the last 12 months, according to the Daily Yonder. The rural unemployment rate decreased by over one percent during the same period. However, there are swaths of rural areas in the U.S. that experienced job loss. Plus, the rate of rural growth is lagging behind metro areas.

Nevada’s rural counties also showed mixed results. White Pine, Nye, Esmeralda, Lyon and Douglas counties all saw increased employment over the same 12 month period. However, Lincoln, Eureka, Lander, Elko, Humboldt, Pershing, Churchill and Mineral counties lost jobs.

Looking at White Pine County, credit for much of its job growth goes to one of the its oldest industries – mining. Major mines operated by Barrick Gold and Midway Gold have brought new jobs to the area. The county’s Community and Economic Development Director Jim Garza expects 200 to 400 new jobs in the sector over the next two to three years.

“A lot of it is going to depend on the price of precious metals and if they are going to stay stable or increase,” Garza said. “That will motivate companies to move forward.”

Though mining has been White Pine’s “bread and butter” for a century, the county is looking to diversify its economy as much as possible. Biomass is one possibility. A biofuels additive manufacturer is interested in setting up shop. Other companies have shown interest in converting juniper biomass in the area into wood pellets.

The energy sector also presents opportunities, according to Garza. The county is home to the state’s first utility-scale wind energy project – the Spring Valley Wind Project. The 156 megawatt farm employed up to 225 workers for construction, according to NV Energy, and creates about a dozen full-time, permanent jobs.

A renewable energy company is planning a hydroelectric facility that would produce about five times the energy as the wind farm through underground water pumping technology. The project is going through the permitting process, and construction is planned for 2017. The high altitude and clean air in White Pine County also makes it a good candidate for solar power. The regional development authority is working with the district attorney to allow a company to lease 1,000 acres at the local airport for a solar farm.

“We’ve had interest already from major companies that do that,” Garza said. “So now we’re trying to take advantage of those opportunities that are knocking on our door.”

Oil and gas companies lease 1.2 million acres of BLM land in White Pine County and they are looking at the possibility of fracking and drilling on that land. Noble energy is already conducting these operations in Elko, so it’s probably only a matter of time before someone starts exploration in White Pine County, according to Garza.

Heading to the western part of the state, Mineral County is an area that has struggled over the last decade, as job opportunities and thus the population have been in decline. But new hope is on the horizon with approval of a $20 million organic egg and meat production facility to be built in the area. Green Energy Nevada, LLC (GEN) received the go-ahead from the Mineral County Board of Commissioners in March, and the project is making its way through local and then state processing.

Training of 38 local workers has already taken place, according the the county’s economic development director, Shelley Hartmann, and there is a waiting list of 375 of additional workers desiring a job at the future facility.

“We aren’t going to be doing any more training until we get the first 38 working,” she said. “We anticipate that should be happening as soon as all the bonds are finally posted, and so that’s not too far out.”

She expects 500 jobs created this year and more to follow as the facility develops. Hartmann said GEN has patented an energy generator that she hopes will be developed in Hawthorne as well, further creating jobs and tax dollars for the area.

“I really believe Mineral County is on some serious breakthroughs, which is a relief after 10 years of banging at this,” Hartmann said.

She added, “It’s never easy in rural towns because of rumors and politics and that type of thing, but I am very encouraged over the progress that’s being made right now.”

In Southern Nevada, the City of Mesquite is home to about 16,000 people, higher than White Pine County’s 10,000 and Mineral County’s 4,600, but by national standards, it is still a rural area, according to Gaye Stockman, President and CEO of Mesquite Regional Business, Inc. The non-profit works in conjunction with the city to develop the regional economy.

Mesquite’s gaming industry took a major hit during the recession. Two large casinos closed, and existing ones are downsizing. The estimated unemployment rate is at 12 percent, and while much of the nation is in recovery mode, opportunities for employment in Mesquite have come down even in the last year, according to Stockman.

“We’re definitely underserved in finding jobs for people and jobs that have high wages,” she said.

Mesquite Regional Business is young, barely two years old, and has a long road to hoe to diversify the area economy and bring in good-paying jobs, Stockman said. The organization focuses on both recruiting companies to expand or relocate to the area and providing training to existing businesses. Local companies can turn to MRB for help with running ads, writing grants and identifying ways to grow and thrive.

In terms of recruiting companies, Mesquite has logistics on its side. On Interstate 15, and about 350 miles away from both Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, Stockman believes Mesquite is well-positioned to become one of the west’s major warehousing and distribution centers. The city is already home to a Do it Best Corp. retail service center and MRB hopes it will be just one of many companies to locate in the area.

“Within a day or half a day, anybody who wants to service those clients within that area, you can do it centrally from Mesquite,” she said

Another opportunity is in prosthetics and orthotics. With warm weather and seven golf courses, Stockman believes Mesquite provides an ideal environment for those rehabbing after losing limbs. The city is home to the ParaLong Drive, a golf competition for amputee, blind or Paramobile golfers, and the event has allowed MRB to connect with a variety of leaders in the industry.

“We are now in the process of talking to over 50 different prosthetics and orthotics companies that have indicated that they are willing to expand or relocate, so that’s another one of our targets,” Stockman said.

From prosthetics to distribution to organic poultry to energy – officials are finding the opportunities and grinding away to make them happen. Time will tell if the efforts result in unique, new jobs for Rural Nevadans.

Ben Rowley is a small business owner living in Rural Nevada and is the web editor for Battle Born Media’s publications. His writing focuses on issues related to small town living.

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