By Brandon Adams, Nevada Business Magazine, February 1, 2024
Nevada continues to grow by leaps and bounds in population, industry and economic diversity. One of the areas where this growth is evident is in the technology industry. While Silicon Valley in San Jose, California, is still considered to be the “go-to” destination for all things tech, Nevada is beginning to chip away at that record. According to the website Tech Startups, at least 2,000 technology companies have left California in the last five years in favor of states such as Nevada. John Durant, president of Hyper Networks in Las Vegas, said, “This desert landscape is the perfect place to put giant data centers because the infrastructure is already here and that has set the stage for the next level of commercial enterprises to come here.”
Nevada has much fewer problems with severe weather than other states, and it has set itself up to be extremely business friendly. Sarah Johns, president and CEO of Nevada’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (NCET) agreed, “We aren’t Silicon Valley because we offer different things than Silicon Valley. Nevada has a very pro-business atmosphere.” According to a study conducted by the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, the companies exiting California are doing so because of the tax policies and lack of talent availability.
Aside from being a tax friendly state for business, much of the infrastructure required for technology companies is already here. Steve Westerman, vice president of Cox Business said, “Cox has 11,000 miles of fiber in the ground around Clark County and we see that as foundational for getting businesses to move into Southern Nevada.” Westerman also added, “Cox Business is making major investments in fiber infrastructure to ensure businesses can have access to the technologies they need to be successful.”
Another reason for the recent growth of technology companies in Nevada, according to Westerman, is a result of the efforts of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance (LVGEA). Westerman, who is a board member of LVGEA, said, “LVGEA has targeted key areas in technology to diversify Nevada’s economy: biotech, battery manufacturing, financial tech (fintech), and lithium mining.”
LVGEA works to assist incoming businesses with navigating the permitting and licensing process, as well as connecting them to Nevada’s workforce. Startup Vegas is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that also exists to assist technology startups with choosing Nevada as their landing spot. They offer help with training, hosting workshops, connecting entrepreneurs with mentors and fostering a community of collaboration and networking opportunities. One of these methods is a monthly event known as LinkUp where startup entrepreneurs and founders can meet to share ideas and work together in a shared space.
Southern Nevada does not solely hold the title on meetings like this either. In northern Nevada Johns said, “Each month members of NCET get a behind-the-scenes look at local technology companies during an event known as Tech Wednesday.” While these are some of the many reasons technology companies have made moves to Nevada, one thing is certain, if this continues it will solidify Nevada as a leader in technology.
Highlighting the Best and Brightest
As southern Nevada continues to expand within the tech sphere, it is northern Nevada that has the largest tech footprint in the state. “I believe the largest tech hub in Nevada is the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center (TRIC), as they are home to some of the largest technology companies,” says Johns. In fact, many of TRIC’s anchor tenants are technology companies including Google, Tesla, Switch, Panasonic, Blockchains and Fulcrum Sierra Biofuels. Switch, founded by Rob Roy in 2000, opened one of the largest data centers in the world at TRIC. The massive 1.3 million square feet of data center space is dubbed “Tahoe Reno 1” and was only one of the centers planned. The Core Campus, which is in Las Vegas, is slated by the company to rise to almost 4 million square feet of data center space. According to Switch, it is the world’s only tier five data center, which makes it “the highest rated and most cost-effective colocation center in the industry.”
Hyper Networks, founded in 2014, initially focused on network connectivity for small and medium-sized businesses. Nearly a decade later the company has expanded its reach to physical security through cameras, cyber security focused on prevention, and managed IT services. They are still based in Las Vegas but have expanded to Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and have worldwide customers such as Hilton Grand Vacations. This growth has seen their roster of employees grow from 12 to 45 over ten years.
Durant suggested the rise in technology is not just owed to Nevada being a business-friendly state. “The level of training and skill in the technology industry in Nevada is rising and that is playing an important role in the growth of technology in Nevada.” Companies like Hyper Networks are paving the way for distribution centers, such as Olukai to open new locations in Nevada. Recently Hyper Networks helped Olukai open their 330,000 square foot distribution center in Las Vegas, which is one of nine planned locations, by installing all their access points and cameras.
Dragonfly Energy is another tech company that made their home in northern Nevada in 2014 and they specialize in manufacturing lithium-ion batteries. One of the arms of their business is called “Battle Born Batteries” which sells directly to consumers and can be found in Airstreams and Tiffin Motor Homes. One of their missions is to replace lead acid batteries in recreational vehicles with their lithium-ion batteries. Dragonfly Energy has been a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ since 2022. According to Johns, they employ over 200 people and most of those are local Nevadans. Favorable taxes, desirable locations and an adequate workforce aren’t the only reasons that technology companies are coming to Nevada. There are resources in this state that rival many countries.
The Lithium Loop
A recent discovery along the Nevada-Oregon border may have given Nevada a brand-new claim to fame: Home to the largest lithium deposit on earth. The area is known as the McDermitt Caldera, and estimates suggest it could hold as much as 40 million metric tons of lithium. It is also estimated that there are approximately 88 million metric tons of lithium in the world, and if these estimates are true then that makes Nevada home to nearly half of the world’s supply of lithium. In response to this discovery, Nevada has drawn the interest of many technology companies looking to establish a lithium loop in Nevada.
“There are key components for creating a lithium loop here in the state of Nevada, where the lithium will be mined, processed and then it will be placed into battery cells,” said Johns. In addition to this, there are companies here in Nevada who will also be in place to recycle the battery cells once they are finished. According to the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), there are more than 30 individual companies across the state that are playing a role in the lithium loop. Some companies are handling more than one step in the loop, such as Tesla and Dragonfly Energy, and Ultion Technologies has a hand in five separate pieces of the loop.
According to the LVGEA the lithium loop is responsible for employing more than 20,000 Nevadans, bringing much needed employment to the 1.1 million workers across the state. Entek, another company represented in the loop, stated they hired an outside firm who confirmed that the Las Vegas metro area was first in availability of the necessary skilled labor. This was given as one of the primary reasons they chose to establish themselves as part of the lithium loop. While the luring of multiple companies to Nevada would be enough of a reward, the lithium loop has also attracted the attention of the US Economic Development Administration (EDA).
Tech Hub Nevada
In October of last year, the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) was designated as a Tech Hub by the EDA. According to Fred Steinmann, director of UNR’s Center of Economic Development, the EDA was impressed with UNR’s work in the “lithium batteries and other electric vehicles materials” sector.
Speaking of his team Steinmann said, “It is a team of over 60 consortium members spanning the public sector, the private sector and various other community-based organizations.” UNR’s team submitted their application to be recognized as a Tech Hub in August of 2023 and received their award only a few months later. The consortium includes 16 of 17 counties across Nevada and seven out of eight of the state’s regional economic development authorities.
The Tech Hub, Steinmann said, “is part of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a new industry sector that will drive economic growth and activity in the state for the next 100 years.” According to the EDA, a Tech Hub award is given to a state that “demonstrates a plan to supercharge their respective technological industry to create jobs and strengthen U.S economic and national security.”
Durant said, “Reno deserved that visibility, and it will allow Reno to grow in much of the same way that Las Vegas has.” A Tech Hub award is significant because it offers access to several benefits for the award recipient. One major piece of the designation is follow-on funding to include having a preference when applying for the Build to Scale program.
Multiple government agencies will be on hand to provide assistance with branding and other technical assistance. The U.S Patent and Trademark Office will strategically guide Tech Hub designees with technical assistance on intellectual property. As a Tech Hub designee, Steinmann and his team will also be invited to have a dedicated presence at the SelectUSA Investment Summit Exhibition Hall in June of 2024.
All of this will ultimately benefit the state of Nevada. According to Steinmann, “Nevada is an ideal landing spot for firms that are interested in the broader EV sector. Why wouldn’t you want to come to Nevada where the state and local government is supporting this enterprise.” Not only is Nevada’s state and local government supporting this enterprise, but now so is the federal government.
Nevada’s workforce is a technical, skilled group that has shown the drive and desire to harness the benefits of having one of the largest lithium deposits on the planet. Many of the colleges across the state have noticed this market, and they are developing a system to ensure that Nevada will continue to be supplied with an appropriate workforce.
On this subject, Steinmann said, “Almost every part of the system of Nevada higher education has been committed to the EV sector and providing pathways for graduates and building partnerships with companies in the private sector.”
Technology will continue to be a draw for companies and individuals moving to Nevada as the industry gains more of a footprint in the state. At the same time, technology remains central to the everyday lives of most Americans and the industry itself will only innovate further.