By Lydia Snow, Elko Daily Free Press, January 26, 2024
Elko business owners gathered Wednesday evening at the Elko Convention Center for a consultation with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development in hopes of uncovering issues of concern to Elko entrepreneurs.
Consulting firm CollaborateUp provided support for the gathering, holding sessions the next day to explore tangible ways to improve the Elko business environment. Wednesday night served as a prologue to this exploration, allowing Elko’s entrepreneurial community to dip their toes into economic discussions and brainstorm local needs.
“I’m very happy to be representing Nevada as the first state in the nation to have enacted legislation that created an office of entrepreneurship,” agency Director Kyeema Peart said. “But it’s meaningless unless we can connect with you and understand what small business starts, growth, sustainability and resilience really mean.
People are also reading…
“My office is beholden under legislation AB77 to report back to the legislators in November this year,” she said. “So we have an obligation to recommend what we think would make a difference and to actually raise entrepreneurial and business activity in all our communities across the state in a way that affects our economy positively and in a way that the legislators can listen to and make a difference.”
‘Pull up by our bootstraps’
“Many times, we look for help from the outside,” Northeastern Nevada Regional Development Authority Executive Director Sheldon Mudd said. “If we’re struggling from an economic perspective, what new company is going to come in and save us? What legislator or or politician is going to come in from the outside to save us? But that’s not who we are. We dig in deep and we pull up by our bootstraps.”
Mudd explained how large urban areas such as Las Vegas have their own entrepreneurial improvement culture. “They get together and they collaborate to figure out best practices and ways to be more productive and draw more revenue,” he said.
“We realized we just don’t have that here. And so slowly but surely, we’ve been trying to set up programs and networks that will help to create that ecosystem here in northeastern Nevada,” he said.
The agency’s efforts give entrepreneurs “the tools they need to not only succeed locally, but potentially be able to export and operate on a much grander scale bigger than what they even thought they could,” Mudd said.
“And so what Sheldon has alluded to is that if we can identify issues that need to be resolved in the next, let’s say, two to five years, then my office has an opportunity within the legislative timeframe to bring that to bear,” Peart said.
“And so what we’re doing today is really articulating how you find your culture to be supportive or not. Maybe it can support you better in ways that we can enlist some services. And then really understanding what activities exist to support those businesses among you, what contextual opportunities you may or may not be aware of, and that sometimes requires that we look at our environment a little differently,” Peart said.
“We at the entrepreneurship office were created as a result of legislation that was inspired by a group called Right to Start. It’s a national group that sees the right to start a business as an American right,” she said.
“And the reason that’s a national mandate is because many of the federal policies that prevail today have evolved to support big corporations and they have benefits to smaller communities. But in some ways, they disadvantage the smaller communities. We’re trying to balance the scale so that the smaller startups — and we’re talking about businesses five years or less — typically have a chance to make a play in the market and compete against the larger groups.”
The economic development office wants Elko business owners to succeed — specifically through giving back to their community both in terms of revenue and in terms of creating jobs, Peart said. Thus, her office seeks to provide resources which elevate and support entrepreneurs.
“You don’t need to be a one in a million. You just need to be successful on your terms in your community,” Peart said. “We don’t want you to have a 10-year plan and muddle through it. We want you to have a five-year plan that you reach in three years. So let’s work together to make sure that is the Nevada fit for your vision.”
As the evening went on, attendees discussed Elko’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, narrowing down which systemic issues are present there and what solutions they might require.
Questions included whether Elko is supportive or antagonistic towards government initiatives, whether its citizens are resistant to change and whether elite members of the community are willing to share power with others.
The people of Elko often bear “a cautious approach to adopting new things,” financial services consultant Matthew Shedd noted.
When it comes to supporting developmental programs, Elko residents are often happy to volunteer at charities but hesitant to have the government dipping into their taxes, he explained.
“People in general, I don’t think are very willing to change the way they live to either promote or curtail growth,” PACE Coalition coordinator Michael Magney said. “But there are also other people who are trying to broaden the place, and it almost seems like we have a split personality as a community in that regard.”
As for economic involvement from wealthy members of Elko’s financial ecosystem, “when mining first came they were very involved in the community. They were very helpful and supportive, money-wise,” Blohm Jewelers owner Lina Blohm said.
That’s not necessarily the case now, Shedd said.
The group discussed Elko’s personal and financial demographics in order to map what kind of problems its residents may face.
“What I noticed about Elko is we have our 20,000 or so people that are actually in the city, that we have the mining community that swamps through and that’s why our census shows us kind of consistently mid-30s,” Jamie Clark, owner of St. James bar and herbal tonic lounge, noted.
“The Elko community is actually way more expensive than Reno,” Shedd said. “The median house price is significantly higher.”
“There have been a lot of people moving into Elko from out of state. And there have been a lot of people who used to live in Elko moving out to Spring Creek or surrounding areas,” he said.
Elko’s income is not adequate for inflation and the income rate is slowing. So families stay small and older people leave, Shedd noted.
Some older people are moving out of Elko because they do not have access to Medicare providers, Magney said.
It’s the infrastructure
After wrapping their heads around the basics of Elko’s economy, the group had whetted their appetite for brainstorming and was now ready to identify specific city needs and match them to solutions.
Shedd noted Elko’s hospital is not equipped for many emergencies.
“What good does it do to have a helicopter if they don’t stock the supplies appropriate to keep people alive?” Clark asked.
Transportation issues are a significant problem facing Elko healthcare. “Even the services we have, there are a lot of people who can’t get to them,” Magney said.
Medical transportation should be “stocked and competent and willing,” Clark said.
In addition, the group discussed how Elko’s infrastructure is lacking. “Even downtown Elko has dirt roads,” Shedd said. “We’re trying to move people from just surviving to arriving and then arriving to thriving. I don’t think there’s really much thriving just because of the infrastructure.”
Shedd added, “My neighborhood hasn’t seen a snowplow probably ever.”
Ideally, Elko’s roads should be accessible, existent and maintained, Clark said.
Power grids are also a problem, Clark said. “We should not be losing electricity as often as we do. And one time when we lost electricity, we lost 911.”
Shedd suggested more power backups and redundancy as a solution to power grid disruption.
In terms of other infrastructure in need of updating, water pipe systems are behind the times. So much so, ultrasonic mapping is required to find some locations, Shedd said.
Cumbersome tax system
As for another local problem, taxation in Elko is cumbersome, Shedd said. Businesses have to request physical copies of tax documents. A possible solution could be to “have an actual tax structure” and “level everybody’s taxes instead of having more association dues,” he said.
Also, county websites are sometimes a decade behind, so better communication and coordination is needed, he said.
Elko can solve its local bureaucracy issues if it decides to “loosen up on some of the regulation right where it doesn’t matter and clamp down where it does,” Shedd said.
By the end of the program, the group emerged with a clearly defined image of how and why Elko’s economy and entrepreneurship is in need of support. This sort of thinking is how the economic development office can build a roadmap for providing business resources.