This opinion column was submitted by RGJ columnist Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.
The Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN) will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year at the State of the Economy Luncheon on Jan. 26, which is open to the public. Most would agree that our economy in 2023 is very different than it was in 1983. As the only economic development agency in the community, EDAWN has had a great deal to do with this transition. How did EDAWN start, and what has it done to help reinvent our economy?
The recession in the early 1980s forced the community to consider economic development. In 1982, Reno had just lost Hewlett-Packard, a significant prospect in search of a location for their new plant. This decision revealed that prospects viewed the community as one dominated by a gaming culture, city officials not supportive of economic development, and insufficient regional planning. Unemployment in Nevada topped 10 percent, construction came to a near-halt as mortgage interest rates hovered around 16 percent, and the region’s gaming and tourism sector began feeling competitive pressures from the newly opened casinos in Atlantic City. It was time for a change.
EDAWN was born. A group of business leaders who had been meeting over lunch for several years to discuss the region’s economy decided the time was right for a dedicated, professional economic development organization. Bob Lewis, an executive with Sierra Pacific Resources, led the effort to bring the new economic development organization to life. For over a year, Lewis met with representatives of local government, schools, businesses and nonprofits to build support for economic development. Early in 1982, a community summit meeting led to the creation of an 18-person steering committee to establish the structure of the economic development group. By that summer, legal paperwork was filed, and the nonprofit Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN) was born.
The first 30 years. EDAWN opened for business in early 1983 in a small office at the Reno-Cannon International Airport. Shelby Dill, who helped stabilize the economy of Colorado Springs, was hired as EDAWN’s first executive director. Ken Lynn succeeded Dill from 1988 to 1998; Chuck Alvey followed from 1998 through 2011; and Mike Kazmierski has been president and CEO since 2011. The region scored some impressive economic development victories soon after EDAWN’s creation. Porsche Cars North America established its headquarters here; RR Donnelly broke ground in 1985 on a significant printing facility in Stead. By late 1984, EDAWN reported attracting 33 companies, employing more than 5,000 workers.
EDAWN’s 2012 pivot. Following the Great Recession of 2009, with Indian gaming now in most states and the housing market crash, EDAWN adjusted its approach to maximizing the diversification of the regional economy. The decision to focus on advanced manufacturing, technology and company headquarters produced some noteworthy successes, including Tesla, Google, Panasonic, Apple, Switch and many more. The organization also worked closely with our existing employers to maximize their success and assist in their expansion efforts. Additionally, the support of startups and entrepreneurial ecosystem development became a priority for EDAWN. Startups created hundreds of jobs in the region, and in 2021 venture investments in young companies set a record at more than $1.4 billion.
Economic development is a team sport. The next 40 years likely will be very different than the past 40 years. However, continued emphasis on advanced manufacturing, technology and entrepreneurs will keep the Reno-Sparks economy on the right track. Community development (a new focus for EDAWN), workforce development and support for our existing companies and entrepreneurs must remain a priority, not just for EDAWN but for the entire community. EDAWN’s small nonprofit team and community-based board can only do so much. Economic development is a team sport, and our ability to diversify and reinvent our economy took the support and partnership of the entire community. Our success in the next 40 years will require this same commitment and support.EDAWN’s State of the Economy in Northern Nevada Economic Update Luncheon will be held Thursday, Jan. 26, with presentations by EDAWN’s Mike Kazmierski and Applied Analytics’ Brian Gordon. For details, contact Sheila Imsdahl at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-829-3704.
RGJ columnist Mike Kazmierski is president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada. Much of the historical information in this article is based on research conducted by John Seelmeyer.
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