ELKO — Pam Borda, executive director of the Northeastern Nevada Regional Development Authority, plans to retire Dec. 29 after eight years of service. During her tenure, she brought unprecedented planning and oversaw the collaboration of 11 area governments in economic development efforts. Borda leaned on her previous experience in all levels of government, business analysis and consulting to advance the organization. For her retirement, she plans to spend time with her mother, cultivate a greenhouse garden and volunteer in the economic development sector.
Borda now abdicates to Sheldon Mudd, who brings experience as the mining industry specialist for the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development, working alongside Borda in the Elko office at Great Basin College. Mudd, an Idaho native, previously served in the Air Force, specializing in communications, computers, networking then encryption. He studied with Wayland Baptist University, earning a bachelor’s degree in business and master’s degree in history, then he worked in the mining industry before joining GOED.
In this Q&A, the outgoing NNRDA executive director and her personally chosen successor discuss the organization’s recent accomplishments, their hopes for the future, and philosophy of economic development for rural northeastern Nevada.
EDFP: What is the purpose of this organization?
Borda: The purpose is to keep our economy healthy and growing because, in order for it to be healthy, it’s got to grow. That’s usually the easiest way to do it because unlike urban economic developers who just recruit new companies, we get involved in many different things in order to be able to grow the number of jobs and companies.
EDFP: Is this a government entity?
Borda: We are created by an interlocal agreement between all the local governments that are members. Now we have 11 local governments that are members and they all have to adopt the interlocal agreement, and it basically creates us and appoints Elko County as the oversight financially.
EDFP: Looking back over your years, what is your proudest accomplishment?
Borda: I would say getting all the counties and cities to join NNRDA to become the mining region that the state wanted us to be. Six years ago, when the state asked us to become the mining RDA and to take on four more counties, I specifically asked them not to force that to happen because they would set us up to fail. I asked instead that they be allowed to join when and if they wanted to. It’s taken a number of years, but one by one, each of them has come on their own and requested to join our organization. I’m rather proud of that.
EDFP: How were you successful in doing that?
Borda: Those counties started seeing what we were accomplishing and doing, and when it came to their elected officials, in every case, they shared with me that they knew they weren’t getting anything done on their own and that they didn’t know enough about economic development to manage their own people.
EDFP: How has the philosophy of economic development changed in your tenure?
Borda: Just as I expect Sheldon to, I took this organization to the next level because I had a lot of skills and experience to bring to the table. We’ve done a lot of really important work that I don’t think the average rural economic development authority would attempt to do. …
One of the things we brought to the table was strategic planning, which is another area where I am really proud. ECEDA [Elko County Economic Development Authority], which is what it was when I got here … was just Elko County and the four cities within. There was no strategic plan. There had never been one done. As I got to know all the cities in the county, there were different efforts made, but everything went on the shelf. Nothing ever got implemented. I think that we were the first to actually do a plan and implement it, and now we are attempting to do that for the whole region.
Mudd: One thing Pam had told me, because you’d mentioned the philosophy of economic development, is that … at one time economic development here was just taking whatever lead you got and try to make it fit … . Whereas now, with the planning she’s talking about, it allows us to determine what is best suited for this area — target those leads, those types of companies — and then recruit them. We already know it would be a good fit, good addition, as opposed to what it was before. How was that?
Borda: That was perfect. In the old days, they would wait for somebody to hand them a lead. They didn’t really go out and generate them. As Sheldon said, they’d just try and make it work. Rarely ever does it work that way. My philosophy is that for strategic planning and identifying what resources and assets a community has, we can be much more successful to build industry that could utilize those resources and assets.
EDFP: What is an example of an incentive and how is it used?
Borda: Quite honestly, the incentives that were established by the state for rural Nevada have only been successfully utilized one time in six years. So they’re not a very good tool right now for rural Nevada — not to say that we are not going to make an effort to change that so they are a better tool. We’ve had to get creative at the local level to try and make up for that. We work with our local governments.
My mission in life as a volunteer is to get those incentives changed in the next session of the Legislature. That will be my last gift to the economic development world, is to try to get all the economic development authorities to provide input and figure out what kind of incentives would work for all of us and get legislation [drafted].
EDFP: In your view, what is something that would work?
Borda: We need to have it not require a 51 percent export. Those incentives were created almost specifically for manufacturing with the idea that you’re bringing a company here that is going to export all their goods. In the rurals, we can’t compete with the big cities for manufacturing companies, and so the ones we are getting are associated with the mining industry or some other industry we have here.
It’s back to that strategic planning. You’ve got to go with what it is that you can get, not try to compete with Las Vegas and get major manufacturers.
EDFP: Do you work with businesses that are already established?
Borda: We work as much with our existing companies to grow and expand as we do with new companies and with startups locally, so we handle a lot of folks that are trying to start a business for the first time. That’s where the real growth in America comes from is very small business anyway. But we’ve had several really cool expansions here in my eight years. …
EDFP: If you could spend a day with just one person, who would it be?
Borda: It would be the president so I could tell him exactly where he could make cuts. I think that I know a lot about where we have gone wrong in the federal government, and I’ve always said I would like to be president for just a day. I would, too; it’s a serious thing.
EDFP: What advice have you given your replacement?
Borda: I’ve told him to be a leader, not to be a manager, because through leadership you are a manager. … I don’t have to tell him much. He’s a very, very, very smart guy. I fully expect Sheldon to take this organization to another level from what I’ve done, and I’ve recruited him for that. I really believe in a position like this you need to find your successor and make sure they’re the best they can possibly find. I’m totally confident I found the best.
EDFP: Sheldon, what do you hope to accomplish as a leader?
Mudd: Like Pam said, taking the organization to the next level. One thing I have learned just being associated with the organization over the past two years is that there is a tremendous amount of opportunity that we have probably not tapped into simply because we haven’t gotten to that point yet. We definitely see now the global markets that exist, and we see now what role we might have.
We might be part of this small region in rural Nevada, but we play a huge part when it comes to the global markets. I think that is something that in the long run we’ll certainly look at. We ultimately want to make this area a better place to live for all of us — an attractive place to live, a profitable place to live, a place where we can raise our kids and have a good quality of life and so forth. That’s what it boils down to. We’ll certainly explore better ways to achieve that. How’s that?
Borda: That was awesome.
I have spent the past year and a half bringing these other counties on board, so we haven’t had a chance to get going, and Sheldon will.