Tyre Gray, the new president of the Nevada Mining Association, brings a diverse background and skill set to his new role. He has worked as a professional musician and in the hospitality industry in Las Vegas. After graduating from Nevada’s Boyd School of Law cum laude he went to work for Fennemore Craig, where he served as a business litigator and government relations specialist in Nevada and Arizona. He was part of the mining industry’s lobbying network during the past three sessions of the Nevada legislature.
Gray started in on his new role as NvMA president on Feb. 17. Shortly after that, the coronavirus pandemic made a lot of changes to the world of mining and the rest of the world. In normal times, in his first months on the job Gray would have done a lot of traveling and would have met a lot of people face-to-face. Instead, he spent time at home learning more about the mining world and meeting people remotely.
In mid-March Gray was going to be in Elko for a meet-and-greet at the NvMA’s Reverse Expo, but that Expo was cancelled, along with a lot of other events.
In her column in last month’s Mining Quarterly, retiring NvMA President Dana Bennett pointed out that Gray is the first NvMA president not based in Reno since the organization’s early days 107 years ago. Gray will continue to call Las Vegas home.
Bennett wrote that although “you will see him out and about in Reno and rural Nevada … it will be a tremendous benefit for NvMA to have Tyre in close proximity to the business and political activities of Southern Nevada.”
That is sure to become true in the future as Nevada opens up again.
After missing the opportunity to meet Gray at the Reverse Expo in March, I was able to visit with him on the phone on May 5. In this conversation, he talks about his background, the effects of COVID-19, and the future of the mining industry.
On a “small world” side note, during our conversation we discovered that we are both alumni of the same elementary school – Longfellow Elementary in San Diego, California. Go Giraffes!
Q: We didn’t get to meet in Elko, because everything started with coronavirus right around the time you started as the Mining Association president.
I was in the position just a couple of weeks before everything went sideways. I will say it has been wonderful, it’s been a blessing in disguise to be able to get up to speed relatively quickly on a lot of issues, because I’ve not had the luxury of sitting around and being idle.
One of the biggest things I wish I was able to do is really go out and visit with my members more. I haven’t been able to do that, but I have been speaking with a lot of them and making sure I understand the unique challenges that the mining industry faces through COVID.
As you know, this is much different than 2008, or 2001 for that matter. Right now we’re dealing with health and safety issues. In 2008 we were dealing with financial issues, and in 2001 we were dealing with national security issues. But that still didn’t really impact the way the operations functioned. Today we do have a true, real tangible impact to how operations are able to go forward. So there has been some decline in some production, but the truth is we are grateful to have 65 to 70 percent of something versus 100 percent of nothing.
Q: You have a background as an attorney and a lobbyist, and in the hospitality industry in Las Vegas as well as in music. Can you tell me about how your varied experiences will apply to the work you will be doing with the Nevada Mining Association?
I always say that what you see in me is what happens when you say yes to random questions. What I mean by that is that my career has been a series of me acquiring diverse skills across different industries that have allowed me to build and be able to position myself to be successful here as president of the Nevada Mining Association. I think every job a person takes, you learn some level of skill set that will help you to advance.
Most recently my career was as an attorney at the law firm of Fennemore Craig, and I was able to get great tutelage from Senator Richard Bryan, Jim Wadhams and Joe Brown. Those are names that are highly recognizable to folks all across the state, and particularly folks in mining communities. As a former U.S. senator and governor of the state, Richard Bryan had a great relationship with rural areas; Jim Wadhams has represented Newmont Mining for 25 years and also used to be the commissioner of insurance; and Joe Brown is one of those people who had a wonderful relationship with former governor and former U.S. senator Paul Laxalt, and has been integral in putting Nevada on the federal scene with his relationships with the Republican Party. So having been able to learn from both Republican and Democrat folks, I think I have a unique ability to be able to maneuver between the two.
One of the things I was always taught is that we don’t play politics, we play policy. What I mean by that is that whether there’s a Republican or a Democrat in office, that isn’t as important to me as making sure good policy is being advanced for the industry I’m working for.
There’s a unique relationship that the mining industry shares with the communities in which it operates. One of the big things I like to tell people is that the mining industry actually is part of the state social safety net. And people usually look at me strange when I make that statement, because that is a fairly bold claim. But with the mining industry’s ability to pay high wages, it does reduce the rural communities’ reliance on government assistance, which then therefore bolsters the state’s social safety net.
You’ll see that the mining industry not only pays very high wages, it provides ample sick leave and vacation, and then also provides health insurance coverage. And those are pillars that really do help to drive the narrative home that within the mining culture, the miners really come first.
I think sometimes there’s this tension between business and employees, but for the mining industry, our employees are mining. That’s why when you look at the Nevada Mining Association site, you’ll see employees who are posing there, and they’re saying, “I am mining.” That’s not by accident; that’s intentional, because the people who conduct the operations, they are mining. And there’s this symbiotic relationship that exists between the two that I think is such a wonderful model for other industries to be able to follow.
My career as an attorney gave me skills to be able to think critically about things and have a good understanding of the constitution and the legislative process. I think that’s really important — having that skillset to be able to read a piece of legislation critically, not just as a layperson, but being able to understand the legal background behind it, and then being able to conduct high level legal research is something that I think the association will fare well with from my skill set.
Secondly, when you look back in my career, I spent a nice stint in hospitality. And I always tell people, the one thing that hospitality teaches you is how to interact with everyday people. When I used to lead a team, when I worked at Caesars Palace and later at Hilton corporate, I used to tell folks all the time, my team, that people are here to have a good time, our only job is not to get in the way of that.
In the job I had at Caesars Palace as a guest services manager, I was responsible for resolving escalated complaints. So if the department head was unable to resolve something, it would come to my specialized department, and that was the only thing we did — we dealt with high-level escalated complaints, whether they came from the gaming, food and beverage, and/or hotel side. And dealing with folks when they’re at their most frustrated can be a challenge. But it also presents unique opportunities of how to find middle ground with somebody. How do you create and build a relationship quickly with somebody who just wants to pull their hair out and poke your eyes out?
So through that process I’ve learned a lot about how to be able to navigate difficult situations without necessarily taking things personally. Somebody may curse at me, somebody may feel some type of way about the company and/or industry that I work for, but I wouldn’t take those things personally because it was about being able to get to the root of the problem and resolve that. And I thought that was a unique skill to have acquired.
I began my career kind of in education and as a professional musician. Music is something that I love. I come from a very musical family. My grandmother was a choir director, my grandfather was a guitarist and played on the Chitlin’ Circuit for many years. My uncles were gospel vocalists and pianists. My father was a professional drummer and played all across the country and the world. So music has always been something that’s part of me. And that is a universal language. I know math is the true universal language — but regardless of what the words are, or even if there are no words, the ability to convey emotion through music is just awesome.
So I turn to music as my grounding force. When I have to get through the day’s B.S., if you will, music is one of those things that helps me to center myself and be able to realign myself and get back to what is really important, which is the connection of people.
I think that’s where unfortunately a lot of us are struggling right now with COVID-19. Working from home, yes, we’re surrounded with our families, and that’s really important, but a lot of us are very social beings, and not having the opportunity to get out and have a beer with a friend, or get out and have lunch with a colleague or what-not, I think some of us are struggling to find new ways to deal with everyday stresses and how to be connected to folks while we sit in our respective home offices and still try to keep our eyes on the prize of moving the ball forward for the state of Nevada.
Q: On your LinkedIn profile, you mentioned that your motto is that “If you stay ready, you never have to get ready.”
I think I was in fourth grade when I heard that statement. As you may have seen in my profile, I’m fluent in Spanish, and I went to a Spanish language immersion school for elementary school and that program continued through junior and high school. It’s called Longfellow Elementary in San Diego. All of your instruction for K through third grade is in Spanish, and then in third grade you start to receive an hour of English education. Which is fairly unique. But the purpose behind that is that the opportunity to immerse you in a foreign language at an early age makes it stick. And so even till today, it’s been 35 years since elementary school, but I still maintain those language skills.
At any rate, the teacher would have an English course, and he introduced us to that statement — it’s the idea that chance favors a prepared mind. So when you’re forward looking, you’re somewhat ready for the challenges that may come your way.
This is something interesting I think about today with COVID-19 — is that industry disruption is not new. Industry disruption through healthcare is new — but if you are interested in proving that industry disruption is not new, you only need to speak to Tower Records or Blockbuster Video. To talk about how industry has changed, look at Sears or JC Penney. These are stores that when there was disruption, they kind of held onto the past and weren’t willing to evolve into the future, and unfortunately they suffered a huge price for it.
I think broadly when we look at Nevada, that’s really the way we have to look at this. COVID-19 has given us a unique opportunity to reinvent ourselves. So the desire to kind of return back to business as usual, I think we have to fight a little bit of that and be willing to say, “What will we be?” What is it that we should be now that we have a unique opportunity to kind of reset our economy and reset the way we look at business, or government, in Nevada?
It’s a very unique opportunity I think we have in front of us, and I truly believe innovators will come out of this process. There will be people who innovate new ways of how to do things. So what does that mean for our people, what does that mean for our work force, for work force development, and what does that mean for our lives in Nevada? I don’t know, but I’m excited to see what happens when we come out of this COVID-19 pandemic.
The mining industry has been given the great opportunity to continue its operations. With that opportunity, we believe, comes responsibility.
Whenever the industry is able to operate, that means the regulators have to be there to regulate the industry. So NDEP has continued to process and review mine permitting applications. The majority of the ones that have been approved throughout the COVID-19 crisis have all been remediation projects, reclamation projects. We’re not seeing a lot of new projects coming through, but to the extent that the business of mining continues, the regulators still have to be there. That includes the federal government, MSHA, and state government, and local elected bodies that have some level of regulatory oversight of the mining in the state.
Q: Before coronavirus hit, I talked with some people about the benefits which have come over the past couple of years from the efforts to speed up the permitting process for mining projects.
Our perspective and opinion is, whenever you can streamline the ability for permitting, there’s going to be value there.
I like to remind people that before a shovel can be put into any piece of soil here in Nevada in order to create a mining operation, there’s an extensive permitting process. There is a reclamation bond that has to be paid, environmental impact plans and studies that have to be vetted, and a plan of how you’re going to return that space back as close as you can to its original state.
Many times what a lot of folks don’t understand is that five to eight years can elapse between the initial application and a shovel being put into the ground here in Nevada. And that means five years of constant investment that a company and/or investors are putting into this this piece of property. So when productions begin, one of the most importing things is cashflow, because you’re trying to make up for a 50, 60, 100 million dollar debt that you’ve invested into this land.
Nevada happens to be unique in that it does produce gold, copper, silver and lithium, and with COVID-19, we’re becoming more aware of how important something like lithium, with its new uses, is becoming to the United States. So the ability to get the ore, sell it, and create cash flow is super important to our operators here in Nevada.
I don’t want to overemphasize COVID-19 — we’ll make it through this, though it will create a new normal. Like everybody else, I’m looking forward to putting this in our past. But one of the unique things I think COVID-19 has drawn attention to is a need for us here locally within the United States to have a little bit more of our own manufacturing.
One thing we’ve seen is that in the supply chain, mining is part of a global network. A lot of the declines in mining production we’ve discussed and some of the hard times some of the mining companies have faced are due to supply chains. And then there is the social distancing, and additional screenings and different things that were not part of operations three months ago but now have become an essential part of being able to operate.
Looking at lithium — lithium was discovered around 200 years ago, but the uses for lithium have grown, and so the demand has grown, and because of that, places that may have been deemed as not viable for mining before may actually be places that have really large lithium deposits that could help the United States take a central position in the technology that will be sourced from lithium.
One of the environmental points I love to make is that we don’t have solar panels without mining. And to the extent that there seems to be any conflict between mining and solar power, the truth is that one feeds the other.
I use the example of when I was a kid, my grandfather used to have a 1954 Ford truck. He would only use it when we would go out camping and every now and then just to make sure the battery didn’t die. But we would go out and he would start it, and that truck would put out a huge cloud of dark smoke. That didn’t mean that my grandfather didn’t care about the environment — that meant that was the technology at the time. To get eight miles to the gallon I think would have probably have been an accomplishment for that truck.
Today I drive a Jeep, and it’s part electric. I turn it on and it makes very little noise, and when I stop at a stop sign it turns itself off. I get zero emissions out the tailpipe — that’s technology. And so as technology advances, so does the mining industry’s ability to bring in new technology, to make their operations less harmful on the environment. A lot of mines are really close to being carbon neutral with their footprint. Thirty years ago that was unheard of, but today that’s possible due to the technology, and the technology that frankly is there only because we were able to mine the minerals and the metals that were necessary in order to create that technology.
Q: One story I read about mining during the pandemic quoted you saying mining was better prepared for something like COVID-19 than some other industries because mining companies have dealt with other pandemics in other places around the world.
Nobody could have foreseen how COVID-19 would have impacted our communities, our state, and frankly, the world. Yet I believe the mining industry was uniquely positioned to be able to respond to COVID-19. I tell people that most people would be surprised to find out that during the Ebola outbreak in Africa, because of the mining operations there, miners here in Nevada were being trained on how to deal with the outbreak protocol.
The mining industry, because it has such a culture of health and safety — which really is at the forefront for every mine operator and its vendors — we were able to be in a position to pivot our operations. Even before being told to do so by the government, many operators began doing health screenings for employees and vendors before they could come onto the site, doing temperature readings, and they embraced social distancing before that was required by the governor’s orders.
Because of that worldview, while others were not necessarily understanding what the scope and impact of COVID-19 could be, the mining industry was already preparing, because we have relationships in Asia, and we were able to receive data and start to pivot the operations to match what they were seeing in Asia.
I think it bears mentioning that the commodities market has seen volatility that previously had not been seen. There are some who will point to the price of gold and say, “Wow, look, the price of gold is doing really well, that means that mining operations are doing great.” And that’s not necessarily the truth. I think over the last 45 days we’ve seen gold fluctuate in between 1400 and 1700. It’s been at 1600 for two days and dropped into 1500 for a week, and then jumped up to the high 1600s and touched 1700 and then it went all the way back down. So there’s a huge level of volatility.
I also like to point out that the mining industry does not set the price of gold. The only price it has some control over is the cost associated with extracting the gold. And for every site that’s going to be a little different. The grade of gold will impact what that cost per ounce may be to the operator. So when we see volatility as we’ve seen in gold and in copper, that’s the reason why a couple of our smaller operators unfortunately have had to go onto a bit of care and maintenance just due to the fact that the volatility has created uncertainty and stripped them of the ability to continue to operate. That’s very real, and it’s very real to families that depend on the mining industry to support them. We’re very sensitive to that. Policies and/or market volatility are market forces that create job losses for us. That impact is felt beyond just the company, and into the community as well.
Q: Other countries, like Mexico, shut the mines down for quite a while, but here they have been able to stay open.
I think lot of that comes down to the Nevada mining industry’s ability to quickly evaluate and see what was coming down the pipeline, and then be able to pivot quickly and adapt. The reason I think the mining industry has continued to be here in Nevada since Nevada’s inception is its ability to be limber and adapt as necessary.
I think a lot of folks still, when they think of mining, think of the Yosemite Sam type, a grizzled guy with a beard and pickaxe and a burro walking through the desert. And the truth is — as anybody who’s been on a mine site recently knows — it is very, very high tech. Remote and autonomous vehicles are being used. Remote and autonomous drills are being used. The level of sensitivity to be able to remotely monitor haul trucks, and the technology that are in them today are next generation. Many cars don’t even have the technology you’ll see in some of these really large haul trucks. And that’s just a testament to the fact that the industry has continued to evolve as needed.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
I’ll end with a few things. There’s always the elephant in the room, which is the issue of taxes for the mining industry. I always like to remind folks that the mining industry pays every single tax that every other business in Nevada pays, and usually at a higher rate than other businesses. And in addition to paying all those taxes, the mining industry also pays an industry-specific tax. So when you think about the scope of mining — it represents about one percent of Nevada’s workforce, it represents about two percent of Nevada’s private sector GDP, but it represents almost five percent of Nevada’s general fund. So when there are arguments about whether or not mining is paying its fair share, it’s important to recognize that if we’re only two percent of the GDP but nearly five percent of the general fund, then that would indicate that mining is paying its fair share plus maybe a little bit more.
And it’s important to mention that mining has always been at the table when the state has been in a time of crisis, as it’s also been at the table when the state has been in relative times of prosperity. Mining is a net revenue producer for the state, and really helps to supplement the state’s social safety net through paying very high wages to its employees, by providing healthcare to its employees, paid sick leave and vacation time to its employees. So by any stretch of the imagination, most would say mining is an example and a model employer in Nevada.
But it is important to note that we will have tough conversations about the state’s budget coming up. COVID-19 has definitely caused some financial havoc for the state and frankly for its citizens. We’ll have a lot of conversations, and mining will be there at the table. Mining does not support industry-specific taxation, but will always consider and be willing to have a conversation about broad-based tax policy that broadens the base and lessens the burden on particular industries.
Q: In the last issue of the Mining Quarterly, in the Women’s Mining Coalition story, they talked about the legislation that is still being considered that would put a 12.5 percent royalty on new production from hard rock mining operations.
I think it’s important — particularly in these times where we have so many industries that are shuttered — it’s important that we don’t accidentally shutter an industry that is still actually operating and producing revenue for the state. Because all businesses have been impacted by COVID-19. Just because the industry continues to operate does not mean that our production isn’t down, which I talked about earlier. Just because we’re operating, does not mean that we’re unscathed. These are tough times for every industry, regardless of whether or not they’re operating.
The last thing I would emphasize is my personal enthusiasm for being in the mining industry. I know there are challenges that lie ahead, but I have the energy and the enthusiasm to be able to engage in those challenges, and frankly the background and skill set. I really believe that the mining industry is a model industry. Over the years it has continued to reinvent itself. It has always been a friend of the state, and the citizens within it. As these challenges come, I do believe that mining will continue to innovate, and continue to hold its place of relevancy. And because of that, I’m really excited to be here and be the president of the Nevada Mining Association.
I think it’s important to mention that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic mining companies have directly contributed, either through cash or in-kind donations, nearly $5 million to the state’s recovery efforts. Almost $2 million of that went directly to the governor’s task force, and $100,000 is going to Three Square, a food bank in southern Nevada. The Mining Association itself did a fund matching campaign for the Food Bank of Northern Nevada.
Going back to the statement I made about the opportunity to operate comes with a responsibility — though the industry itself is not operating at 100 percent, but more like 65 percent, it’s still going out of its way to make sure that it is doing right by the citizens of Nevada, by being at the table and being active in contributing money for the COVID-19 relief efforts.
I’m super excited to have been selected to follow Dana. I think Dana was a phenomenal leader, as was Tim before her. I’ve had the opportunity to work with them, and following in their footsteps is a huge honor and a great responsibility, but I believe that I am up to the task, and I look forward to executing the job, hopefully just as good as they did.
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