Nevada has been outperforming most states in recent months when it comes to factors such as private-sector job growth, with the state’s unemployment rate dropping below 5 percent in February. That’s the lowest it has been in the past recession-ravaged decade.
The number of employers in the state is at a record high, growing by about 8,000 since the pre-recession peak of just over 60,000. The gains have come despite predictions that Gov. Brian Sandoval’s business tax would be a job-killer.
“This is a watershed moment in our state’s recovery efforts,” Sandoval said when the jobless rate was announced last week. “Job levels are at an all-time high. The number of employers is greater than ever before. Our private sector growth is the fourth-highest in the nation with small businesses fueling our revival by contributing nearly 100,000 of the 213,000 new jobs since late-2010. We knew Nevadans could battle through the most difficult of times, but today’s announcement exceeds even my own optimistic goals. This is a great day for the entire state of Nevada.”
Our governor has many reasons to be proud. Nevada’s metro areas have undergone quite a reversal under his leadership in the wake of the Great Recession. The rural parts of the state have also seen a reversal, however, and the statistics are not as cheerful.
The mining industry has seen the least job growth out of any sector. Year-to-date totals show that mining has grown by 300 jobs, compared with nearly 9,000 for the leisure/hospitality industry.
Elko is one of only four counties that has seen construction decline over the past five years. Humboldt and White Pine counties have seen the biggest declines, with construction employment down about 50 percent compared with 2012. Construction in most other counties is up by 50 percent over the same period.
Our rural economy is stagnant but not declining, as gold prices have stayed high enough to keep mining profitable – just not high enough to make exploring for more gold worthwhile.
On the local scene, the City of Elko is looking at a flat budget and Elko County is under a hiring freeze, which means many positions that are vacated in the coming year will remain unfilled.
What would it take for rural Nevada to benefit from the rebounding national and state economy?
The answer to that question is and always has been “economic diversification.” Beyond that sound bite, however, is the reality that cities attract more diverse business investments than rural areas.
For example, the Tesla Gigafactory was such a massive project no city could contain it. The company needed a rural area, and Storey County provided a location with plenty of space that was not too far from the Reno-Sparks metropolitan area, or from California.
Economic centers create their own gravity, and the bigger they get the more attractive they become. Elko is far from any major population center but our city has the advantage of being the biggest in its region. Elko may not be growing now, but it is poised to keep its status as the center of gravity in northeastern Nevada for decades to come.
Tourism has a key role to play in that future, providing the region’s abundance of public land is not sealed off from public uses such as motorized recreation, hunting and other opportunities.
The state’s lieutenant governor, Mark Hutchison, heads the Nevada Commission on Tourism, which plans to conduct the annual Rural Roundup here at the end of April.
“Through this event, we can provide our rural communities with the most recent marketing and communications trends and insights, and showcase tactics to better drive visitation through unique offerings that appeal to domestic and international markets,” he said in a recent release.
Our city has many successful events that have been running for many years, but tourism efforts need to be updated regularly and new events cycled in to replace those that reach the end of their lifespan.
We look forward to this event and the opportunities it could bring for Elko’s future.