During the Great Recession, unemployment in Nevada reached 14.5 percent. That led the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, or EDAWN, to try and attract high numbers of jobs to the region.
Now, with low unemployment and rapid growth, local leaders are setting their sights on higher paying tech jobs.
Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick sat down with Doug Erwin, a senior vice president with EDAWN who is focused on entrepreneurial development, to learn more.
KUNR: EDAWN has outlined a new goal to attract more high-paying jobs to the region. Can you tell me about that initiative and how you plan to make that happen?
Erwin: When we first started this work five years ago, we were at 14.5 percent unemployment. And over the past five years, we’re down basically to full employment. Five years ago, getting our people back to work was the number one priority. Now, our strategies really have to change. So, this is really a path towards further diversification of our workforce.
It’s really about changing a lot of career arcs. So, it’s not just about bringing in the jobs; it’s about building the skills and the capacities in our community to really create opportunities for people across the board.
How does EDAWN then go about recruiting companies? What’s your process like? How do you target companies or industries to the region?
I think, first part of that is an assessment of what are our strengths in our community, and where can we build upon areas of success? Then, we really build a message around that and go out there and target specific industries and specific companies—primarily from the West Coast, because those are the companies that are familiar with the area and quite honestly are under the most strain right now.
So, you see a lot of flight of companies outside of the Bay Area in particular, just because of the cost and congestion and mercenary workforce. All of those things are really drivers where companies are starting to leave.
What are companies looking for and how do those strengths here locally align to that?
First and foremost is talent. You can’t build a high growth, high-tech company without quality talent. And, one of the challenges, especially in the Bay Area, is there is a mercenary culture, which is you can’t keep people at your company very long.
What we have is a much more loyal workforce and so that’s really important if you’re going to build a good company, you need quality people over the long haul.
Do we have the talented, high-skilled workforce here or do you see any challenges with workforce right now?
Yeah, so ‘Yes and…’ We do have amazing talent, companies like Bombora and Koch Industries have been able to hire their data scientists and their software engineers. So, what we’re doing is we’re working with the university, we’re working with the community colleges, and we’re working with companies like Udacity to do specific types of training to fill gaps. So, we did a partnership with Udacity that was a first of its kind online, in-person full stack developer training. And that was a good way to fill in a skills gap, because software development is probably the most sought-after skill in the world right now.
I think every community is going to face that a little bit, so just helping people create new career trajectories and working with training partners to fill that gap.
Let me ask, because there’s a lot of talk regionally here about the question of whether Reno is really the next tech hub. So, I’m just going to ask you flat out: is Reno the next technology hub?
I think that technology plays an important part in every community and we are going to absolutely see an influx of technology companies here. It’s hard to separate out what is an actual tech hub and we have lots of technology-driven companies. And even if it’s not software, technology is a component of everything.
So, we don’t want to be the next Silicon Valley. We want to be the best versions of ourselves and create opportunities for all of our citizens. My personal mission on this, I’ve got two young boys, I would like them to have the option to stay in Reno. They may decide not to, but I want them to have an opportunity. Whether that means they’re a Ph.D. scientist or software engineer or a construction manager, I want all of those opportunities to be available.