Interview: What's The Future Of Elko's Economy?

Feb 13, 2017

In northeastern Nevada, the economic focus has been on mining for the last several decades. Local leaders are now looking ahead for new opportunities to carry the region forward.

To learn more about this rural economy, Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick recently sat down with Pam Borda. She’s the executive director of the Northeastern Nevada Regional Development Authority, which works with the greater Elko area.

KUNR: What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities that live in the region?

Pam Borda: The opportunities are that with the gold mining, it’s really easy to recruit additional industry and business associated with gold mining. So we have I think close to 1,200 support companies in the state, and I would say half of those are located in this region.

The downside of that is that we need to diversify, so we don’t want all of our eggs in one basket. Strategically we decided that maybe we just need to diversify from solely gold to other types of mining.

But one of the real challenges for us is that it takes 7-10 years to get permitted through [Bureau of Land Management]. If you could imagine a company that would have the wherewithal to make monumental investments upfront and not get a return on their investment for up to ten years, so it’s only the big players that can afford to do that.

You mentioned one of the challenges is diversifying the economy. What kind of strategies and plans are in place now to try to accomplish that?

We’re also very strong in the region in renewables. Right now we’re working on expansion of geothermal resources in this region. And we’re at the point where we’ve now discovered that the resource is very good, better than we thought, and potentially even good enough for generating electricity.

What other kinds of businesses are you hoping to attract to the area?

We think that manufacturing is one of those things that pretty much everybody in the country is looking at trying to attract. So we’ve decided that if we are going to compete with some of the big cities, that the thing we really need to look at is the companies that are manufacturing mining products. And that they would probably be the best targets.

And that is proving true. We actually have recruited a few manufacturers here recently and we have several in the works right now.

Do you feel there’s an adequate amount of workers in the area, and what’s being done to address workforce?

No, we never have enough workers. There’s always more jobs than workers. We say that everybody here that wants a job has one. We have very, very low unemployment and it’s a struggle always for workforce.

However, we also have an outstanding local college. They are exceptional with career and technical educational training. And they work directly with our mines and our hospital to provide training for the jobs.

I want to talk about housing. What are you seeing in terms of housing costs? What’s the outlook on housing?

The challenge in rural Nevada is getting folks here that can build housing. In some of these smaller areas, they don’t have contractors or developers, so it’s much more difficult to build affordable housing when you’ve got people coming from out of the area, with the expense of travel and per diem and that sort of things.

Most contractors don’t have the wherewithal to finance these projects themselves.

We have a new presidential administration in place. How are you feeling in general about where things are headed?

Actually I’m very excited about our future and I’m not so sure it has anything to do with politics, as it does as we have a lot of collaboration and partnership going on, a lot of planning.

And we’re going to create our own destiny regardless of what’s going on in the rest of the world.