Can the Newcomers Club Help Clean Energy Lead Economic Recovery in N. Nevada?

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Since the economic downturn, community leaders have gathered in numerous forums across northern Nevada to determine the best solution for economic recovery. Conferences held by the Chamber, EDAWN, and several by the RGJ, with their Reno 2020 program, have all identified clean energy as a key ingredient.  Political leaders echo the virtues of clean energy for job creation and for transitioning from a consumption to a production economy. But, so far, progress has been slow. Like knowing what to do, but not knowing exactly how, given state finances and political ideologies.

Solar operations in the south are doing exceptionally well, with the latest massive Crescent Dunes CSP project in Tonapah as example. Geothermal is a rousing success in the north, making Nevada among the highest per capita conversion to electricity in the country. And the City of Reno launched a $20-million clean energy retrofit and energy efficiency project in 2008 to put Reno on the map as a renewable energy leader.

Here’s the big however. Clean energy companies that develop solar, wind, or biofuel technologies continue to play a very small role in the economic development (ED) plans in the north. Many innovative, worthy start-ups are stuck for lack of funding and risk disappearing. Seriously. To re-invent a western phrase, there’s a new sheriff in town. In fact, there are several. Three of the ED agencies in the north have new leaders — newcomers — and all of them will be guided by the new ED plan from Governor Sandoval, also a relative newcomer. Here’s a run-down on the players:

• Steve Hill is Executive Director of the new Governor’s Office of Economic Development and has been on the job for about six months. Now known as GOED; it replaces the former NCED.

• Mike Kazmierski is President and CEO of the Economic Development Agency for Western Nevada (EDAWN). He moved here from Colorado and just celebrated his first 100 days.

• Christopher Baum is President and CEO of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (RSCVA). He was imported from Detroit and, likewise, is only a few months on the job.

• Rob Hooper is Executive Director of the Northern Nevada Development Authority (NNDA). So while he is one of two veterans, he will be guided by the new set of ED plans from the GOED. More on this below.

• The other veteran, Dave Archer, is President and CEO of  the independent Nevada’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. While not exactly a state agency, NCET and each of the above state agency executives cross-pollinate on each others committees, to achieve common goals.

According to the State ED plan for 2012-14, just published from Governor Sandoval and Steve Hill’s offices, targeting key industry sectors is one of five major objectives. And clean energy is one of the four “targeted sectors” that will get increased staff attention over the next three years. The overall mission is to attract, retain and develop “high-quality jobs for Nevadans.” The state plan is here.

You are never disappointed being cynical, especially if past performance warrants it. But there is reason to believe that Nevada’s “newcomers” — and the new ED plan — can make a real difference this time. First, there’s that natural excitement that accompanies new high-paying positions for these professionals, plus the pressure that all political, business, and media eyes are on you. But there’s more. In a series of interviews, here are some insights into their resolve:

Mike Kazmierski, EDAWN

• EDAWN’s overall ED strategy has three components: attraction, retention and supporting entrepreneurial and start-up ventures. “Entrepreneurship” support and development includes clean energy companies.

• Mike has further stated: “Renewable energy is an important part of our future as a community and we are incorporating a focus on the attraction, retention and entrepreneurial growth of clean energy jobs in all of our programs at EDAWN. We will be pushing for a renewed emphasis on sustainability by the entire community as that will also help to create additional opportunities in the clean energy sector.”

Christopher Baum, RSCVA

• As senior vice president of the convention & visitors bureau in Detroit, Baum created a national marketing campaign “Detroit 3.0” that promoted green tech as one of the region’s growth industries.

• To attract meetings and conventions to N. Nevada, he plans to approach green energy associations (solar, wind, geothermal, etc.) to investigate convention opportunities.

• “Green energy is good business and good citizenship, but it’s also good for us and our families, so it’s a win-win,” according to Chris.

Rob Hooper, NNDA

• Generally, NNDA’s goal is to help new or start-up renewable energy companies launch and grow. Rob spoke enthusiastically about helping cogeneration company Elite  Energy get established in Carson City.

• To compete with neighboring states that offer location cash grants, NNDA points out that business taxes and other costs in these states end up costing more over time. Also, and similar to what EDAWN practices, NNDA performs analysis of all costs of running a business over time and demonstrates that, after approximately 10 years, cost of operation in Nevada is cheaper.

Dave Archer, NCET

• Dave believes “Nevada is poised to become the clean energy capital of the world, and clean energy will be a major factor in Nevada’s future economic growth.  We’ll see more and more companies choose to locate here, as have Advanced Refining Concepts, ElectraTherm, Gradient Resources. And, we’ll see a growing number of companies install geothermal, wind and solar generating plants in Nevada, joining Enel Green Power, Ormat Technologies and Sempra.”

There is now a new formal ED plan in place from Governor Sandoval’s office that directly supports Clean Energy as one of four “target sectors” for development.  Combine that with solid credentials, commitment, public and peer pressure on our “newcomers,” and it looks like there is a chance of achieving Dave Archer’s hope of becoming the energy capital, and a realization of Senator Reid’s often quoted promise that Nevada will become the “Saudi Arabia of renewable energy.” But it will only happen if we all do our part.

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