On Tuesday evening, Nevada governor Brian Sandoval, in the last year of his second term, hosted a tech summit at the Tesla Gigafactory near Reno. Sandoval's reasons for choosing it as the place to highlight his accomplishments are obvious – as one of the world's largest buildings, nestled in the world's largest industrial park – it's the most striking monument to Northern Nevada's regeneration from underappreciated backwater to tech hub.
Sandoval started the evening by sharing some statistics about Nevada as it was when he took office in 2010. Unemployment was above 14 percent. Bankruptcies and foreclosures, he said, were the highest in the nation. This was at a time when the entire country was still shell-shocked from the 2008 recession. In October of that year, he pointed out, the front page of the Reno Gazette Journal ran a front page story titled "Reno: Detroit of the West."
To turn that around, the governor set to work creating a favorable environment for businesses, vowing to create 50,000 jobs in four years.
Eight years later, much has changed. Businesses have indeed come to Nevada, bringing those jobs and then some to the state. Apple was the first; it began creating a 1.1 million square foot data center in Reno in 2012. Then Nevada landed the Gigafactory in 2014, and the upstart automaker went to work building in the desert outside of Sparks, Reno's suburban neighbor. Google followed, buying over 1,200 acres nearby in the spring of last year.
Now, Governor Sandoval said, "One of the next big chapters in this Nevada story is Blockchains." He's referring to Blockchains, LLC, a relatively new company, which first made waves earlier this year when it bought over 65,000 acres of land in the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center (TRIC). In doing so, it didn't so much surround itself with big tech players like Google and Tesla, but surrounded them; it now owns much of the land in TRIC.
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After presenting a proclamation to Blockchains CEO Jeffrey Berns that renames TRIC "Innovation Park," the governor held a Q&A with Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The topic quickly turned to growth. Musk said that his company currently employees about 7,000 people in the area and wants to hire more. There's a problem, though: "The biggest constraint on growth here is housing and infrastructure." So much so that the company is looking to build on-site housing. Still, he said, "If you're interested in building anything that people want, I'd recommend coming here."
While unemployment in the state is down to 4.5 percent, the boom has not only been bringing jobs for Nevadans but presenting fresh challenges. In March, The New York Times ran a story about Reno's housing shortage, which has been exacerbated by Californians immigrating to the state to take advantage of its newfound economic opportunities. It's a far cry from the "Detroit" days.
Blockchains, LLC itself has roots in California. Berns says the company was attracted to move to Nevada because of the governor's initiatives as well as by what Tesla and Panasonic were doing. In a panel with Tesla CTO J.B. Straubel and Shawn Watanabe, director of Panasonic Corporation's Tesla Energy Business Division of Automotive & Industrial Systems, Berns said, "We anticipate 10 to 20,000 people will be employed by what we have planned here in the next 10 years."
The company has a long way to go to meet its ambitious growth goals. It currently employs fewer than 100 people, but showed it was serious in its intentions by bringing on Kosala Hemachandra, MyEtherWallet founder, as its chief blockchains officer this June.
What exactly those thousands of people will be doing, Berns wouldn't say. Instead, he said an announcement would be made at the forthcoming Prague Blockchain Week on November 1. When pressed by the governor, however, he did leave some hints:
"We are building a sandbox – and it's a sandbox unlike anything that's ever been built before. We will incubate different technologies. And the synergies that will come from those technologies – because we're using blockchain as a foundation for it – will create projects and products that will change the world."
Nevada has always had plenty of sand. No matter the challenges, it's high time people started to play in it.
Jeff Benson is Managing Editor of ETHNews. He's worked as a writer and editor everywhere from Sudan to Reno. He holds a bachelor's in politics from Willamette University and a master's in nationalism studies from University of Edinburgh. When he's not in the newsroom, he trots the globe and writes about it. He holds a bit of value in ETH.
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