What Keeps the CEO of EDAWN Up At Night?

Since his election in 2010, economic development has been at or near the top of Governor Sandoval’s agenda, and the Reno-Sparks area has chalked up some big wins. Following is our attempt to get a snapshot of where things stand and an indication of where they might be heading via a Q&A with Mike Kazmierski, CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Northern Nevada. Don’t miss our Q&A with Jonas Peterson, CEO of Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, as well.
the Stat Pack:  What are EDAWN’s projections for new jobs in Northern Nevada in each of the next three years?
Kazmierski:  We project 4,000 new jobs in 2015, 3,500 new jobs in 2016 and 3,000 new jobs in 2017.  (As a point of reference, our five- year average from 2008 to 2011 was 840 new jobs per year.)

Reno skyline from Wiki Commons
Reno skyline | Source: Wikimedia Commons

the Stat Pack:  Does EDAWN project that those jobs will primarily arise in the sectors and industries targeted by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED)? Which other, non-targeted industries are most likely to organically contribute to job growth in Nevada?
Kazmierski:  Yes, the vast majority of these jobs will be in advanced manufacturing, logistics/distribution, e-commerce, data centers and technology.
the Stat Pack:  Which states are Nevada’s biggest competitors for attracting companies in GOED’s targeted industries?
Kazmierski:  The competitors for Northern Nevada are mostly in the West:  Texas, Arizona and Utah.
the Stat Pack:  How does Nevada’s economic development budget compare with those of competitor states?
Kazmierski:  We generally offer far less in incentives because we have other business advantages. Additionally, our incentives are primarily the abatement of taxes along with training funds.  We generally do not provide cash or up front incentives like other states.
the Stat Pack:  Would you recommend any changes to the incentive and support programs that exist at GOED?
Kazmierski:  It would be helpful to build incentive programs for entrepreneurs and start-ups as our current incentive program has job creation minimums, so these small companies often do not qualify.  These companies, with a little help, can grow up to be big companies someday.
the Stat Pack:  What are Reno-Sparks primary metro competitors doing that we might emulate, in terms of workforce development, abatements, incentives, etc.?
Mike Kazmierski addressing Reno residents at a press conference in August 2014. Photo courtesy of EDAWN.
Mike Kazmierski addressing Reno residents at a press conference in August 2014. Photo courtesy of EDAWN.

Kazmierski:  Other states put much more emphasis on workforce training and development.  More than 80% of the jobs we attract require only a vocational certification or a two-year degree, yet funding for our community colleges in the north continues to decrease. Additionally, other states offer training incentives in greater numbers and amounts than we do; the incentive is considered an investment in the skills and education of citizens in the state. We tend to look at it more as an incentive to the company and thus provide far less in funding support, if anything.
the Stat Pack:  What are Northern Nevada’s top three competitive advantages in the region?
Kazmierski:  1.  Strategic location (we can get ground transport to the eleven Western states in one day) and proximity to California, especially Silicon Valley.  2.  Lower cost of doing business. This includes many variables, including labor, taxes and real estate.  3.  Business friendly government, which includes reasonable inspectors, pro-business elected officials, a right to work state, and responsive government via processes and systems.
the Stat Pack: What are Northern Nevada’s three biggest negatives?
Kazmierski:  1.  Our investment in education has been a concern. Companies depend on a quality education system to prepare the employees they will need in the future.  2.  Our downtown is not what it needs to be to attract and retain the talent we will need in the coming years.  3.  Adequate and affordable housing is a new issue that we must address.
the Stat Pack:  What are the three biggest, best present-day economic development opportunities EDAWN is pursuing?
Kazmierski:  1.  Revitalization of our downtown, the only real chink we have in our armor.  2.  Better community engagement with the University in an effort to make our community more of a college town.  3.  Facilitating 1 gig fiber connection to every home, which – with SWITCH’s enhanced overall connectivity in the region – will help as we rebrand the region as an up-and-coming technology savvy community.
the Stat Pack:  In most regions, economic development agencies work closely with the business community. Give an example of how EDAWN is working with the Reno-Sparks-Northern Nevada Chamber to advance Northern Nevada’s interests.
Kazmierski:  We work closely with the Chamber, especially on legislative issues.  Our current involvement in SB 411, an initiative to increase funding for our school capital needs, is one example of that cooperative effort.
Groundbreaking ceremony at the Petco distribution center in Reno on October 16, 2014. Photo courtesy of EDAWN.
Groundbreaking ceremony at the Petco distribution center in Reno on October 16, 2014. Photo courtesy of EDAWN.

the Stat Pack:  What challenges has your agency faced that are unique to Northern Nevada?
Kazmierski:  The one challenge we face is the attitude by some in Southern Nevada that we are not on the same team.  In my view, it is Nevada against the world and the better we cooperate with and support one other, the stronger we will be as a state – and the better the economy will be for all Nevadans.
the Stat Pack:  Nevada has one of the most highly centralized systems of higher education in the country. How does this affect workforce development efforts? Would local autonomy of the governance and administration of the state’s two and four-year colleges allow for more effective engagement between these institutions and the business community?
Kazmierski:  We do not generally engage in legislative issues that do not directly impact on our ability to attract, retain, and grow quality jobs. That said, my experience in general is that the more control and engagement the local citizens have in anything, the more ownership and support they provide, so decentralized government has its advantages (and I’m sure some disadvantages as well).
the Stat Pack:  Despite recent development successes and a headline unemployment rate of around 7%, Nevada’s U-6 unemployment rate – a number that includes not only the jobless but also discouraged workers and part-time workers who would rather be working full-time — is the second highest in the nation at more than 15%. Why is this so number so rarely talked about? How important is it to Nevada’s overall economic success to bring the U-6 rate down?  
Kazmierski:  In my experience, the headline number used at the national level and by the media is the only one that the general public is aware of.  And even that number is only a factor if it is moving up or down.  Unemployment, regardless of how it is measured, is important as it reflects on the economic vitality of the state.
the Stat Pack:  The Kids Count profile just released by UNLV and the Annie E. Casey Foundation reported that 34% of Nevada’s children and youth live in families without secure employment, which is defined as a household in which no parent has regular, full-time employment. What is primarily driving the lack of employment security in Northern Nevada, where it exists?
The Nutrient Foods building in Reno.
The Nutrient Foods building in Reno.

Kazmierski:  We are still recovering from a difficult recession and the jobs we are attracting do not in many ways fit or replace the jobs that were lost.  So there must be a realignment of our existing employee skills to our incoming employer needs.  That is where training funds and educational alignment will help.
the Stat Pack:  The June 2015 Reno-Sparks visitor total, on a 12 month moving average (MMA), increased by 1.3% over last year to 388,810. However, the visitor count was slightly lower than May’s 12MMA and visitation has not seen the turnaround that Las Vegas has experienced. The Reno-Sparks 12MMA peak occurred in May 2004, when 467,904 visitors came to the region. What are the challenges and what is the solution? 
Kazmierski:  Reno-Sparks is in transition from a visitor economy to a business economy driven by advanced manufacturing and entrepreneurial growth. We will likely see, at best, modest growth in visitor count with so many competitors nationally in that space, yet we are experiencing significant job growth in our target sectors:  advanced manufacturing, logistics/distribution, e-commerce, data centers and technology. Our rapid business growth will more than replace any loss of visitor traffic and provide a more sustainable economy for the region.
the Stat Pack:  And finally… our signature question: What Keeps You Up At Night?
Kazmierski:  Creating a place where our kids and our grandkids can find a quality job and enjoy the quality of life in the years ahead. Our success in attracting quality companies to the region is providing us the desired growth to reinvent the region in a more sustainable way – but with growth comes challenges. There are many anti-everything advocates who have apparently forgotten what it is like to have 14% statewide unemployment and who are using the challenges as an excuse to rail against growth and put at risk the real opportunity we have to become the next great technology center and advanced manufacturing hub in our region.

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Mike Kazmierski is the President & CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, aka EDAWN. He leads a team of economic development professionals who recruit, expand/retain, and grow through entrepreneurial support, primary businesses that create quality jobs in the Reno-Sparks region.
Prior to his position at EDAWN, Kazmierski managed a 14-person non-profit economic development corporation in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as the head of the Regional Economic Development Corporation of Colorado Springs.
Mike is a retired Army Colonel and former garrison commander of Fort Carson, Colorado, when it was recognized as the best of the 270 installations in the Army. He holds a Bachelors Degree in Engineering from the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), a Masters degree in Business Administration, and a Masters degree in Military Arts & Science.

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