Reno’s Tesla Journey Started a Long Time Ago

“For decades, Reno was a gambling and tourism mecca, albeit a dimmer star than its long-time rival Las Vegas. However, now, with the onset of the high-tech economy, this city of 300,000 no longer sees itself as a big player but rather, an emerging hub for information-age companies.”

The quote above could be dropped into just about any news story hitting today about Tesla Motors revealing it has broken ground on a new battery Gigafactory outside of Reno. You ask what is a Gigafactory anyway? Tesla seems to have cornered the market on that word too.

However, the snippet above comes from a study published in 2001 by the Milken Institute titled “Knowledge-Value Cities in the Digital Age.”  If you are interested, go to page 69 of the document where you get a flavor of what author Joel Kotkin forecasted for Reno pre 9-11 and certainly long before Elon Musk had the gleam of millions of batteries in the corner of his eye.

Regardless if Reno actually gets the factory, today was a major achievement for my hometown. Let me explain why.

Back in 2001, when I was interviewed by Kotkin for the Milken study, I was a much younger fresh faced executive director for a non-profit called TechAlliance. This organization later morphed into the Nevada Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (NCET). When we toured Kotkin around, people started laying out a vision for the future. It is noteworthy that the selling points in Reno back in 2001 have not changed in 2014:

  • Great quality of life.
  • Access to the Bay Area (3 ½ hour drive).
  • Emerging University.
  • Affordable housing and land.
  • Pro-business environment.
  • Proximity to outdoor recreation in Lake Tahoe and the Sierra.

It’s exactly the reasons we continue to grow Noble Studios from the heart of downtown Reno.

Many of the people quoted in the study including those behind the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center (where the new Gigafactory would land) were betting big on Reno and now their payday could come in the form of lots of new Tesla batteries rolling off the assembly line.

Since that time in 2001, Reno economic development and rebranding runs deep in my blood. In fact economic development was actually how I met Jarrod Lopiccolo (Noble’s CEO) and Lorna Shepard (Noble’s Strategic Planning Director). In reflecting today, I am struck with a simple but surprisingly complex vision to grasp. Reno doesn’t need to reinvent anything. Simply stay focused on the vision we had back in 2001 (and long before it, for that matter). After all, keeping up with the times means anticipating what might happen and planning for future success, a concept we see played out in many of our clients who are enjoying success in their marketing and product development.

So even if Tesla ultimately breaks our hearts and moves the factory to greener pastures in California or Texas, we get to reap the rewards of headlines like these: “Reno is Tesla’s First Choice” and “Tesla Hints at Reno for Gigafactory”.

Reno’s image just took a big step forward today. Congrats to all of those folks who worked so hard to make it happen at the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN), the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), and all the private sector folks who danced around providing reams of information during the courtship of Mr. Musk.

So what are you doing at your business or in your community to set the stage for your future success?  All of us in Reno should be asking that question right about now. After all this whole Tesla thing was hardly out of left field.