This year's Chamber event, called Directions 2017: Engines of Change, painted a much brighter picture of Northern Nevada's economic future compared to last year. The region has made major strides in development and growth since the recession and even since 2015, most notably transforming from the state with the highest unemployment to the second fastest growing job market in the country.
“I said we couldn’t have 4 percent job growth year over year," said Mike Kazmierski, CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada. "But it’s happening and it’s being projected that we'll see more. Our historic job growth was 2 percent. This is not business as usual.”
Kazmierski predicted Nevada would be at full employment soon. He also hinted at another 3,200 jobs coming from new or relocating companies in the next 18 months — thanks to EDAWN.
Eight speakers presented a diverse set of indicators for the future of Reno: physical health, economic growth, small business growth, urban revitalization, civic engagement and commerce.
Several speakers turned the audience of mostly business owners and executives' attention toward workforce training. They said in order to attract and retain talent, the state needs to focus its energy on education.
“We need to increase the number of Nevadans with post-secondary degrees and credentials,” said Manny Lamarre, executive director of the Governor's Office of Workforce Innovation. “You need a trained and educated workforce. Employers are saying people are showing up to work without a degree. That’s not career ready.”
Lamarre said his new department in the Governor's Office of Economic Development will present a bill to the Nevada Legislature in hopes of making the Office of Workforce Innovation permanent.
Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison said this is the perfect time to engage in politics because American life is political — everything is affected by an election.
Without workforce training and improved education, Nevada will continue to see more income disparity, said Frederick Steinman, an economic development specialist at the university. A focus on talent can close the wage gap in the region, which will in turn help people keep up with the rapidly increasing cost of living, according to Steinman and Kazmierski.
Steinman also said Northern Nevada is more interconnected than ever. People commute from ex-urban counties to work in urban centers. For example, 74 percent of people who live in Carson City work in Carson City, while the rest commute to surrounding cities and counties.
As genXers look toward retirement and boomers settle into it, the consumer base of the region will also change, driving more consumption toward health care, Steinman said.
That's one of the reasons Renown Health and the Desert Research Institute partnered with 23andMe to conduct regional DNA testing.
“Worrying about health insurance keeps people up at night," said Anthony Slonim, CEO of Renown Health. "We have to think differently about community health if we’re going to be successful."
The 23andMe project, which uses genetic testing to determine ancestry, also helps the hospital build a regional database of health indicators. Slonim said he hopes their database can help doctors find early indicators for genetic diseases, such as cancer.
“If we can identify cancer three years earlier, wow, we can really get somewhere," he said.
Renown's goal is to build a database of 100,000 people.
While Slonim talked about residents' health, Tom Murphy, senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute, reiterated Reno's need for improved urban health.
“Cities don’t change or succeed by accident; they succeed or fail by intentionality," Murphy said.
The city of Reno previously hired Murphy's team to give recommendations for improving the 5.7-mile Virginia Street corridor.
"It typifies the good, bad and ugly of Reno, doesn't it," Murphy asked the crowd.
He noted that boomers are looking for the same thing as millennials: vibrant, artistic, culturally relevant, walkable or bikable urban environments. Millennials in particular, are less likely to own a car, preferring other modes of transportation, he said. Reno needs to invest in making the corridor into a place where both generations can enjoy their evolving predilections, he said.
At the end, Kazmierski said for Reno to achieve all of these things, it must address its affordability problem. He showed the audience the increasing cost of real estate and rent, while incomes increase modestly.
“If you can’t afford a house what do you do? Rent a trailer, sleep on the river or rent an apartment,” he said.
But he is bullish on Reno and in favor of managed growth even at the cost of what others consider historic and salvable, such as the motels demolished in downtown.
“In case you didn’t notice, we’re growing," he said. "But not everyone likes growth; people in line or waiting in traffic aren’t happy with (EDAWN) right now.”
Similar to many of Kazmierski's public addresses, he said there's always more work to be done.
“This is not a bubble. There is no projection in the future and some of the numbers are slowing down," he said. “The best thing you can do is attract talent to the region: friends, family, alumni. Reno-Sparks is an opportunity and they need to come here.”