Lights, action: Actor brings Elemental LED company to Reno, 100 jobs planned
After going through the toughest recession in its history, Northern Nevada has seen its fair share of economic development victories. Here's a list of some of the major developments for the region in recent years. Wochit
Lights and acting are typically seen as a natural fit.
Perhaps it is no surprise then that Randy Holleschau found himself gravitating toward lighting when he decided to start his latest company.
A sometime actor and film producer who has worked with the likes of Chris Pine and Faye Dunaway, Holleschau is also a self-described serial entrepreneur with dozens of companies under his belt.
“I’m not a very good actor,” Holleschau quipped when asked about his acting chops. “That’s probably why I’m running a business.”
Not that creating new companies is easy. When you’ve created more than 40 businesses over the decades, you’re bound to experience your share of failure, too.
Holleschau, however, sounds especially ecstatic about his latest venture into the business world.
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“This is the first time that I have been on the right side of a technology in my career,” Holleschau said. “All the companies I’ve built before went against these giants and behemoths (in their industries).”
In contrast, the LED lighting sector is still an area of opportunity for new companies without an Amazon or an Apple lording over it. The lack of a dominant force has allowed Holleschau to build up Elemental LED in the Bay Area. Nearly a decade after creating the company in 2008, Holleschau says his team continues to file new patents for new LED technology that it is developing.
With the company outgrowing its Emeryville, Calif., facility, a change was in order. Holleschau decided to bring his entire act to Reno, including its 80 employees. The move was officially announced Monday at an event by the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada that included guests such as Gov. Brian Sandoval.
Sandoval said he was especially appreciative of the compnay's decision to move manufacturing from China to Reno.
"This is one of those days we worked for for many years," Sandoval said. "This is a team win for everybody who's here."
The Elemental LED CEO described the move as something that made business sense.
“Nevada has really great incentives,” Holleschau said. “I’ve always wanted to be in Nevada.”
Let there be light
Thanks to continued improvements, LED lighting is proving to be a bright spot in the technology industry.
The sector was a $26 billion market in 2016 and is expected to grow to $54.3 billion worldwide by 2022, according to a report by Zion Market Research. Another group, Radiant Insights, expects it to reach $63.1 billion by 2020.
It’s a pie that Holleschau definitely wants a piece of.
“People are buying five times as much lighting as they used to because they can get super creative with it,” Holleschau said. “Nobody knows how big (the industry) is going to get.”
Holleschau credits the invention of the blue LED light, which, combined with the previously developed red and green LEDs, made it possible to create white LED light — or any color for that matter — while taking advantage of the lighting technology's energy efficiency.
If you’re enjoying a smartphone, tablet or TV LED display, then you have the development of the blue LED to thank. Its development was such a big deal that the people responsible earned the Nobel prize in physics in 2014.
Elemental LED has been leveraging the lighting technology to create residential and commercial products that range from light fixtures to LED tape strips that can adhere to various surfaces.
The lighting products are a far cry from the large painted bulbs that were once used for outdoor Christmas lights a few decades ago. Thanks to their small footprint and flexibility, LED lights can turn anything from countertops to cabinets into impressive visual displays that can easily switch from one color to another on the spot, Holleschau said.
It’s only going to get better, he added.
“Some of the things we’re doing in Nevada with our new equipment can potentially reshape the industry,” Holleschau said. “I really can’t talk about it now but you can come up with some really amazing things.”
Home means Nevada
Prior to picking Reno for its new HQ and home base for manufacturing and R&D, Elemental LED looked at several other states such as Arizona and New York.
Although other places offered enticing incentives as well, Reno’s proximity to the Bay Area as well as places like Lake Tahoe ultimately won the company over, according to Holleschau.
“The culture is amazing and we wanted to give our workers better quality of life,” Holleschau said. “We also never felt so welcome than we did here … so we told the governor and the folks at EDAWN that we’re bringing the best parts of the business here and creating even better parts.”
At the same time, the incentives provided by the state certainly did not hurt, Holleschau said.
Records acquired from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development showed that the company applied for about $343,000 in total incentives through sales, property and modified business tax abatements. The deal includes:
- A 2 percent sales tax abatement for two years
- A 50 percent modified business tax abatement for four years
- A 50 percent property tax abatement for 10 years
In exchange, Elemental LED plans to spend nearly $1.9 million in capital expenditure investments for the facility. The state projects that it will directly collect about $1.7 million in state and local taxes over 10 years from the company. It also estimates indirect revenue of almost $6.9 million, bringing up the expected return to about $24.97 per abated dollar.
Although the application states an expected employee expansion to 100 within 5 years, EDAWN says the company is expected to reach that number within two years.
The average pay at Elemental LED is $42.84 an hour, which comprises a range of positions from engineering and management to customer service and warehousing. The company says it is working with local community colleges to help with training programs. It also has an internship program with the University of California, Berkeley and has talked to the University of Nevada, Reno, to do something similar in Reno.
Although Holleschau continues to have a soft spot for acting and producing — he continues to be proud of the Gemini Award earned by a film he helped produce called “Hunt for Justice” — Elemental LED has his undivided attention.
“Film is the only industry I’ve been in where you can do everything wrong and have a hit and do everything right and have a failure,” Holleschau said.
“We have a great team (at Elemental LED) right now and we’re just having far too much fun.”