RENO, Nev. - Eugenia Larmor, president of Reno-based Ekay Economic Consultants, has more questions than answers as she considers the job-growth outlook for northern Nevada in 2013.
"It's an issue that's full of caveats," she says.
But like other economic observers, Larmor expects that the region will continue to see modest growth in new jobs -nothing to get anyone excited, just a continued improvement from four years that have been marked by declining employment and anemic recovery.
Larmore expects to see modest job growth in logistics, health services and clean energy jobs in the Reno-Sparks area tin 2013. Gaming, government and construction, she says, are likely to remain weak job markets.
Statewide, Bill Anderson, chief economist for the Department of Training, Employment and Rehabilitation, projects that the biggest gains in the five-year period of 2011 to 2015 will come in hotels and restaurants (12,800 jobs), retail trade (11,100 jobs) health care/social assistance (8,000 jobs), transportation and warehousing (4,500 jobs) and mining (4,300 jobs).
He expects the construction, finance and manufacturing sectors to hold steady while the public sector should shed about 1,500 jobs in that five-year period.
Brian Gordon, a principal in Las Vegas-based Applied Analysis, projects job growth of about 1.2 percent in the Reno-Sparks region next year. That's slightly better than the growth of slightly less than 1 percent the past couple of years.
That would translate into roughly 1,900 new jobs in the region, which has lost about 35,000 jobs since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008.
Retailers, Gordon says, are providing a little-noticed boost to employment in the region. Retail sales in Washoe County in recent months have been running as much 8 percent over previous-year figures, driven largely by sales of big-ticket vehicles and appliances.
Strong sales lead to more hiring by retailers and the distribution centers that keep their store shelves stocked. Another source of job growth will be the arrival of new companies in the region.
The Economic Development Agency of Northern Nevada, for instance, was working with about 140 prospective new employers as 2012 drew to a close, and EDAWN executives thought at least 40 of those companies were close to making a decision.
Nine of those prospective new employers are operators of data centers, a sector that seemingly appeared out of nowhere during 2012 to become a new cornerstone of the region's economy.
Apple caught much of the attention this year with its plans for a $1 billion investment in a data center east of Sparks and supporting operations in Reno. NJVC, a provider of data-center services for national security operations, supported its move into commercial markets with a new center in South Meadows.
Mike Kazmierski, EDAWN's president and CEO, says the Reno-Sparks area provides a combination of factors ranging from seismic safety to excellent data connections that make the region a safe and reliable place for new data centers.
At the same time, he says manufacturing and logistics companies - solid foundations in the region's economy for decades - continue to look at the area.
Manufacturers account for about 40 percent of EDAWN's prospects, and he says many are looking to move their operations - and their jobs - from the regulatory and taxation problems they face in California.
"California continues to make it very easy for us," Kazmierski says. A big question, Larmore says, is how well the new employers drawn to the region by economic development efforts match up with the available labor supplies.
"If we are bringing those companies - Apple, transportation, medical - do we have the trained workers, or will we have to import the trained workers?" she asks. In November, the Reno-Sparks region counted about 22,300 people who were looking for work, says the state's Department of Training, Employment and Rehabilitation. The area's jobless rate was 9.9 percent in November, which compares with 12.1 percent a year earlier.
While the November unemployment statistics show a decline of 5,200 in the number of workers who are seeking jobs, a substantial part of the decrease apparently resulted from people who moved away or gave up the search for work.
Total employment in the region in November stood at 201,500, a gain of 3,100 over the same month a year ago.
Anderson notes that the state figures in November were the lowest unemployment figures in Nevada since March 2009.
But the pace of job-creation has slowed in most recent month, the economist says.
Statewide, Anderson projects the jobless rate will decline from 11.8 percent this year to 10.6 percent in 2013 and 10 percent in 2014.