Douglas, regional economic forecast reviewed
From the Carson Valley, Northern Nevada and Lake Tahoe, no economic discussion at this point in history can be complete without an enumeration of the damages done.
The Douglas County Forecast ’09, Wednesday night at Carson Valley Inn, was no exception. County Manager T. Michael Brown laid it out straight and unadorned, using the word ugly more than once.
He started with building permits, 31 issued so far this fiscal year, compared to a normal year’s 500-600.
“It’s ugly for people who build houses or sell houses or offer goods and services to the community,” he said. “Revenue is half of what it was four years ago, and that is significant to us. The trend is continuing downward, unfortunately.”
Brown moved to the state budget crisis, which he described as looming over already strapped local governments.
“I’m very concerned about the impacts on government and all people in the community,” he said.
While social service agencies swell with caseloads, revenue sources remain flat or declining.
“Douglas County has the highest suicide rate per capita in the state, and it’s a major issue,” he said.
Brown was one of more than 25 speakers at the event, which was organized by the Douglas County Building Industry Association. This year’s theme was the upside of a down economy, and Brown was one of the first to offer that upside.
“As a fan of limited government, I can say that the county is lean,” he said. “The county has decreased its workforce by 10 percent in the last two years.”
Brown also said the economic climate has made people more willing to negotiate and collaborate on projects.
“Despite all the challenges in the community, this is still the most beautiful place to live in Nevada,” he said. “Nothing’s changed. We’re still here and ready for business.”
Community Services Director Scott Morgan said business is booming in the social services department, booming at the senior center and the county’s after-school programs. Unfortunately, increased need is depleting reserves and necessitating budget cuts. But Morgan lauded the 200 or so people who attended the event for their continued support and sponsorship of community programs.
“We don’t just need you, we depend on you,” he said.
Kris Holt, executive director of Nevada Business Connections, said the manufacturing sector of the economy will be critical to the county’s future.
“We think manufacturers are the answer,” he said. “They pay the highest.”
He pointed to California and the 1.5 million people in manufacturing there. He said the Golden State is Nevada’s golden opportunity.
“It’s real easy to sell our quality of life,” he said. “EPA regulations are much easier here than in Santa Barbara. Property, labor, taxes ” the cost of doing business is lower.”
Chuck Alvey, president of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, asked audience members to raise their hands if they knew someone unemployed. About half the people in the audience raised their hands.
“Unemployment in Douglas County is at 11.4 percent,” he said. “In the region, there are 35,000 people out of work. They could fill the Lawlor Event Center three times.”
But Alvey said he is someone who looks for the silver lining in a dark cloud.
“Back when there was 3.5 percent unemployment, companies felt there was no workforce here,” he said.
That’s changed. He said there’s now a huge, readily-available skilled workforce. He also said decreasing real estate values have made the prices of land and houses and office space more competitive.
“When the cycle moves, and the pendulum swings, people see it and get on,” he said.
Alvey emphasized teamwork above all.
“If we divide, we fall. If we work as separate entities, it will be a disaster,” he said. “There isn’t enough we can do to get 35,000 people back to work and the economy going again.”
Rob Hooper, executive director of the Northern Nevada Development Authority, acknowledged the need for jobs, but added that the right jobs need to be created.
“Growth for growth’s sake is not necessarily a good thing,” he said. “We want to find the right texture for Douglas County, the businesses that fit and can be successful here.
“I would hate to be that 22-year-old kid out there trying to raise a family. In these tough times, we owe it to them to fix this. The answer is in this room, in the community.”
Hooper echoed Holt’s conclusions about neighboring California. He said the harder it becomes to operate a business in California, the more phone calls his organization receives.
“The good news is that we are getting calls,” he said. “Some say they can’t be in business in California anymore, or they can’t expand in California right now.”
Tim Rubald, former executive director of the Nevada Commission on Economic Development, said there is no denying that a new paradigm has emerged.
“Things have changed whether we like it or not,” he said. “Someone once told me that change is the only constant in this world.”
Rubald mentioned a statement made earlier in the night by Record-Courier Publisher Charlie Pankey. Pankey had said that tomorrow’s millionaires are being forged right now.
“It’s a new time,” Rubald said. “We can take a moment, do the planning, and head in the right direction.”