Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Diversifying Elko

“I’m Jack Schultz and I approve this message,” was how I started my talk after the introduction. I was in Elko County, NV (population 47,010) the day after the election and the response to my intro got a good laugh. The good citizens of Elko were glad that the election was over. Being a battleground state, they got inundated with advertising and campaigning. I was amazed when I learned that during the presidential campaign season this rural Northeast NV county had three visits from Sen. Obama, one from Sen. McCain and a late visit the night before the election from Gov. Palin. Talk about the critical importance of certain regions and states!

I had been in Elko two years ago today, when I was there to help them inaugurate Frontier Telephone’s first-in-the-nation wireless broadband service in the town of Elko (population 16,708). Elko had immediately jumped at the chance to install the new technology as a way to help diversify their economy. They also were in the early stages of setting up a major rail-park as part of that diversification strategy. At that time, Elaine Barkdull Spencer, the dynamic Executive Director of the Elko County Economic Diversification Authority (ECEDA), passionately told me of her desire to diversify away from its dependence upon the notoriously cyclical mining industry.

Frontier’s broadband service has resulted in a number of new businesses starting up and the rail-park is almost operational. The county purchased an 810-acre ranch that ran along the main line of the UP Railroad from San Francisco to Chicago, turning 60 acres of into a multimodal transload facility and warehousing yard and industrial park. Already land has been sold in the park to Pacific Steel, SAS Global, Spirit Minerals and Ormaza Group. Pacific’s project is now under construction.

Elaine told me of ECEDA’s goals, “Even though we’ve got 37 mines here in northeastern Nevada that pay incredibly well, we know that we’ve got to look at how we diversify. We’ve identified five areas for development: Small manufacturing to use our skilled workforce; food processing for our abundant water; distribution with our rail and road assets; construction companies; and mining support companies.”

Mining is still in a boom phase, even though the main product of gold (Elko County is the largest producer of gold in the USA and fourth largest in the world!) has fallen from over $1,000/ounce earlier this year to $700. It will have to fall a great deal more to fall below the estimated break-even price of $400/ounce and even then production would not stop because of the ten year time period to re-permit a mine that is closed down. The “Carlin Trend” gold vein which runs from Carlin, NV (population 2,161) where I did my talk, over to Elko, is 50 miles long and about five miles wide. There is plenty of gold in “them thar hills!”

Elaine spoke of her own two sons, both of whom work in the mining industry, “I never wanted them to go into the industry because of its notorious boom and bust cycles. However, the money is so good that they both ended up there. My oldest son who is 27 makes over $100,000 per year as an electrician in the mines and the other is 26 making just shy of $100,000 per year, supervising a crew of 32, all of whom are older than him.”

I was impressed with her efforts to find other jobs for the communities in Elko County.

No comments: