NNBW Titans of Commerce Roundtable brings Northern Nevada industry leaders together to spark innovation | nnbusinessview.com

NNBW Titans of Commerce Roundtable brings Northern Nevada industry leaders together to spark innovation

RENO, Nev. — On a Wednesday evening inside the University of Nevada, Reno Innevation Center, a group of 16 people are standing in a circle, engaged in lively discussion.

They're talking workforce, housing and homelessness; they're talking education, infrastructure and policies. They're talking challenges, big and small, facing not only the broader Northern Nevada business community, but also the region as a whole.

The group consists of leaders from varying industries — education, construction, technology and more — who are gathered April 18 for the Northern Nevada Business Weekly's inaugural Titans of Commerce Roundtable. The event was sponsored by City National Bank.

The closed-door sessions, moderated by Stefanie Fenton of Reno-based Double-Black Advisors, were created to find common ground, trigger collaboration and spark innovation across all industries in Northern Nevada.

“We’re still leaping over mouse turds when we have mountains to take on.”Mike Kazmierskipresident and CEO, EDAWN

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Based on the first of four sessions scheduled on a quarterly basis for 2018, it was clear the region's industry leaders are motivated to take on challenges and cultivate ideas together, rather than in separate silos, in an effort to contribute to Northern Nevada's growth.

ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT

And while the region rapidly grows, Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, feels that the Reno-Sparks area needs to stop thinking like a town and start "thinking like a city."

After all, EDAWN projected an increase of more than 52,000 new jobs and 42,400 new residents to the region between December 2014 and December 2019 in its Economic Planning Indicators Committee (EPIC) Report.

"We as a community don't think very big," Kazmierski said to the group during the two-hour session. "We're still thinking like a town, we're still leading like a town. We're binding ourselves up with challenges instead of saying, 'we are now becoming a city, let's take this thing on.'"

Pausing, he succinctly added: "We're still leaping over mouse turds when we have mountains to take on."

Moreover, industries in Northern Nevada need to shake their "prospector mentality," said Mark Anderson, director of Nevada Industry Excellence.

"For a state that has so much going on and a pie that is so big, often we're acting as if there's this small pie and we need to protect our own little piece of the pie," Anderson said. "So the teamwork and collaboration that we could be having is not happening."

FINDING, KEEPING TALENT

On the topic of growth, two of the most common challenges echoed during the discussion stem from Northern Nevada's recent economic boom — a lack of qualified workforce and a lack of attainable housing.

"Those are always the top two topics," said Rob Hooper, president and CEO of Northern Nevada Development Authority (NNDA). "I don't care if you put manufacturers together or you put government (officials) together … there's a big commonality in the issues that we're facing."

Some business leaders said attracting skilled workforce to the region is a challenge due to a variety of reasons; from the poorly rated education system to the area's housing crunch.

For the second straight year, Nevada was ranked worst in the nation — 51st out of the 50 states and District of Columbia — in Education Week's annual Quality Counts report.

"I can't hire people in their early 30s-40s with kids who are school-going age," said Owen Roberts, general manager of Microsoft Reno. "Because the quality of education in the state of Nevada is so poor, people look at it and go 'we're not coming.'"

Roberts also said retaining diverse talent is a struggle at Microsoft.

"We can get young diverse talent, but we can't keep them in this town," he said. "Because they look around and don't see anyone like them. There's no cultural support system. We keep them for two years and they go, 'we love you, but we're going to Seattle' or 'we're going to the Bay Area.'"

Later on in the roundtable, Roberts proposed an idea: "Imagine having a hiring fair here, all major companies, in a non-competitive fashion, just trying to hire great talent for the region?" Hooper, however, feels a lot of the missing talent, especially in the skilled trades, is already here. He said community colleges play a key role in fostering the development of the hiding-in-plain-sight workers.

"We (at NNDA) are trying to figure out how to go out into that space to attract these people into programs, whether it's for healthcare or construction trades or manufacturing or any of the programs," Hooper said. "I think we have to look inward to find our people right now until we solve this workforce, attainable housing issue."

'THE MISSING MIDDLE'

Last month, the median price for a single-family home in the Reno-Sparks area broke a record set before the Great Recession, totaling $375,000 in March — and $400,000 in Reno alone — according to previous reports. This is compared to a national median price of $250,400 for March, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Anderson said the housing issue is a "double whammy." Not only is there not enough housing, he said, but people moving in from California,, who find housing in Northern Nevada significantly cheaper, are driving up the market.

Hooper said the housing issue is "somewhat of a catch-22 situation," noting that the majority of the housing being built is Section 8 — for low-income housing — or market rate, "where the profitability is."

"But who's building the missing middle right now?" he asked the group of leaders. "You look at 35 percent of your total income as the magic number that goes toward housing. You take someone making between $18 an hour and $80,000 a year — who's building that inventory (for them) right now?"

HOMELESSNESS IMPACT

An issue that stirred perhaps the most discussion during the April 18 Titans of Commerce Roundtable is one that continues to stare the region in the face: homelessness.

In 2016, according to the Nevada Housing Division, the Homeless Point in Time Count for Northern Nevada was 989 people, with 126 of them between ages 18 to 24.

All told, a non-contributing youth imposes a taxpayer burden of nearly $14,000 per year, according to the Economic Value of Opportunity Youth. Once they reach 25, they impose a future lifetime taxpayer burden of more than $170,000.

Dr. Anthony Slonim, president and CEO at Renown Health, thinks the handful of groups in the region trying to combat the homelessness problem need to be talking to each other.

"We don't have the ability to adopt innovative solutions for homelessness or any number of problems because we're too busy defending our turf," he said. "This is nonsensical. We end up getting in each other's way and we're not breaking through on issues as important as homelessness and half a dozen other issues like that."

Developer Par Tolles, founder of Tolles Development Company, said members on the private side have formed a taskforce and started working with the city of Reno on the homelessness issue. Specifically, the taskforce blueprinted a new transitional housing development.

"It will be the first impactful thing that the private side has done (to combat homelessness)," Tolles said. "Our hope is that it will snowball with others. The city (of Reno) has jumped in, and it is a very redeeming process to see that, OK, there's a bunch of people out here that really do care about this issue."

FOSTERING LOCAL YOUTH

Meanwhile, at Truckee Meadows Community College, architecture students are working on a tiny houses project for the homeless youth in Reno, said TMCC President Karin Hilgersom.

The project, she said, will be presented to city council members on May 4.

For Hilgersom, the tiny houses project not only helps the homeless, but also gives the students meaningful and enriching hands-on experience.

"To help solve a problem and really help a community, to me that's where higher education is going," she said. "That it's really about integration and trying to have well-rounded students who are also good citizens and good community members."

Kazmierski said the root of the homelessness problem, though, is the lack of state funding that goes toward combating mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction.

Many in the discussion agreed that, while new shelters and transitional housing developments are necessary, it's only moving the homelessness problem, not helping solve it.

According to the World Atlas, Nevada spends $89.41 per capita on mental health funding, which ranks 33rd in the country. For comparison, top-ranked Maine allocates $345.36 per capita on mental health.

"We are one of the least funded states in the nation in mental illness, least funded states in education, and we pay for that with our homeless problem," Kazmierski said. "So either we step up and pay the bill one way or the other. Right now, we're paying for it with an increase in homelessness."

The titans

Below is a list of the 25 Northern Nevada business leaders taking part in the Northern Nevada Business Weekly’s 2018 Titans of Commerce Roundtable discussions, which occur on a quarterly basis and are sponsored by City National Bank.

Names with an asterisk (*) indicate those who attended the first Titans of Commerce Roundtable on April 18, 2018:

Mark Anderson: director, NV Industry Excellence*

Stacy Asteriadis: VP/Branch Manager Reno, City National Bank*

Dr. Kristen Averyt: president, Desert Research Institute

Lee Bonner: local government liaison, Nevada Department of Transportation*

Jeff Brigger: director of business development, NV Energy*

Dr. Karin Hilgersom: president, Truckee Meadows Community College*

Rob Hooper: president/CEO, Northern Nevada Development Authority*

Alan Jurkonis: president, American AVK Company

Mike Kazmierski: president/CEO, Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada*

Craig King: COO, Chase International Real Estate

Melissa Molyneaux: senior VP/executive, Colliers International

Marily Mora: president/CEO, Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority

Dr. Greg Mosier: dean of the College of Business, University of Nevada, Reno*

Rick Murdock: senior VP of sales/marketing, Eldorado Resorts*

Wally Murray: president/CEO, Greater Nevada Credit Union*

Owen Roberts: general manager, Microsoft Reno*

Sherry Rupert: executive director, Nevada Indian Commission*

Greg Sanders: CEO, ITS Logistics

Dr. Anthony Slonim: president/CEO, Renown Health*

Nathan Strong: executive director, Churchill Economic Development Authority*

Don Tatro: executive director, Builders Association of Northern Nevada*

Par Tolles: CEO, Tolles Development Company*

Brooke Warner: general manager, Sierra Nevada Media Group

Rodney Westmoreland: director of construction, Tesla Gigafactory

Craig Willcut: president, United Construction*

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key takeaways from April 18 roundtable:

Dr. Anthony Slonim, president/CEO, Renown Health: “Cross-industry collaboration is essential. Just having different lenses into the same problem really helps you all to be better. There’s much more stimulation that can come from working with people who come from a different background.”

Don Tatro, executive director, Builders Association of Northern Nevada: “I thought it was so interesting how you went from looking internally at the businesses to immediately at the community needs. And how it would work as a whole, and better every industry through addressing the needs that crossed over everyone here.”

Owen Roberts, general manager, Microsoft Reno: “I think there were so many likeminded individuals who genuinely want to make a difference here in Reno and Northern Nevada. That, to me, was the biggest thing that popped out. And that people were willing to have an open mindset to opportunities and ideas.”

Dr. Karin Hilgersom, president, TMCC: “I think one of the takeaways was that there is a way to prioritize and get community leaders — whether that’s in business or education — together to focus on one challenge at a time. I think that was pretty cool how that was structured. I hope we can continue that focus.”

Rob Hooper, president/CEO, Northern Nevada Development Authority: “I was really encouraged with the group’s willingness to collaborate and talk to each other, and put all these things on the table. I like where we’re moving forward to.”

———-

BY THE NUMBERS

Below is a snapshot of just some statistics the helped frame conversations — and open eyes to opportunities — during the April 18 Titans of Commerce Roundtable:

Increases expected between 2014 and 2019 in Northern Nevada

52,000: more new jobs

42,4400: more new residents

Source: EDAWN

Median home prices for March 2018

$375,000: Reno-Sparks area

$250,400: National median

Source: National Association of Realtors

Number of homeless people in Northern Nevada

989: Number of homeless

125: Number of homeless between ages 18-24

Source: Nevada Housing Division, stats as of 2016

Money spent, per capita, on mental health funding

$89.41: Nevada spends

33: Nevada’s national rank (out of 51, including Washington D.C.)

$345.36: What Maine spends

1: Maine’s national rank

Source: World Atlas