Reno Growth: What’s the fuss?

One of the earliest childhood Reno memories of mine is waking up on Saturday, grabbing an early breakfast, and hitting the road to Berkeley to secure Indian spices that could only be secured on the other side of the Sierra Nevadas. Along the way back, with the help of a Triple A map, we’d locate an Indian buffet for dinner, steal a few samosas for the road, and head back to the 775.

Maybe it was because we didn’t know any better, or my parents were just grateful they no longer had to suffer through Midwestern winters, but seldom were there any qualms of having to make a four-hour journey to access some degree of our culture.

But many weren’t so patient. In the true spirit of the Silver State, several our brave beige brethren rolled the dice on the notion that Reno would welcome South-Asian focused businesses.

Today, in an area that no so long ago entertained the idea of a Senator Sharon Angle, is now home to four South Asian grocery stores, three Indian restaurants, and for me, a shopping experience at Trader Joes which invariably includes several solicitations for advice on naan products (FYI: when in doubt, always garlic naan it out).

Economic and cultural signs of progress are not solely confined to my community. In a town of almost a quarter a million people, most Northern Nevada patrons can jubilantly provide you with evidence of their beloved Biggest Little City (BLC) evolving, surviving, and in the nascent stages of thriving.

Underneath this newfound sense of optimism, however, is still a region slowly crawling out a brutal decade of economic hardship.

Thus, there is justifiable anxiety about how best to establish a framework for long-term economic growth. Stroll through city hall, a community gathering, or a gentrification approved brewery and you’d be sure to find patrons passionately debating Reno’s future.

Yet, what is absent from ongoing city planning discussions is the unique opportunity to establish an urban growth framework. A growth strategy, reinforced with the right investments and leadership, that can galvanize Reno’s economy but also act as a blueprint for growth for the rest of the nation.

Aside from its low tax burdens, Reno is unique from other high growth areas because of its political diversity. Unlike some high growth liberal oasis’s, 775 patrons need not treat an interaction with a Trump supporter as a Jane Goodall’esque anthropological endeavor. Because given the politically purple nature of the Biggest Little City, engaging with the “others” is a normal affair. Further, despite the hoards of technology companies allocating investments into the region, Reno still relies on mining as a significant source of revenue.

Given these conditions, Reno can become the gold standard for assisting blue collar workers transition from an industrial workforce to a more technical occupation in a politically divided environment.

For starters, Reno must amp up its participation in the burgeoning $200 billion renewable energy market. The job opportunities in these fields provide a solid salary and are the prominent industries of the next decade. Recent decisions by Governor Sandoval to reopen Nevada’s solar market and Mayor Schieve’s commitment to the Paris Accord also crucial steps to prepare Nevada’s for current shifts in the labor market.

Reno policymakers can also be national trendsetters by redesigning local education programs to better prepare younger generations for the future. Education curriculum often prepares students to excel in a generation preceding the time they enter the ‘real world’.

Young Renoites need an updated education curriculum that allows them to cultivate impeccable writing, researching, and communication skills. While these skills do not translate into a set profession, they are crucial for two reasons; people with these skills have been proven to gain employment in any industry and any job market.

Creating an education framework to make students competitive for the information age is admittedly an arduous task. It will be harder, however, for our younger residents to secure jobs of the future if they don’t develop the necessary skills today. Further, failing to reform education policy, invites the risk of future financial agony for all Reno citizens.

Ultimately, effective policy cannot be executed without strong leadership. As the nation has become lethargic about politics, it should be welcoming news to see several candidates throw their hat in the ring to become Reno’s next mayor.

Disappointingly, the same archaic themes are being utilized; youth brings innovation, a business pedigree symbolizes astute financial engineering, and one’s duration as a Reno resident qualifies as a reason to hold a position of tremendous power.

Reno deserves better. Voters in the 2018 should ignore these false narratives and introduce a litmus test for mayoral candidates that gauges their ability to be empathetic, assess the environment in which they were a leader, and their ability to speak intelligently and with nuance on issues germane to city growth. Regardless of political party, history has shown incompetence can be found in all backgrounds. Choosing the wrong leadership can not only squander an opportunity for growth, but also set back a region for decades.

A new path forward doesn’t need to come at the expense of our long-held traditions. As the need for weekend cultural cuisine trips became unnecessary, our family discovered another early morning tradition in the Great Reno Balloon Races. Today’s discussion about how we shape Reno’s next chapter rekindles an adolescent excitement I had when I woke up in those fall mornings to witness hundreds of balloons floating across the beautiful BLC sky.

We should be proud of the strides our town has made in the past decade, but now is not the time for timid and tepid measures. Reno must not shy away from the moment and embrace the opportunity to construct an ambitious path that can usher in a new era of prosperity that can be a model for the rest of America. But this opportunity must be spearheaded with the leadership that values thoughtful clarity over tired clichés.

Because sometimes when well meaning ideas are not carefully thought through or properly executed; like summoning a caramel complexion grocery patron to be your human Yelp review, results tend to end up a bit unsavory.

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