Commentary - March 21, 2017 - by Ray Hagar
By Ray Hagar
Lance Gilman, partner-broker of the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center in Storey County, has many successes in attracting major businesses to Northern Nevada.
The Tesla Gigafactory is, perhaps, his crown jewel.
The massive TRI, billed as the largest industrial park in North America, sits just next to Washoe County, Nevada's second largest county and home to Reno and Sparks.
Gilman expressed concern on Nevada Newsmakers Tuesday about a bill at the Nevada Legislature that could force counties like Storey to pay impact fees to neighboring counties -- like Washoe -- for infrastructure and educational costs Washoe may incur for these huge projects that impact two or three counties -- like Tesla.
That's why some around the Legislature have called this proposal, Assembly Bill 153, made by Assemblyman Skip Daly, D-Sparks, the "Tesla Bill."
"We've established in Northern Nevada today our place -- if you will -- in the world market," Gilman said. "We are attracting major companies on a world basis. And I will tell you: They would beg us, 'Don't change the game plan. Don't change what you are doing in Northern Nevada."
Gilman is not the only one who saw the bill as a deal-killer for economic development that could lead to trench warfare between neighboring counties across Nevada:
"One, it would pit county against county," said Jeff Fontaine, executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties. "And two, it would impede the development of major projects."
Yet neither Gilman nor Fontaine has much to be worried about.
The alarm over the language of AB 153 -- which may have led to county vs. county lawsuits over the proposed impact fees -- has forced Assemblyman Daly to withdraw the bill. Daly said he will begin again to find an equitable solution for counties that share impacts from major development projects.
Daly will set up an advisory committee made up of lawmakers and stakeholders from four or five Northern Nevada counties to study the issue and come up with new language for the bill. He also wants the to get the Governor's Office of Economic Development involved.
"I hope to have their (GOED) involvement as well," Daly said in a committee meeting earlier this month. "Because what I have been hearing is that if this bill went forward in its current state, it would slow economic development and that it would be a counter balance to some of the things people look at in Northern Nevada --.that (this bill) would slow that down. That was never the intent."
AB 153 in its current form met its death in the Assembly Committee on Government Affairs on March 10. It was easy to miss, since the committee's tip-off time to discuss this bill came on a Friday at 8:30 a.m.
It was then Daly said he plans to gut the entire bill.
"We will keep the bill number, the signed sponsors and the summary about the results of projects of inter-county significance," he said. "Probably the rest of it will not be there."
The change of heart came after Daly held a meeting the night before the committee meeting. The blow-back apparently forced him back to the drawing board. He acknowledged the efforts some some lobbyists involved.
"This bill, is almost a lobbyist's full time employment bill," Daly quipped before the Government Affairs Committee..
The pull-back of the bill also allowed Daly to declare victory -- by getting county representatives to discuss major projects, how they impact multiple counties and what to do about it.
"We have already achieved a partial goal of getting the players together and start thinking in the same direction, cooperatively," Daly told the committee.
Daly's testimony before the Government Affairs Committee that day was one of the most uncomfortable I've seen in the past 15 years at the Legislature.
His bill was met with with alarm as he sat by himself, testifying before the committee. Assemblywoman Dina Neal, the vice chair of the committee, issued a brutal smack down of Daly's bill.
Neal is the Democratic daughter of legendary state Sen. Joe Neal. Like her father, she represents North Las Vegas and her community would suffer along the same lines as Storey County if Daly's bill was made into law.
Daly anticipated Neal was about to lower the boom when it came her turn to speak. When she took the microphone, you could hear Daly mutter, "Oh no."
Then said Neal:
"I mean ... Assemblyman Daly ... You have once again given us a gift. Thank you."
She was being facetious, of course.
Then she asked about his proposed committee to fix the bill:
"So you are talking about this advisory group and I am still confused on what exactly this advisory group would do and which portions of this bill are you expecting to delete?
"Is it all of it?" she asked. "That's my wish."
That drew some laughter. She seemed relieved when told by Daly that, indeed, all of it would be changed.
"Yeah, I was wondering because (in the bill), you were having folks suing each other, doing alternative dispute resolutions," she said.
Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, was concerned how the bill would impact the rest of Nevada's counties.
"The biggest thing I see right now it that you have 17 counties and this could open Pandora's box," he said. "You could be looking at North Las Vegas vs. Las Vegas. So this bill could actually have a large devastating affect throughout the state."
THE WHOLE POINT FOR THE opposition to AB 153 is that Nevada must work regionally to attract major businesses. Inter-county squabbles that might become unintended consequences of the bill could have a drastic impact on economic development, Gilman said.
Even debating such a bill in the Legislature could give cold feet to businesses currently thinking about locating to Northern Nevada, Gilman added.
"Just merely having the conversation, having the conversation publicly could be very very damaging to our prospects in the future," he said.
Legal issues the bill might spark between counties could take time to resolve, Gilman said. Why would an out-of-state company move to an area where neighboring counties are trading punches in court over impact fees?
"Now can you imagine a company coming to Northern Nevada with that kind of delay and with that kind of scheduling risk?" Gilman said.
Things are going well for Nevada in the economic development environment, which has been nurtured during the administration of Gov. Brian Sandoval.
So lawmakers major concern has become, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The impact of Tesla and other major companies at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Complex is helping more than just Washoe and Storey County, Gilman said.
"We have firms that are locating in Fernley today -- not in TRI -- that are major support elements for Tesla," he said. "Those firms are spreading out and as soon as we finish the USA Parkway, which ties into Highway 50, Silver Springs is going to see the benefits.
"And all of the transportation that will go south through Yerington is going to have tremendous benefit," Gilman added. "Then you are going to see a lot of the focus and building along the Highway 50 corridor, going back to Dayton and Carson City."
It's all about jobs -- and building new homes to accommodate the workers -- which adds more jobs.
"I already know two home builders, one is in Silver Springs with 140 acres and the other chose Carson City and 500 acres," Gilman said on Newsmakers, not revealing the names of the builders. "So I want to expand our focus from just the Reno area.
"I want this to become the Sierra-Northern Nevada region," he said. "And truly, we have a regional opportunity right now for prosperity across the board. But I believe we have to stay the course and I'd be very cautious of what we do to change our direction right now, especially out of the legislative process."