The Future Of Tech In The High Sierra

Dec 13, 2017

Since the Great Recession, Nevada has made significant investments in diversifying its economy into a new frontier: technology.

Apple, Tesla and Switch have all set up here. So, what does the future look like for this growing industry in northern Nevada?

Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick reports.

Dozens of business, civic and community leaders gathered earlier this fall to celebrate a higher education technology company Alchemy, which has moved its headquarters from Santa Barbara, California to Reno.

Governor Brian Sandoval was the first to welcome them.

“Today is one of those days where you start to feel this fundamental, seismic shift in our area.”

Alchemy co-founders (from left) Jim Carr and Mike Duffield speak with Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval during September's announcement that the company was moving its headquarters to Reno.
Credit Noah Glick

Economic development officials have hosted dozens of these celebrations, but this one stood out, with Alchemy promising hundreds of new jobs at an average salary of $70,000.

They’re the types of jobs Sandoval has set his sights on.

“We’re not going to be a tourism and gaming based economy. We’re going to be a technology economy. We’re going to be an advanced manufacturing economy. You put all that together, yes, Reno will be different, but it will be better. It’s part of that new Nevada I’ve always talked about.”

The state of Nevada has been active in attracting more tech companies. In 2011, state lawmakers drafted an economic development plan that created a $10 million catalyst fund to recruit businesses to the area. And in 2014, Sandoval approved a $1.3 billion incentive package for the Tesla Gigafactory. He says moves like that are part of the process in today’s economic climate.

“It’s very competitive out there, I would prefer not to give incentives, but there are other states that would kill to have a company like Alchemy that we have here.”

Creative proposals are becoming the norm, as regions battle for corporate investment. In the competition for Amazon’s second headquarters, Newark, New Jersey offered up to $7 billion in tax incentives, while Stonecrest, Georgia actually offered to change its name to Amazon.

And as Nevada officials work to bring more tech companies to the region, Katie Zwart is busy trying to fill those new jobs with qualified candidates. She’s a recruiter for TEK Systems, an IT and telecommunications recruiting firm in Reno.

“So a lot of those tech positions are going to be within telecommunications, which involves the cabling, you have your fiber optics people, you have your fire, alarm and security people, you have anyone who’s dealing with any type of low voltage technical work.”

Zwart says many companies right now are in construction phases, and those types of trade-based jobs will trend down once projects wrap up. She does expect to see growth in Nevada’s data centers, which offer more career positions in network and systems administration.

But when it comes to advanced manufacturing, she says there’s a threat looming ahead.

“So, we need to be really careful as far as what we’re projecting for this area. Some of these companies are automated, so these warehouse environments and different manufacturing environments are going to be automated.”

Robots are already being used at Amazon and Tesla. Kyle Dalpe is the dean of technical sciences at Truckee Meadows Community College. He says the next phase is to teach the robots to talk to each other.

“What we’re going to start really training people in is industry 4.0. And that’s when everything is automated but then the automation talks amongst itself and the systems talk to one another.”

As businesses look to grow, Dalpe says automation will become a necessary way to increase efficiency.

“The future is going to be all about automation. Whether that automation is a computer program sequence or whether it’s about robots helping in a certain part of the industry, then that’s what it’s going to be about. Now at some point though, there’s always the human interface.”

A recent study by consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimates that automation could replace up to 800 million human jobs by 2030.

Despite that, Dalpe says there will always be a need for the soft skills that humans bring to business. His challenge now is training Nevada’s next generation of workers.