PART 2: Nevada County economic model is currently unsustainable
SECOND IN A SERIES: This the second in a series of three stories discussing shifts in tech industry trends that could make a positive impact on the Nevada County tech economy. It was originally published in The Union newspaper on November 4, 2018.
Western Nevada County has some work to do to attract — and keep — a younger demographic.
The end result is a homogeneous older population that does not have the same income or spending habits of younger people.
Nevada County Tech Connection’s Talent Development Team is working to create a more hospitable environment for tech interns, bringing them together at social events and introducing them to some of the things in Nevada County that appeal to people their age. But housing remains an issue.
One of the first question interviewers at local tech companies ask when considering interns is whether or not they already have access to local housing.
Scott Murray, vice president of product management at Telestream, worries about the sustainability of this type community.
“We are all getting older,” he said. “It’s like a pond that has water flowing out — people are retiring, leaving, dying. There is very little inflow into the pond. A healthy pond has inflow and outflow. Our pond is going to dry up.”
Diversified Businesses for Economic Sustainability
The need to grow and strengthen our local tech economy is becoming more urgent. Climate change has had an enormous effect on eastern Nevada County over the past few years: seasonal companies like ski resorts can no longer rely on the weather to run successful businesses.
Truckee Town Council member Morgan Goodwin, who served as mayor in 2017, works remotely for a global nonprofit. He believes in the power of the tech industry to transform eastern Nevada County.
“We’re really excited about creating jobs that take advantage of a tech community and create economic sustainability that is more diversified, and less reliant on the seasonal tourist industry,” he said. “Tech business has potential for exponential growth. A core product that is digital can go from five to 500 sales overnight.”
Rachel Arst McCullough, president of Tahoe Silicon Mountain and owner of McCullough Web Services, agrees.
“In Tahoe, we are looking to grow business that can scale.”
The Solution: Connecting the Dots
For entrepreneurs and tech businesses to thrive, they need to be able to connect with each other and with local tech talent. A critical mass of enough tech jobs in our county and a way to connect with those companies means that if someone takes a job here that doesn’t work out, there are other jobs available. Moving here is less of a risk.
The solution is connecting all of the necessary aspects of a thriving tech economy in an entrepreneurial and tech ecosystem. A tech and entrepreneurial ecosystem connects funders and investors with startups, experienced mentors with entrepreneurs, tech professionals, entrepreneurs, and students with training.
It includes co-working spaces, startup incubators and accelerators, educators who are teaching relevant skills, mentors, investors, government participation, existing businesses ventures to serve as models, talent, and of course, a fiber broadband infrastructure to connect it all digitally.
Having the physical space to anchor the community and encourage cross-pollination is key. There is also great benefit in extending the connections in our ecosystem to the larger locations in our tech corridor. This includes Reno, South Lake Tahoe, and Placer County as well as the Greater Sacramento efforts.
Lastly, connecting local businesses and turning established businesses into early adopters of new local products strengthens the bonds of a tech ecosystem.
Nevada County’s Tech Ecosystem
Our local tech ecosystem is starting to come together, with help from local government initiatives. Western Nevada County’s Economic Resource Council (ERC) and Truckee Tomorrow’s Business Speaks program (led by the Truckee Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Town of Truckee) are both working to connect the dots and ensure a vibrant and sustainable economic future for Nevada County.
Two years ago the ERC opened an office for its Nevada County Tech Connection initiative in an unassuming office building in western Nevada County. Today that office is known as the Nevada County Tech Hub. It hosts manufacturing companies, startups, nonprofits, and a handful of entrepreneurs (a writer, an attorney, a radio and television show producer) who specialize in the tech industry.
Many of the Tech Hub’s tenants collaborate, connecting with each other and attracting like-minded professionals at frequent tech and business related events. NCTC facilitates connection among its tenants and the larger community, providing tech-related events, education, training, coaching, networking, and mentoring in the space.
Connecting Educators with Entrepreneurs
NCTC’s Talent Development Team is working closely with Sierra College, the Nevada Joint Union High School District, and other schools in western Nevada County to make sure they are teaching the skills that local tech companies are looking for.
Community members can learn a wide variety of tech skills through the Connected Communities Academy. Other, less formal programs are directly connecting mentors with would-be tech professionals and entrepreneurs.
The Sierra Business Council’s Tahoe Pitch Camp and Showcase, which are jointly produced by Tahoe Silicon Mountain and the Sierra Business Council, provide training and visibility to local startups. Tahoe Silicon Mountain’s Startup Weekend Tahoe helps would-be entrepreneurs transform ideas into functional businesses over the course of a weekend.
In western Nevada County, Sierra Commons teaches entrepreneurs how to start businesses through its Business Ignitor course. Several successful local businesses used the course to launch, including Elixart, Polly’s Paladar, and Three Forks restaurant.
Tech Meetups have popped up all over the county, connecting mentors with workers who want to learn new skills and meet potential collaborators.
“I wanted to unify people and give them something where they could all relate and network,” he said.
Erika Kosina, who lives in Nevada City, is a communications consultant and writer for the Nevada County Tech Connection.