- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

RENO, Nev. (AP) - Stan Thomas tried to persuade a Northern California tech company to move here but it didn’t want to.

His job at the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada is to entice companies to relocate to the Reno area.

“They looked at us four years ago and didn’t see the creative class here,” he said. “There weren’t enough things going on downtown to get excited about moving their headquarters here.”

But the day after the Tesla Motors Inc. announced it would build a $5 billion battery factory east of Reno, he got a call. The company’s tax situation would soon be getting worse in California and Reno was in the news for a major economic score. What’s new, its executives wanted to know.

“I toured them through The (Reno) Collective, downtown, around the ballpark, the university and Midtown. We stopped and had a meeting at Craft,” Thomas said about the Midtown seller of beer and wine from small producers around the world.

“Then we ate at St. James Brasserie. It was filled with young people. He said, ‘Wow, this is exactly what we’re looking for.’ I put him up at the new (non-gambling, non-smoking) Whitney Peak Hotel and he loved it and that’s where he wants people to stay. It was a home run.”

A deal is still in the works so details can’t be discussed, but it’s part of a pattern: Take executives from visiting businesses to downtown and Midtown restaurants and watch their negative preconceptions about Reno shatter.

This new tool in the region’s economic development toolbox didn’t come about by accident, and the restaurants aren’t just sitting by passively in recruiting companies to move here.

“When (restaurateurs) see me come in,” Thomas said, “they greet my clients. One message clients always say is ‘It feels like community, it feels like we’re one of the family.’ They’re greeted friendly with a smile and handshake. (Restaurants) are part of the recruitment process.”

He mentioned Blackhawk Network, a prepaid credit and gift card company that opened a service center in south Reno last year.

“We took them into Campo,” Thomas said, of the downtown restaurant owned by Mark Estee. “Mark knows when I have somebody with me and he makes a big pitch about how easy it is to do (business) things here.”

“Especially companies coming out of California, they want to see the food thing, especially the younger creative groups but also back office and headquarters relocations. Ashima (drone maker) wanted to be downtown. They’ve enjoyed the restaurants downtown. Having nightlife and places to go to break bread and share some juice - it’s part of the whole package.”

Estee said he tries to find out what industry visitors are in when they come to Campo.

“Once I get an idea of who’s coming in, I might go over and ask, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Welcome. What are you guys looking at?’” he said. “I try to become friends with them. That’s my philosophy anyway. Providing good service is knowing your customers: what are they thinking about, what questions they have.”

He gets asked a lot of questions, things like “What’s your experience with the city permit process?” and “What’s your experience with revenue?”

The first thing he tends to say is that he was pleasantly surprised after moving from Truckee, California about how welcoming Reno was and the excitement level from city officials, other businesses and customers about having new businesses locate here.

“We’re all in this together, whether you’re a greasy spoon or a white tablecloth restaurant,” Estee said. “The idea, I think, is the more business and food options we have, the better our community becomes. So that means that I love dive bars as much as a fancy bar so I’m happy if my city has a combination. Some clients like a casino hotel, some like Whitney Peak.”

The main place for business meals in Reno used to be in a casino basement. A lot has changed since then.

Chuck Shapiro, owner of Wild River Grille and a space for larger parties called River Room, said people tell him all the time: “I had no idea there were such nice areas downtown.”

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Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, https://www.rgj.com


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