June 24, 2016

On its surface, Reno still looks and sounds like a casino town.

There’s the neon pink and green skyline of its aging mega casinos, the slot and poker machines inside most every grocery and liquor store, and the all-you-can-eat-sushi buffets.

Peel away that top layer, though, and a newer Reno emerges — one with craft breweries, music halls, coffee shops and a public art collection that rivals a city the size of Oakland.

Mike Kazmierski, president of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, has helped woo more than 100 tech-oriented and advanced manufacturing companies to the region in the last few years. But he thinks too many people still imagine Reno as a sleepy, gaming spot in the middle of the desert.

While casinos are still a major presence, “gaming now is less than 8 percent of [Reno’s] economy,” Kazmierski says. His agency predicts the region will add 50,000 new jobs to the area in five years — a stat that inspires as much hope as it does anxiety.

Colin Loretz, the founder of a downtown coworking space called Reno Collective, says that, “the goal is to not move to San Francisco.... The goal is to carve out a little bit of the culture you’d find in San Francisco, here. We’re seeing people move here from the Bay Area…. We’re seeing cost of living chase people out.”

So Loretz and his business partner launched their first space, which has 120 members and occupies two floors of a high-rise in a part of town that’s now called Startup Alley, just a few blocks from those dinosaur casinos.

Loretz says Reno’s reputation is changing, thanks to new companies like the electric carmaker Tesla and Switch Data Center moving in. But it’s still a long way from Silicon Valley.

Not that that’s been a deterrent to Tesla. The company is building a $5 billion battery factory on the outskirts of town to power the cars and homes of the future. The company was lured to the region thanks to its low-regulatory, low-tax environment — and $1.3 billion in tax incentives.

Even without tax breaks, Reno is still drawing new blood. Julie Arsenault, founder of the underwear subscription service Panty Drop and Loretz’s fellow co-worker, relocated from San Francisco three months ago. “If you like the outdoors, and you want to be close to tech, but you want something that’s a little bit smaller, I think it’s a really good option.”

Nothing is perfect, however. “I would love a place around here where you could get a kale salad for lunch,” she admits.

Not everyone is as positive on the tech infusion, especially those who’ve seen Reno’s boom and bust cycles over the last few decades.

Margie Hicks has lived in Reno for 40 years and rents a two-bedroom, one-bath house in Midtown, rapidly becoming one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods.

With home prices on the rebound, she noticed “for sale” signs popping up in front of houses on her block this year. In March, she found out the owner of her house plans to sell, too.

“It seems to me like the people that are talking about Midtown, are talking about the youth — get the youth down here,” Hicks says. “But what about us older people that have maintained this neighborhood all these years? There has to be a place for us, too.”

One of her favorite features of the house is the little garden out front, which was nothing more than dirt and rock when she moved in six years ago. She says this year she’s only putting in cabbage because it takes 45 days to grow, enough turnaround in case she’ll need to go elsewhere.

Julie Arsenault, Julia Ritchie, Colin Loretz, innovation hub, Business, Kara Miller

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