The world’s fourth-largest gold-producing area, free from taxes like corporate (under $4 million annual revenue), personal income and franchise tax, Northeastern Nevada’s diversified, rock-steady economy is like few others in the state.
Fueled by a pioneering frontier mentality going back to its founding in the mid-1800s, Northeastern Nevada’s county seat of Elko remains a strong center for growth to this day. Established in 1869, Elko is famous for everything from cattle-ranching and farming to its mines and mining industries.
Northeastern Nevada’s communities encompass Elko County (Carlin, Elko, Wells, West Wendover), one of just 10 American counties of more than 10,000 square miles; Eureka County, Humboldt County (Winnemucca), Lander County, and White Pine County (Ely).
In the economic downturn in 2008, Nevada, in general, was hard hit. But in particular, the opposite was true for Northeastern Nevada, according to Sheldon Mudd, Executive Director of the Northeastern Nevada Regional Development Authority (NNRDA).
Mudd says other parts of the state – particularly urban areas – had long based much of their local economies on industries prone to downturns, like tourism, gaming, and construction. When the global financial crisis hit over a decade ago, it resulted in high unemployment, with residents losing their homes and businesses closing their companies.
However, Northeastern Nevada, thanks to its primary economic engine, gold mining, retained its existing businesses and attracted new ones, making it largely recession-proof.
For decades, gold has remained one of the main drivers behind Northeastern Nevada’s ongoing success. With gold prices reaching record highs, it comes as no surprise that the counties of Northeastern Nevada are sought after by many companies as desirable places to do businesses.
One of the area’s recent big developments was the creation of Nevada Gold Mines (NGM).
A joint venture between Barrick Gold Corporation and Newmont Mining Corporation, the combined strength of the two mining juggernauts – Barrick at 61.5 per cent, and Newmont at 38.5 per cent – has resulted in the world’s biggest gold-producing complex with eight mines, including related infrastructure and processing.
NGM has identified synergies that are expected to deliver up to $500 million over the first five years from 2020. Nevada Gold Mines was unveiled last July with the mission of becoming “the world’s most valued gold mining business by finding, developing, and owning the best assets, with the best people, to deliver sustainable results for our owners and partners,” according to the company.
Since the gold giants are now under one umbrella, the new joint venture allows Newmont and Barrick to consolidate resources, produce at lower costs, and investigate other areas for development. “They created the third largest gold company in the world, just behind the two that make it up,” says Mudd. “The joint venture was one of the biggest stories in this region in the last year and a half. It was a huge development.”
Along with the creation of Nevada Gold Mines signaling additional growth for Northeastern Nevada, the area is seeing expansion in many other areas, including manufacturing, agriculture, aerospace and defense. With a diversified economy, industrial parks, and plenty of land for business expansion, opportunities for investment abound.
Begun in 2018, a massive new facility for Komatsu Equipment opened this February. With an established presence in Nevada, Komatsu is one of the world’s best-known manufacturers of heavy-duty equipment for mining, construction, forestry, and military and manufacturing applications.
Many from the company, the City of Elko, and Elko County attended a grand opening celebration on February 7. Taking 18 months to complete and costing $47 million, the new sales and service center covers 150,000 square feet, and is the Japanese multinational corporation’s largest construction of its kind in North America.
“It’s a huge capital investment, and a big boon to the community for the folks there to invest that kind of money into the area,” says Mudd. “It will help service mining and construction companies throughout the western U.S.”
Along with the latest Komatsu expansion, mining solutions company Cyanco in late 2018 announced a major expansion to its flagship location in Winnemucca, the county seat of Humboldt County and two hours west of Elko.
Proprietor of the world’s largest sodium cyanide (NaCN) production facility, Cyanco’s decision “to install 35,000 metric tons of annual solid NaCN capacity will strengthen its position as the global leader for the supply of this mission-critical reagent for gold and silver mining around the world,” says the company, which first built its Winnemucca plant in 1988. (Sodium cyanide is commonly used to extract gold and silver from ore.)
“All that cyanide is going to be leaving the area and going into other mining districts,” states Mudd of Cyanco’s products, which are made into pucks and shipped worldwide. “This represents an enormous investment in the area, and we were actually able to get them some state tax incentives for the project, primarily because of the amount of export that was involved.”
Major lithium project
The lightest known metal, lithium has many uses, ranging from medical to aerospace and battery manufacturing.
This January saw a Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Lithium Americas Corp.’s massive $1.3-billion Thacker Pass lithium claystone project. Located near Orovada, the Thacker Pass project is operated by a wholly-owned subsidiary, Reno-based Lithium Nevada Corporation.
According to a statement from Jonathan Evans, Lithium Americas’ president and chief executive officer, “The initiation of the EIS process by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) is a major accomplishment and milestone toward developing Thacker Pass as a low-cost and environmentally responsible source of lithium chemicals in the U.S.”
Alexi Zawadzki, CEO of Lithium Nevada, added, “The Thacker Pass Project is being engineered to produce low-cost, battery-quality lithium products reliably and at scale, however, the environmental design is a point of pride for the project team. Our goal is to produce the first carbon neutral lithium products, representing an innovative benchmark in the industry.”
With the recent explosive demand for lithium, particularly in electric vehicles, the NOI is great news for Northeastern Nevada. It is expected the need for lithium will grow over 500 percent in the next five years. “This is going to be a game-changer for the area,” says Mudd. “It will produce about a quarter of the world’s lithium.”
Excited about the project, Mudd and his team at the NNRDA see it as an opportunity to bring other lithium-related businesses to Northeastern Nevada. With a large battery manufacturer already located on the west side of Nevada, he says it is time to identify and welcome similar companies capable of mining lithium, processing it, and manufacturing it locally.
“Right now, according to Lithium Nevada, that lithium molecule has to circumvent the globe twice before it can go to an end-user, and we want to eliminate that,” says Mudd. “We want to make sure that it’s all here.” Construction on the new mine will likely start next year.
Hemp, a new field
Along with mining, the counties of Northeastern Nevada are also known for agriculture.
Changes to the Farm Bill, specifically the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, which removed industrial hemp with a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration not exceeding 0.3 per cent from the Controlled Substances Act, schedule one, opened the doors wide to hemp growing and production in the area.
With hemp used for everything from clothing to fuel, paper, pet food and CBD oil, companies like hemp experts Silver Lion Farms are on board.
Located between Ely, Wendover and Elko, Silver Lion built a 300,000 square-foot state-of-the-art greenhouse used to start hemp plants, which are then transplanted into the field. The hemp will be grown to further process into CBD oil, used for a myriad of applications including relief from pain and anxiety.
Once again, says Mudd, the NNRDA is seeking to capitalize on a locally-grown natural resource, and aiming to attract end-users capable of processing the crop — either extracting the oils, or utilizing the fibers — in order to make it into an end product.
“This area has always had a rich tradition in agriculture, primarily alfalfa hay, and we are finding a lot of farmers are making a transition from alfalfa to hemp,” he says. Working with the local university, the NNRDA is studying the feasibility of building a processing plant in the area.
Rather than trucking raw agricultural products elsewhere, local processing would create and keep jobs in Northeastern Nevada and its communities. “The hemp industry has really taken off,” he says. “This facility is the largest of its kind in the United States. Eventually someone may surpass that, but for now, we’ve got the crown.”
Owing to the vastness of Northeastern Nevada, the area is also gaining popularity with companies involved in the aerospace and defense sectors.
Project Loon began with a temporary facility outside of Winnemucca to determine how balloons can provide Wi-Fi conductivity to remote or disaster struck areas. With Internet access still an issue for billions of persons worldwide, high-altitude test balloons with directional antennas were launched 11 miles (18 km) to 16 miles (25 km) into the stratosphere to test the concept.
Recently, technology giant Google announced that it wanted to build a permanent testing and launching facility with a unique 150-foot balloon launch tower in the area. “We are starting to see new developments in that industry, and we have interest from some other folks that fall in the same category,” says Mudd. “I think it has a lot to do with the fact that these guys are here, and we are going to foster those leads.”
With the regional NNRDA recently picking-up Pershing County, the organization is now responsible for the economic development of some 46 percent of the state of Nevada.
Working toward the future economic success and prosperity of the area, the NNRDA has launched a number of recent initiatives. These include its recently updated website, which features a brand new contemporary look, and more demographic data and site property information.
“It’s really easy to see what the region looks like; to go to a specific community or county, get demographic data information, and look at properties, all as a one-stop shopping area,” he says.
Along with the new website, the NNRDA is working with the University of Nevada, Reno on a regional comprehensive economic development strategy and a feasibility study on major recycling.
The economic study will identify different synergies that exist between the counties in the region, and capitalize on them by taking a regional approach to development.
The study on recycling will investigate the potential for area recycling centers. These studies, and other valuable data compiled by the NNRDA, provide tremendous benefits to interested businesses.
“We have multiple studies that we’ve done to try to help companies take that first step, and take care of them,” says Mudd. “So many companies have to do feasibility studies to determine where they need to be: we are trying to eliminate that for them and do it upfront, so they don’t have to worry about it.”
Developing an eco-system
With industries like mining and agriculture firmly in place, Mudd and his team are hopeful about others coming to the area, including mining-support companies and related manufacturing; supply chain companies, distributors, and value-added companies such as lithium and hemp processing.
“In the next five to 10 years, I’d like to see our existing industries expand into a more complete ecosystem,” he says. “Right now, we have this one part and it has to go somewhere else for it to be complete or finished, and I want that completion to be done here. And if we can bring in those companies to do that, I would consider that a success.”