Storey County is a stretch of sparsely settled Northern Nevada landscape, 264 square miles of largely unpopulated valleys, mountains and rocky desert terrain. Herds of wild horses graze the land. Last count, the county seat had a population of 845.
The park lured Tesla's Gigafactory, hailed as one of the biggest economic development prizes ever. Since then, the park has taken off, landing as many high-profile deals as any development in the country. Google recently purchased 1,200 acres. Down the road, the data storage company Switch opened the first building of what's slated to become the world's largest data center campus. Jet.com and Walmart have big distribution facilities in the park, as do their competitors eBay and Zulily. The industrial park is now home to more than 140 tenants. Already, more than three times as many people hold permanent or temporary jobs within the park as live in the entire county.
Storey County has huge plots of land to offer for industrial development. But what's played a key role in luring so many companies to the area is an exceptional absence of local regulation and a speed of permitting that rivals any business development in the U.S. The park's exploding growth is just the latest chapter in an unprecedented experiment in economic development.
Lance Gilman and his partner, Roger Norman, saw a shortage of large parcels of land with adequate utilities to accommodate industrial use. When 104,000 acres of undeveloped land with proximity to an interstate, railroad and power generation were put up for sale by Gulf Oil, the partners jumped at the opportunity, buying it for $20 million in cash in 1998. They now own about 55 percent of the land in Storey County.
To lay the groundwork for the industrial park, Gilman made another deal with the cash-strapped county that turned the usual marathon permitting process into a hundred-yard dash.
By the terms of the agreement, nearly all industrial uses for the park are pre-approved, so tenants don't have to go before a planning commission or obtain any special use permits. This is an extremely rare and significant public concession. It has allowed companies ranging from plastics and machine gun manufacturers to fuel processing plants-to be up and running at unheard-of speeds. A company can usually get a grading permit within 48 hours and a building permit in 1-2 weeks.
It landed a Walmart distribution facility in 2005, which took a mere six months to open. Business slowed down after that, hurt badly by the 2008 recession. It was a meeting in a construction trailer in 2013 that permanently altered the park's trajectory. Tesla executives had flown in for what was supposed to be a 15-minute session. They had already toured the nation in a well-publicized search for a massive factory site. Gilman asked why they hadn't yet signed a contract. The representatives cited scheduling risks-delays that cost companies money. "How long," they asked, "would it take to receive a grading permit?" Storey County's community development director then pushed a permit across the table and told them simply to fill it out
It's the magic of the development agreement that allowed that all to happen. The announcement that Storey County had landed Tesla, made on the steps of the state Capitol in September 2014, dramatically raised the region's profile in what's been called the "Tesla effect." Some companies send in deposit checks for parcels in the industrial center without even visiting.
Currently, Gilman estimates about 14,000 people work there, including temporary construction crews. He expects employment to double or triple in the next five years as companies meet hiring projections and new facilities open.
Remote as Storey County may seem from any-where in urban America, the location has actually been an advantage in bringing in companies.
The center is only 15 miles east of Reno and a three-and-a-half-hour drive from San Francisco. Nothing on the West Coast is more than a day's drive away, and that has made it attractive for distribution centers. Nevada has no corporate or personal income tax, and relatively low labor and real estate costs.