As the county’s primary economic development resource, Nevada County Economic Resource Council (ERC) seeks to improve the quality of life for local citizens through job creation, new investment, tourism, arts promotion, and other aspects of a positive business climate.
As part of its Strategic Plan, the ERC plans to tackle key issues constraining the ability to succeed in this regard, and seeks consensus on its next priorities and input on effective use of its limited resources.
The Strategic Planning effort is intended to provide the ERC Board, city and County officials and other economic development entities a better understanding of how to achieve the area’s economic future, and more specifically how to invest for the best return.
Our vision at the ERC is to help foster Nevada County becoming one of the most economically competitive rural counties in the U.S. in 5 years. To achieve such a vision requires very strategic direction around actions that best enable us to get there.
For context, the plan was developed over the past 90 days with the following process:
- A ½ day Strategic Planning session facilitated by Galen Ellis with Ellis Planning Associates.
- As part of that effort a S.W.O.T. (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis was undertaken, along with a force field analysis and some preliminary thoughts on narrowing 10 potential areas of focus for the ERC down to 4 thematic areas.
- These were prioritized based on (1) whether they can make significant impact on achieving the vision; (2) achievability in terms of realistic resources; (3) potential for high levels of public/private/community support and engagement; and (4) how quickly value can be realized.
The ½ day facilitated session resulted in 4 key thematic areas, which are:
- County-Wide Marketing and Communications (both to internal and external audiences)
- Tech Talent and Tech Sector Partnership Efforts
- Incentives to Attract or Retain Businesses
After the planning session, 4 separate committees were established to drill down further within these 4 thematic areas and establish goals, confirm why the thematic area should be a priority, and finally to determine specific projects and activities for implementation. Throughout the process, over 30 different board members and volunteers participated.
The outcome of the process was the following:
County-Wide Marketing and Communications Thematic Area
Goal: Position Nevada County as a meaningful and feasible alternative location in California for tech companies and other businesses, talent, families and visitors/tourists.
This was determined to be an important priority for the following reasons:
- The ERC’s marketing plan from 2015 identified the Bay Area as a top priority marketing target for location in Nevada County. Businesses and residents are leaving the Bay Area due to high costs, congestion, stress and challenges for most companies to compete with the icon tech companies for talent.
- Sustained, differentiated messaging that showcases Nevada County’s attributes and advantages (both on the west side and the east side of the county) is necessary to educate target audiences unfamiliar with Nevada County, and to energize those who are already familiar with Nevada County about taking the lead to move here.
- It can leverage the opportunity in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality that was identified in the EDA grant. As an example, response from executives from major corporations in the VR/AR industry to be guest faculty or mentors/advisors for various VR/AR related activities in Nevada County has been very strong. This will help build an industry ecosystem and make Nevada County a key emerging market as one area of opportunity.
- Meaningful, sustained impact can be achieved at relatively low cost using social media tools. This component is discussed in another section of the report.
- Finally, full community “buy in” is required to get the horsepower needed to succeed. For example, the ERC recently launched a “It’s Who You Know” campaign as a means to identify great stories of why individuals and businesses located in Nevada County. Often a key reason people locate in Nevada County has to do with some kind of people connection.
Projects/Activities identified for Implementation:
- Create a targeted, sustained social media campaign aimed at “the low hanging fruit” – people who already know about Nevada County. Leverage the known assets of the cultural arts, outdoor recreation, and other amenities that make this area so attractive.
Sub-component activities of this include:
- Creating a matrix database identifying the various target audiences and supporting data so a series of specific targeted messaging can be delivered
- Create an imagery/video library for messaging
- Secure testimonials from businesses, executives, and free lancers on why they located in Nevada County
- Establish consistent messaging across web sites and have companies backlink to these sites
- Conduct direct outreach to companies in the Bay Area the ERC has already identified
- Engage the ERC’s Royal Welcome Task Force to develop a customized response to leads generated through the marketing campaign that best suit the interests of the CEO, founding team, etc. that is interested in locating in Nevada County
- Finally, establish a monthly “VR Newsmakers” (and also other key sectors in Nevada County) show in collaboration with NCTC (which has started the process of construction a new mixed reality studio at the Green Screen Institute facility) as a means to engage industry leaders and broadcast Nevada County’s opportunities via the web and cable TV channel
Housing Thematic Area
- Get roofs up/build homes
- Educate the community about the issue
- Align community and government on the need
This was determined to be a priority area due to the following:
- Due to cost and other urban pressures, individuals, families and businesses located in the Bay Area are seeking alternative locations, and require housing to fit their specific needs
- The ERC’s marketing efforts are likely to drive continued interest in Nevada County
- For nearly a year, multiple individuals (representing multiple segments of the community) have expressed concern about a lack of available, affordable housing, and concern over a realistic timeframe for new housing developments to come on line
- Infrastructure costs appear to be one particular significant constraint
- An important economic factor: the economic resources people bring when they come to Nevada County and that they take away with them with they leave (philanthropic, taxes, expenditures at local businesses, and so forth)
- We are losing residents who want to downsize their residence
Projects/Activities Identified for Implementation:
- Host a Housing Forum that ALL key stakeholders (government, developers, key property owners, construction, finance tech companies, education, fire department, special districts, other key businesses) participate in, and contribute to
Sub-components activities of this include:
- Define the problem/urgency with data
- Identify 2 models successfully implemented elsewhere which can be highlighted
- Determine near-term and long-term real estate housing objectives
- Determine key themes that emerge from the forum
- Develop a sustained effort of collaboration about the need for and importance of housing
- Be proactive, and opportunistic, to help move specific, compelling housing projects forward
Tech Talent and Tech Sector Partnership Thematic Area
- Develop and implement a business/sustainability model for the new Nevada County Tech Connection
- Build a competitive, expanding and sustainable tech talent pipeline in Nevada County which provides a competitive differentiator versus other non-metro counties
Why this is an Important Thematic Area:
- A skilled workforce is essential for the types of jobs being created, and also for the free-lance related opportunities that continue increasingly are becoming an important part of the domestic and global economy
- Education and workforce entities need alignment with industries to create impactful, relevant programs
- It’s critical to Nevada County’s economic competitiveness in attracting tech business and talent
- Existing efforts through the ERC’s Connected Communities Academy and the NC Tech Connection already have a head of steam, illustrating the positive impact of cohesive tech industry partnerships
- The tech sector needs a voice on issues relevant to their success
Projects and Activities Identified for Implementation:
- Continue to build upon the efforts of the Academy and NC Tech Connection
- Organize an annual Tech Sector focused event that adds meaningful value to companies and individuals in the sector
- Identify and implement specific seminars, workshops, resources, and networking functions that help the smaller (fewer than 50 employees) companies, solopreneurs, bootstrappers and free-lancers thrive.
- Put a mechanism in place that enables the tech sector to advocate on issues pertinent to the industry
- Continue to plan and implement education programs out of the Talent Connection Task Force that help support a thriving tech sector
Incentives to Attract and Retain Businesses Thematic Area
Goal: Establish a business incentive platform that differentiates Nevada County from other locations in California and provides it with a competitive advantage to locate businesses
This was determined to be a priority due to the following reasons:
- While people and visitors COME to Nevada County, in many instances businesses and talent must be ATTRACTED
- The strong community and regional competitors ALL offer more than quality of life. Nevada County has to compete with these locations.
- Examples and models of incentive programs exist elsewhere to learn from and tailor to Nevada County’s circumstances.
Projects and Activities Identified for Implementation:
- Explore creation of a locally-designated tech or business development zone
Sub-component projects include:
- Interview a combination of 10 start-ups, bootstrapped companies, large companies and individuals in the site selection process to get a current read on what it takes to recruit a company from one location to another (particularly from an urban center to a rural area)
- Identify 3 successful incentive models
- Bring stakeholders together and identify what different entities could put on the table (local, state, federal and private)
- Explore innovative, shared ways to create an incentive fund that can be opportunistically applied to retain or attract specific businesses
- Offer resources essential for a tech ecosystem that other rural areas generally cannot offer, but are commonplace in the major tech hubs
- Become recognized as the “In California” business friendly alternative to other California locations
In addition to these thematic areas and projects, the ERC – as the countywide economic development entity in Nevada County – in its plan is also evaluating and bringing forward best practices in terms of internal policies and procedures, board governance and organizational accountability.