Reno-vation

© Car Culture/ Corbis

The Biggest Little City in the World is proving that America is ready to start making things again.

As with nearly everything 
that Elon Musk does—cocreate PayPal, cofound Tesla, launch rockets—his decision to build a $5 billion solar and wind-powered lithium-ion-battery manufacturing “giga-factory” in Reno, Nevada, shifted public perception. It also certified Reno’s latest identity: as a site for advanced American manufacturing.

Up until now, Silicon Valley has been great at creating ideas. But its products have been built mainly overseas. Now northern Nevada’s vast tracts of affordable land, plentiful sunshine, and proximity to the Valley—to say nothing of its tractable regulatory environment and lack of state income tax—have turned it into the new Detroit: a place to build the Internet of Things’ things.

“Reno, and Nevada
 as a whole, has a can-do attitude,” says Larry Lambert, the chief product officer for security-drone manufacturer Ashima, which is moving its operations there from Pasadena, California. “If you need something done in Nevada, it’s a matter of going to a couple of people and saying, ‘Jeez, we need to get this done.’ Or going to Governor [Brian] Sandoval and talking to him personally.” He continues, “You don’t get that anywhere else, in any big state.”

According to the local economic-development office, Reno has attracted about 30 advanced manufacturing companies in the past three years and is working with 20 more. The region anticipates 4 to 5 percent annual growth—twice that of our national gross domestic product.

“When people think of Reno, most think gambling or that it’s old or the Las Vegas wannabe,” says Marianne McInerney, the executive vice president of Cenntro Motors, a commercial electric-vehicle manufacturer that recently moved its headquarters and factory to the area. “But it’s really well liked as a place to live and work.”

Henry Ford created the American middle class with well-paying manufacturing jobs. Perhaps this model can be revived in Nevada, a state that’s been slow to recover from the 2008 crisis. Though the metaphor is improperly hydrous for the high desert, McInerney says, “it truly is a state, without so much water, that understands a rising tide lifts all boats.”