Skip to content

A conversation with John Slaughter: Economic development, cultural diversity in Northern Nevada

Tesla’s Gigafactory 1, the Switch data centre, and even the landmark Burning Man event all represent the dynamic economic and cultural shifts taking place in Northern Nevada and John Slaughter couldn’t be happier.

Slaughter, county manager for Washoe County, took part in the 2019 Transforming Local Government Conference (TLG) in Reno, Nevada where he sat down with Municipal World CEO Susan Gardner to discuss the area’s burgeoning success.

“There is a lot happening in Washoe County, Northern Nevada as we call it. The area … what we call the TRI Centre (Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center); it’s actually in Storey County, which is our neighbour county. It’s actually the largest industrial park in the world … the acreage is actually larger than the City of Reno,” Slaughter said. “When Apple came – and Apple isn’t in that center, they’re a little further north – that got some people interested in what is happening in Northern Nevada, in Reno, Washoe County, Storey County. Then Tesla showed some interest … once Tesla came onboard, the flood gates opened up.”

Art, Culture Create Prosperity for Washoe County

Gambling has always been at the core of Northern Nevada’s economic activity, but now it’s not only the tech sector (Apple, Tesla and Switch to name a few), but also the arts and culture scene that is further cementing the region’s prosperity.

In July, Reno hosts an event called Artown where more than 500 different exhibits, performances, and concerts take place. There is also a virtual trail system called Art Trail, which is a 200-mile course where visitors can visit art displays and cultural and historic areas in communities between Washoe and its celebrated partner, Burning Man.

Burning Man, located some 100 miles northeast of Reno, annually attracts around 75,000 people to the so-called Black Rock City. The event offers major, multi-storey art installations, sculptures, and cultural events.

Organizers are credited with erecting the sixth largest city in Nevada for the eight days of the festival. Creation of a city (even a temporary one) of that size requires major infrastructure work, including the setup of roadways, police and fire services, a functioning hospital, and even a FAA-approved temporary airport – the only such facility in the United States.

Burning Man Fires Up Local Excitement

Burning Man is a “leave-no-trace event.” In fact, organizers face significant fines if any materials are left behind. With that said, Slaughter explains Reno (Washoe’s largest city) plays a large role in supporting the event.

“The support local governments have during Burning Man … everything that is taken out to the playa, they are required to bring back in. All that material, vehicles, the people, the garbage that is produced, it all has to come back off the playa,” he said. “During the weeks afterward, we are dealing with those issues, garbage disposal, car washes … it’s a very interesting time to be in Washoe County.”  MW

✯ Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in the article: A conversation with Katie Hazard: City building lessons from Burning Man. Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.


Related resource materials: