RENO, Nev.—The first thing that catches the eye on the approach to Reno is a cluster of casinos rising from the valley, a tangible sign of the city’s history as a gambling destination.
But if the orange glow of Circus Circus and Silver Legacy’s moon-like dome entice visitors by night, by day, they are drab reminders of a past this city of 240,000 wants to outgrow.
It is in the midst of trying to reinvent itself as a center of tech innovation where graduates of the University of Nevada’s Reno campus would actually want to live.
Already, there are signs of progress. On the outskirts of town, Tesla is building a gigafactory expected to create 6,500 jobs by 2020. Drone companies, drawn by the area’s status as one of a handful of commercial testing sites, have settled into the area in the last couple of years. Las Vegas-based Switch, Apple, and the cloud company Rackspace have all recently announced new data centers. The city dubbed a stretch of downtown Start-Up Row, and a popular coworking space has given rise to local entrepreneurial ventures.
The transformation isn’t a mere facelift. Reno’s economic health and prosperity depend on it.
Gambling tourism is down and people are more apt to head for the slopes and casinos of Lake Tahoe 40 miles southwest. Reno cannot compete with Las Vegas in terms of entertainment and restaurants, and there is little else to draw vacationers here. The housing-market crash hit locals especially hard, and downtown is dotted more with cheap motels than apartments where software engineers would want to reside.