By Michael Brown
“Moving Nevada Forward” is the charge of the economic development plan launched by Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and state leaders. The plan aims to create a vibrant, innovative and sustainable economy that produces high-quality jobs for Nevadans. It is a plan endorsed and supported by Barrick and is fundamental to our own effort to step up our economic and social engagement with Nevada.
Nevada has the least diversified economy in the U.S. It is a consumption-based economy heavily reliant on tourism, construction and retail, and vulnerable to economic shocks. As a result, the recent recession hit Nevada harder than any other state. The Nevada economy is still in crisis, leading the nation in unemployment and other negative indicators.
In response to the crisis, the Governor has outlined a “State Plan for Economic Development” that calls for a new cohesive economic-development effort that advances targeted sectors and promotes greater global engagement. The three-year plan also seeks to increase economic opportunities through new education and workforce development initiatives.
Mining will play a pivotal role in the plan’s success and Barrick has already begun to take steps to support it. This was done through the work of the Nevada Mining Association (NMA), with support from Barrick Supply Chain, at an economic focus group held in the fall of 2011. Participants at the focus group were surprised to learn of the billions of new dollars slated for investment in the state’s mining sector and the breadth and diversity of our supply chain. The plan that emerged from that process identified seven clusters for development: tourism, health care, information technology, renewable energy, mining and manufacturing, logistics and aerospace. As a company, Barrick touches many of those clusters.
The plan creates a new Department of Economic Development at the cabinet level and calls for the economic-development authorities spread across the state to be reorganized. That is very helpful, as Barrick has traditionally supported eight different, and sometimes competing, development agencies in rural Nevada. Those agencies will now be organized into one regional economic development effort and supported through our community affairs department.
Supporting local suppliers
In the mining cluster, we are taking on the task of expanding the number of our Nevada-based vendors. Since the recession, Reno has emerged as an important base of supply for mines in rural counties. Reno is home to more than one hundred Barrick vendors providing $126 million annually in supplies and services. We think that can be enhanced and, as a result, we recently joined the Reno Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, a public-private partnership committed to recruiting and expanding companies in the Greater Reno-Tahoe area.
In southern Nevada, we have been taking the message on “How to do business with Barrick” to rotary clubs and business groups. Through the NMA we have organized mine tours for business leaders. We will also promote direct investment in Nevada at the Barrick Suppliers’ Conference to be held later this year, and at the MinExpo convention this September in Las Vegas. The MinExpo is expected to attract over 50,000 attendees, providing a great opportunity to showcase mining to southern Nevada business leaders.
Barrick is the state’s largest foreign direct investor and gold is the state’s largest export product. In 2010, Nevada’s $2.4 billion in gold sales represented 40 percent of the total value of state exports. Barrick’s reinvestment in its Nevada mines, and new discoveries, offer an opportunity to continue adding family-sustaining jobs in rural Nevada. In 2011, we added 330 employees to our Nevada workforce, and anticipate adding a similar number in 2012. We currently have more than 5,000 employees at our operations in Nevada.
Narrowing skills gap through education
The economic plan calls for Nevada to increase its reliance on knowledge-based industries. This requires an increased focus on workforce development and education. One of the cruel realities of this recession is a mismatch between skills and available jobs. This is especially acute in areas of vocational education where employers like Barrick are struggling to find skilled machinists, electricians and mechanics. There is a “lost generation” of workers lacking vital training in these areas, which is why the plan calls for a greater investment in the community college system.
Barrick already has a substantial investment in Great Basin College and it recently expanded that commitment, investing $1.2 million over a three-year period in the college’s vocational programs, student housing, and an expansion of training programs at the college’s campus in Winnemucca, Nevada.
On a policy level, our regional recruiting manager has been appointed to the Governor’s panel evaluating vocational education and training in Nevada’s secondary school system. And in Clark County in southern Nevada, Barrick joined with Newmont Mining to provide seed money to help the Public Education Foundation launch a new academy to train school principals.
Mining can help Nevada capitalize on near-term opportunities and help the state in its target areas. Barrick has been a partner in the Nevada economy since 1987, and we will be a partner for many years to come, working with the state to help diversify its economy.
(Mr. Brown is Vice President of Corporate and External Affairs for Barrick North America)