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Nevada is adding more manufacturing jobs than ever. Will it boost the industry?

Updated May 2, 2024 - 9:38 am

The giant, decorative soccer balls outside of the Multipure facility in Las Vegas are the last remaining evidence that the manufacturing site once had a different life.

What was once a place for families and recreational leagues is now a sprawling facility filled with pipes, machinery and carbon dust. Dozens work daily to manufacture carbon block filters used in water purification systems sold globally.

The Las Vegas-based company had a chance to move its operations out of state before it bought a new facility, a former sports entertainment complex near the Harry Reid International Airport. But President Zachary Rice said the same forces that brought the company to Nevada almost 30 years ago are the reason they stayed.

“We had an opportunity about two years ago, when we had to change locations, (to look elsewhere),” Rice said. “But the decision was made to stay in Vegas because it had everything we needed. We didn’t need to look outside.”

Rice’s rationale is one shared by others in the local industry. Manufacturing in Nevada has grown significantly in the last five years, according to statewide data. The labor force has grown nearly 17 percent since the end of 2019 – notable because it came after the July 2016 opening of Tesla’s Gigafactory in Northern Nevada’s Storey County. As state and local officials look to diversify the state’s economy, they’ve courted out-of-state manufacturers through tax abatements and other coordination.

But the industry is still nowhere close to being a significant source of employment for Nevadans. It’s ranked 38th in total manufacturing employment and the total share of employment is about 4.4 percent, according to data from the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

New and existing manufacturers say the state is well-positioned for future industry growth, even with challenges like limited infrastructure and labor.

Nevada’s appeal

Those in the Silver State’s manufacturing industry say the business-friendly climate and proximity to the West Coast are major selling points for building a business here. State and local officials, like the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, are part of the efforts to bring companies looking to relocate into the region. GOED Executive Director Tom Burns said the investment in advanced manufacturing is meant to help grow the sectors and add quality jobs to the state.

“The development of the IT and advanced manufacturing industries, Nevada’s access to and production of natural resources such as lithium, and its proximity to innovation hubs and talent, has enabled clean energy to flourish,” he said in a statement.

That was the case for Haas Automation, vice president of outside operations Peter Zierhut said. The company is planning a 2.5 million-square-foot facility south of the Henderson Executive Airport, expected to begin construction by September. There, it will manufacture machine tools that other businesses use. The company received a $10.5 million tax abatement from GOED in 2022 for its new facility.

The company, currently manufacturing its products in a 1.2 million-square-foot facility in Ventura County, California, began an expansion search about five years ago. Zierhut said the company felt it wasn’t large enough to get political attention or support for tax abatements and the labor market was limited because of the region’s high cost of living.

“There’s a better appreciation of manufacturing in Nevada today than in California,” he said.

Other manufacturers point to a climate that’s suitable for their work. Multipure has been in Las Vegas since 1995, when the family-run company left Southern California after the Northridge earthquake one year earlier caused company leaders to rethink the region.

“We joke that the earthquake shook the factory over to Las Vegas,” Rice said.

Multipure chose Las Vegas then for similar reasons others list today: a friendlier tax environment and proximity to Southern California. They also noted the region has few natural disasters and a lack of humidity.

Finding land and skilled labor

In recent years, the company moved its manufacturing facility from a leased warehousing space to the former Longevity Sports Center in Clark County.

The move illustrates how some have to be creative to get over some barriers to manufacturing growth like land and infrastructure.

The company purchased the roughly 80,000-square-foot facility in 2021 and has operated there for more than a year. Rice said the all-metal building was a step up from warehouse sites that often have support pillars throughout the space.

Skilled labor is also a challenge to future industry growth. Manufacturers said Southern Nevada’s sector competes against the hospitality industry for workers. Some said they choose to relocate talent while others look for ways to support education and training in regional schools.

Darrin Wilen, principal at Wilen Group, said the company expanded operations to Las Vegas in 2019. The direct marketing manufacturer has two other locations: Long Island and South Florida. When the labor market is tight in Nevada, Wilen said the company looks out of state to recruit, including from its South Florida employee base.

“One of the biggest challenges is because we’re highly specialized in manufacturing, so it’s not easy to find those employees,” Wilen said. “But what we’re finding is it’s a great destination for people to relocate, especially because so much manufacturing is in the Midwest so it’s a nice place to have a job.”

Haas, meanwhile, has focused its pre-opening efforts on boosting awareness to manufacturing careers in Clark County schools. Zierhut said he and the company’s foundation wants to support training pipelines that get students prepared for the skills needed on the job.

“It’s gotten really tough to find young people who have any interest, and even exposure, of what is possible in that area,” Zierhut said. “We want to see a better environment and exposure to those kinds of jobs. Because it’s not a strong manufacturing field, we felt we had to invest in it now to help build that.”

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on X.

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