By Thomas Mitchell
Earlier this month, there was a big ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Las Vegas office of SolarCity — a company that installs rooftop solar panels at homes, businesses and government buildings, just like a dozen other taxpaying Nevada companies.
SolarCity was enticed to open here with a $1.2 million grant from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED).
At about the same time, GOED announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Province of Alberta, Canada, to collaborate on developing unmanned aerial systems, commonly called drones.
Tom Wilczek, aerospace and defense industry specialist for GOED, said the state is applying for an FAA site designation to research and develop drones and “place us squarely in the global market as the leader in this field.”
But you never hear about the ones that get away.
World Surveillance Group Inc. (WSGI) — a company that designs and builds unmanned aerial vehicles, both drones and blimps, the very thing GOED claimed to be targeting — nibbled at the idea of relocating from Florida to Nevada, but never got hooked or reeled in.
Barry Plans, who handles government affairs and is project manager for WSGI, said the firm plans to open a manufacturing facility for its blimps, which would immediately hire 100 workers.
“Some of the things that Nevada has that we liked is the fact that we were there before. We were there flying at Mercury, even though I was stepping over rattlesnake holes …” Plans said. “I thought it would be nice to able to fly untethered, especially since we’ve already done that at Mercury. So any test we may have to do, we can do them in Nevada. And that, by the way, was one of the selling points that I gave to my board of directors and my CEO.”
Plans called the GOED in May but it took a week to reach anyone. That person said he would send information, but Plans never got anything. He called back and left a message. Then the representative left Plans a message saying he was busy with the Legislature.
At some point Las Vegas Councilman Bob Beers and the Las Vegas office of economic development tried to facilitate talks.
Finally, the company set up a conference call with GOED officials on June 14. “I really thought that they were going to do something, that’s why I put my CEO on the phone on that conference call. And even my CEO afterward said, ‘Well, they sound like they’re interested.’ Then nothing for two, three, four weeks …” Plans remarked.
No other state showed the lack of interest coming out of Nevada, Plans said. “We were invited to Texas twice. Not only did they have their entire board at a meeting and we basically described who we were and what we did. They drove us all around the state and flew us to different places to say, ‘Look, these are the communities that we feel you would be best suited for and this is what we are going to do for you.” Houston, for example, has the Johnson Space Center.
Texas officials talked about providing a hangar, property and manufacturing facilities for a very nominal price for five years near Fort Hood, and as much as $1.5 million in moving expenses.
Plans said he talked to former Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts about possible relocation. The next day he got a phone call from the state’s economic development office inviting the company to meet with the governor.
Earlier this month, Plans sent an email saying, “I do believe that in the three months of not getting ANY information one would have to conclude that you have no interest in our company coming to your State … Mr. Wilczek, WSGI is no longer interested in Nevada.”
Jennifer Cooper, communications director for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, conceded there may have been some missed connections by both parties.
“While we regret that the business decided not to relocate to Nevada, perhaps with Councilman Beers’ assistance in the future, World Surveillance Group would be willing to revisit relocating and, in that case, we would certainly be very interested in renewing incentive discussions with them,” Cooper replied to a query.
“That said, GOED works very hard on every lead, big or small, to strengthen Nevada’s economic base and we will continue to do everything within our reach to create a positive and attractive environment for businesses to expand in Nevada.”
Frankly, this bidding war between the states has never shown a positive return on investment and many economists call it a zero-sum game of corporate redistributionism.
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