By Mark Waite
Front Sight Firearms Institute was talked about like it was the goose that laid the golden egg in terms of economic development for Pahrump at the Tuesday county commission meeting.
Financial analyst Jeremy Aguero, a principal with Applied Analysis, speculated on what visitor impact would be if Front Sight could double their attendance of almost 25,000 students during the past year. Front Sight has proposed adding amenities like RV parks, one-acre home sites and a commercial center; the business has lots of room to expand with 550 acres at the southernmost end of Nye County.
Former Nevada Gov. Bob List said Nye County has an excellent opportunity to lead on legislation, enabling local governments to provide tax incentives for economic development, with Front Sight Firearms Institute serving as the poster child of a successful business in the rural areas that can’t get financing.
“In rural Nevada it’s very, very difficult to raise money for a business. Large banks are interested in large loans, primarily in urban areas. Mid-sized banks and little banks typically aren’t familiar with what’s going on in rural Nevada. They don’t know the background, they don’t know the culture and they don’t have the confidence to take on the risk involved in making loans in small towns and it’s a bigger problem than just Front Sight. It’s a statewide problem in rural Nevada,” List said.
Aggressive state programs promoting economic growth and diversification primarily address urban areas like Clark and Washoe counties, he said.
List pushed for a proposal that would create an economic zone where bonds could be issued and revenue created through new development.
“It would not impose any tax burden on residents of your county, the only place that would be a source of revenue to pay off the bonds would be in that small zone, particularly to help that enterprise or business,” List said.
But Nye County Manager Pam Webster wanted more specifics. She was concerned over the county losing revenue, like consolidated tax. Webster had questions about who would oversee the proceeds from economic development.
Commissioner Joni Eastley wondered why the consultants went to Nye County and asked the county to contribute $63,500, not to the Nevada Association of Counties. Eastley said she previously voted against a proposed $50,000 contract with Mark Fiorentino to lobby the state Legislature for all of the county’s interests.
The board passed Commissioner Dan Schinhofen’s motion to support the concept at this time.
Only Nye County District Attorney Brian Kunzi was enthusiastic about the proposal, which he had wanted the county commission to submit as its sole bill draft request for the Legislature. Instead they chose to ask for royalty money from county oil fields.
“This is a huge issue for Nye County. I have not been silent on my criticism of hiring a lobbyist who does exactly what NACO does for us. Nothing that was ever spent on a lobbyist ever was targeted for Nye County. This is fundamentally different because what we are doing here is something that is a project for Nye County. This is not something that we can do ourselves,” Kunzi said.
Guy Hobbs, president of the firm Hobbs Ong and Associates, a former Clark County chief financial officer, said laws evolve in the Legislature as opportunities arise.
“If we took a proposal up there that has no examples associated with it, let’s say a certain type of tax district, but let’s not say how it would be used, I can tell you we would probably not get a hearing,” Hobbs said. “You have a case in Nye County that presents itself as one of the most compelling examples of how it would work in the rest of the state.”
Aguero said the firearms industry is a unique, but growing industry. He cited statistics that showed 127,754 firearm background checks were performed in Nevada in the past decade and 17.5 million checks in the nation. A recent Gallop poll showed 47 percent of American households had a gun in the home, the highest rate since 1993.
During the 15 years Front Sight existed in Pahrump, the facility has grown from an annual attendance of 5,000 people to 24,633, he said, of that number 10,461 came for the first time. Sixty percent came from California. Those visitors pump an estimated $31.7 million into the economy, he said.
Aguero assumed 80 percent of those taking classes would stay in Pahrump, filling 57,320 room nights out of 114,975 available. A room night is the number of rooms in Pahrump multiplied by 365 days in a year.
“Right now this is a growing industry. Pahrump is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this industry,” Aguero said.
Pahrump’s population has declined 2.1 percent for three consecutive years, Aguero said. While the education and health services sector and the mining sector have shown modest growth in employment in Nye County over the last five years, the construction industry, professional and business services, even the leisure and hospitality sector has shrunk dramatically, he said.
Nye County’s unemployment rate of 15.5 percent is higher than the state’s unemployment rate of 12.3 percent, Aguero said the statewide rate would actually be 22.5 percent if people who gave up looking for work and those having to work part-time were included.
FrontSight is the 15th largest employer in Nye County, Aguero said, with 169 employees, or the equivalent of 92 full-time positions. National Security Technologies NSTec a contractor for the Nevada National Security Site, Nye County, Round Mountain Gold, Nye County School District, Walmart, WSI, the Pahrump Nugget, Nevada Southern Detention Center, Desert View Hospital and Ponderosa Dairies comprise the top 10. There are 114 jobs either dependent on Front Sight or indirectly dependent as suppliers or customers, Aguero said.
“What would happen if this one example would have the capacity to be able to expand?” Aguero asked.
But Eastley asked, “with RV parks and all that other stuff, why would anybody come to Pahrump? Why wouldn’t they just go to Front Sight and stay there?”
Kunzi said if the legislation passed, the county could discuss doing joint ventures with a hotel-convention facility, or another unique, niche market in Pahrump, Spring Mountain Motor Sports.
Aguero said construction of facilities at Front Sight could create 350 construction jobs as part of phase one.
Kunzi said the proposal would adopt state economic development tools at the local level.
“The concern becomes the revenue for the debt service and not having to commit county resources,” Webster said. “In the past that’s what we’ve seen.”
List said he’s seen at the state level where tax abatements for renewable energy have robbed rural counties of revenue.
“You guys are the largest county in Nevada and you have an enormous opportunity here to lead on this and that’s what we need,” List said.
He said the program could be adapted to other parts of the county, like mining communities, the Tonopah Airport zone and the Railroad Valley oil fields.