Nevada Innovation Zones: Good or Bad? You Decide!

By Shawn Wood

In his State of the State address January 19th, Governor Sisolak of Nevada pitched a new proposal to attract ‘innovative’ tech companies to the state and rebuild the economy after the devastating impact of the pandemic. The proposed bill would enact “innovation zones”, essentially cities that would be built and temporarily controlled by companies, with all the powers and responsibilities of Nevada counties. Many opponents of the proposal compare the zones to “company towns”, towns where all stores and housing is owned by one company. The difference lies in governance, the innovation zones will have a governor appointed board, who have all the powers of county commissioners. Elections for those positions start when there are 100 registered voters. (1)  

One of the issues with this form of incentive is the amount of power many of these tech companies all ready wield. We already live in a world where companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft have unprecedented power over the lives of everyday citizens, more power than most countries have over their own population. Able to shape political discourse and drive media narratives in a way that rivals even the Chinese Communist Party, giving them more power over citizenry is something we should avoid as a nation and as the state of Nevada.

Another issue raised is the desire for these cities to be built with innovative technologies embedded into the very foundation and the implications that could have on the communities. Blockchain Inc, one of the companies that have expressed interest in this program, has stated that they intend to integrate blockchain technologies in everything they build. Blockchain in an amazing technology that could enrich the lives of those in the city, but it could also be used for tyranny. It all depends on the programmers and if the code is open source. Building a city with these technologies sound good on paper, but without the guiding hand of the free market and competition, it can give rise to powerful monopolies that could limit freedoms enjoyed by the people of the cities.

Many Nevada Republicans are against the concept on a more political level.(2) The fact is that most tech companies are primarily owned and ran by Democrats and that by building cities in rural areas, they will forever change the state into a Democrat stronghold. Rural counties are also against this as it could take away precious natural resources, like water, and leave them without representation. 

Nevada does need to diversify its economy, 50% of our workforce work in tourism related fields.(3) Our mining industry is strong, producing 3/4 of all the gold in the US. To put that in perspective, if Nevada was a country it would be the 5th largest gold producing country in the world. Mayor John Lee of North Las Vegas has been able to bring Amazon to the state without the need of controversial bills, bringing thousands of jobs to southern Nevada.(4)

Governor Sisolak has announced that he is not pushing for the legislation to be voted on this year, due to the blowback from his own party and the short legislative session that Nevada has.(5) He has called for a interim committee to study the idea and rework the bill into a more bipartisan approved version. 

A great breakdown of the bill as stands can be found here: