‘It’s Happening Here’

City of Sparks, Nevada

As it happens, through good times and bad, Sparks has managed to remain a flourishing environment for both families and businesses. We spoke with Mayor Geno Martini, City Manager Stephen W. Driscoll and Community Relations Manager Adam Mayberry, who shared their views and plans for the city’s future.

Located in Nevada’s Washoe County, Sparks is the fifth most populous city in the state. It shares a border with the city of Reno to the east, and is less than an hour’s drive away from beautiful Lake Tahoe. Sparks and Reno have always maintained a friendly relationship, and many residents commute from one city to the other – but Sparks is a truly independent community that holds its own values and ideas.

Hard Choices for a Better Future

In 2008 and 2009, Nevada was badly hit by the economic recession, and Sparks, like many neighboring cities, was suddenly faced with hard choices. To maintain all services and amenities, city officials were forced to let 37 percent of the staff go, and all salaries were reduced by 7.5 percent. Thankfully, the situation is slowly but steadily getting back to normal.

“We’re starting to be able to add a few of the staff back, which is helping us expand our service levels again… Our staff is fabulous, and they do some miracle work. It’s absolutely incredible,” says Mr. Driscoll. “Without their cooperation, there would’ve been a lot more layoffs and maybe some other services would’ve been cut.”

“Everyone was very cooperative,” adds Mayor Martini. “I can’t tell you how much I love these people that work for the city of Sparks. They’re good, strong people.”

Connecting with the World

A few years ago, the city underwent a branding process and designed a new logo. “The brand really revolves around events,” explains Mr. Mayberry. “There’s always something happening in the city.”

In the footsteps of this overhaul, city officials also created a website that is truly a credit to the hard work and creativity that define this community. Showcasing Sparks’ vibrant logo and color scheme, the website (www.cityofsparks.us) is full of enticing images, fun videos and useful information for tourists, residents and businesses.

The city is undeniably tech-savvy and has up-to-date posts on just about every platform of social media, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Additionally, a free-to-download City of Sparks mobile application keeps users informed of upcoming events and provides maps and thorough descriptions of the city’s many attractions.

Open for Business

In 2009, BusinessWeek named Sparks the top city in Nevada to start a business, which came as no surprise to many. Nevada has no corporate or personal income tax and no inventory tax, making it one of the most business-friendly states in the country. The advantageous tax situation, coupled with Sparks’ enticing way of life, has attracted an increasing number of businesses and startups.

To ensure that more businesses are attracted and retained in the area, Sparks has formed a partnership with the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN). EDAWN is committed to “recruiting and expanding quality companies that have a positive economic impact on the quality of life in the Greater Reno-Sparks-Tahoe region.” Both the city of Sparks and the businesses present in the area are grateful for the variety of services (ranging from research to workforce training) offered by the organization.

The focus on quality and accessibility is another bonus for companies interesting in doing business in Sparks. “We want people to be comfortable here, and we do everything we can to make them comfortable.” Indeed, the mayor and council welcome interested parties with open arms. “We’re very accessible and easy to get a hold of,” says Mayor Martini. “We’re not hiding from people; we want to be visible.”

“We’re small enough to talk to personally, but big and strong enough to get stuff done in a timely matter,” sums up Mr. Driscoll.

Sparks is also a major distribution hub, a fact that is easily explained by its geographic location and transportation infrastructure. Interstate 80, the transcontinental highway that joins California to New Jersey, runs right through the city, and an important Union Pacific rail yard services the local industrial park. The nearby Tahoe-Reno International Airport caters to industries in the area; categorized as a primary commercial service airport, it has the necessary infrastructure to cater to both heavy commercial and cargo activity and is also used by the public and the military.

The world’s largest industrial center, the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center, is of course an important source of development in the area. The massive industrial park, which covers over 107,000 acres, offers a variety of services including water and sewer utilities, high pressure gas lines, and five generating power plants that supply all the park users. Global companies such as Wal-Mart own facilities in the park, where large lots of goods are broken down and redistributed throughout the West Coast. Apple is also in the process of building an important data center there, proving that the park can cater to the needs of varied industries. Located less than twenty minutes away from Sparks, the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center has brought its fair share of shoppers, visitors and new residents into the city.

Sparking an Interest

While residents of Sparks know how to work hard, they also know how to play, and Sparks’ year-long attractions have fueled a booming tourism industry. The city’s tagline is “It’s Happening Here”, and it is no exaggeration. Visitors and residents have access to a wide array of entertainment as the city boasts casinos, parks, theatres, shops and great restaurants. Several events are also hosted every month, and city officials are glad to help out whenever a promoter wants to add a new event to the calendar. “We’re pretty open to looking at anything new, especially if it has a family component to it,” says Mr. Driscoll.

Special holidays are almost always marked by family-friendly festivities, and people from across the country visit Sparks every year for some of the popular events, such as the “Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off”, which usually attracts close to half a million visitors.

“There’s something going on all the time,” explains Mr. Driscoll. “We have more than two hundred special event days every year and three hundred days of sunshine!” And every event, big or small, is planned with safety in mind. “It’s a very safe environment; it’s really designed for families.”

But where sports fans are concerned, Sparks’ true gem is the Golden Eagle Regional Park & Sports Complex. Built in 2008, at the cost of $30 million, it is the largest public works project in the history of Sparks, and it is estimated to bring in over a million visitors a year. “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think a complex like that could be such an economic driver for our community,” says Mayor Martini. The outdoor facility is spread out over one hundred and forty acres and holds the largest area of artificial turf in North America. National tournaments are held nine months a year in the numerous fields, creating the single biggest source of tourism in Sparks.

Furthermore, visitors and residents can enjoy the rich diversity of western Nevada’s nature by driving just a few miles out of Sparks. “What really differentiates our region from other parts of the state are the outdoor activities,” says Mr. Mayberry, citing the proximity to Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake, both less than an hour away from Sparks. Indeed, activities in the area range from sailing in the summer to skiing in the winter, and amateur photographers can enjoy the stark contrast between the nearby forests and surrounding deserts.

Live, Work, Play

For several years, Mayor Martini and the city council have chosen to focus on a specific vision for the City of Sparks: “To be the city of choice for residents, businesses and visitors.” Throughout the economic turmoil, they have kept this goal in mind and striven to achieve it. “It’s not just words on a piece of paper,” insists Mr. Driscoll.

Indeed, the city’s high quality of life and many amenities make it an ideal choice for many. The area offers a great range of housing in different price brackets, and shopping districts and professional services are easily accessed from every neighborhood. Several schools, both public and private, are located throughout the city, and a local hospital caters to medical needs in the community. Events, amenities and services are all designed to cater to families and to ensure they live in a stimulating and safe environment: a fundamental aspect in the mayor and the city council’s vision of Sparks.

Driven by a strong community and committed city leaders, Sparks is a city in full bloom. The vibrant cultural life and family-oriented values make it a great place for businesses, residents and visitors alike. Having grown from its hardships during the financial crisis, the City of Sparks is now ready to take the next step: “We made some really hard decisions, and they’re starting to pay off now,” says Mr. Driscoll. “We’re prepared to meet the needs [of the city], and as we recover, we’re going to be in a good position.”

July 16, 2018, 6:44 AM EDT

The Gig Economy

There are countless studies that demonstrate that the nature of work is changing. Work is becoming increasingly precarious, but what does this mean? Does precarious employment imply doom and gloom or is there a silver lining for work that no longer fits traditional or conventional models? Is it a necessary evolution for the increasingly automated economy?