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Nevada may invite tech firms to self-governing company towns

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak is proposing legislation that would allow advanced technology companies to establish Innovation Zones for their businesses that would function as local governments, supporting resident housing, schools, retail, transportation, power generation and health care facilities and fostering economic development in emerging technology industries.

Several types of advanced technology companies are eligible, including those promoting blockchain, autonomous vehicles, the internet of things, robotics, artificial intelligence, wireless technology, biometrics or renewable resource technology. They would need to own at least 50,000 contiguous uninhabited acres, make an immediate investment of $250 million in land and infrastructure and commit to investing at least $1 billion over 10 years. The innovative technology must be developed and used throughout the Innovation Zone.

The idea, while unusual, is not entirely new. In 2018, Jeffrey Berns, CEO of Nevada-based Blockchains LLC, bought 67,000 acres of undeveloped high desert land in northern part of the state intending to build a smart city where the digital transactions of governments, businesses and residents would be facilitated by distributed ledger technology.  

Now, though, the damage the pandemic has done to the state’s economy has shown that it’s time to “accelerate and pursue innovative ways to inject Nevada with new and organic economic growth, Sisolak said in a recent video conference.  “What we've been doing has not worked,” he said. “It is this reality that pushed me to propose the Innovation Zones concept.”

The draft legislation echoes that need: “The traditional forms and functions of local government political subdivisions existent under Nevada statute are inadequate alone to provide the flexibility and resources conducive to making the State a leader in attracting and retaining new forms and types of businesses and fostering economic development in emerging technologies and innovative industries,” it states.

Applicants wishing to establish an Innovation Zone must also submit comprehensive general plan for future development to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development that describes how the innovative technology will be incorporated throughout the zone. That plan must also include construction and future employment estimates, documentation of sufficient investment, an economic impact statement as well as certification that a qualified developer can access the public utilities and natural resources required. Additionally, those companies would agree to levy an industry-specific tax on the zone’s specific innovative technology that would be paid to the state.

The zone would be separate from the county and be its own political subdivision with its own local government, providing basic services, such as police and fire, wastewater treatment, health care, a judicial system and education. It would be governed by a three-person board, two of which are chosen by the governor from a list of five provided by applicant. The third is chosen by the governor. The board would ensure that the innovative technology the zone is based on is being applied to government administration and services, nonprofit organizations and private enterprise.

Over 75 years, the project could create 123,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs and have an economic impact of $16.4 billion, according to the governor’s presentation.

“At the heart of this proposal is a structure that's where the governance of an Innovation Zone can evolve and develop at the speed of these new technologies while integrating them into the function and needs of the community.” Sisolak said. “This proposal is an exciting, unprecedented concept that has a potential to position Nevada as a global center of advanced technology and innovation while helping to create immediate positive economic impact and shape the economy of the future.”

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.


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