30 de marzo de 2020
Hispanic World

High tech firms establishing roots in Nevada's wild west

By Marc Arcas

By Marc Arcas

Carson City/Reno, Nevada, Feb 23 (efe-epa).- It unfailingly draws the eye in the midst of a mountainous desert. An immense and foreign structure in a film setting. And, in fact, the Tesla "Gigafactory" in Nevada is located just a few miles from where John Wayne filmed his last - and darkest - western.

At 180,000 square meters (1.94 million square feet), the gigantic factory is a shining white monstrosity crowned with a band of intense red that makes it visible from miles away and even the horses that graze around it seem to be asking themselves how such a spaceship-like structure came to rest there.

More than 7,000 people work in the gigafactory producing the lithium batteries that are an integral part of Tesla's electric vehicles, and the plant is the biggest symbol of the drastic economic, demographic and cultural renewal under way in this part of Nevada, in the past the last frontier of the Wild West.

During the second half of the 19th and the early 20th centuries, Reno and Carson City - the latter of which is the state capital - were the gateways to the promised land of California, waystations or gathering points for the wagon trains filled with hopeful migrants, hardworking ranchers, steely-eyed gunmen and grizzled prospectors who came down from the nearby Sierra Nevada to sell their nuggets and gold dust.

So intensely does this area figure in the popular imagination surrounding western films that the most iconic actor of that genre selected Carson City as the place he wanted to go "to die" in "The Shootist" (1976), Wayne's last film, in which his character - getting on in years and suffering from incurable cancer - forces what will be his last shootout in the town's saloon.

Since then, times have changed greatly, of course. So much so that this once-lawless territory, an arid and rugged land populated by men and women tough as leather, is now a tech mecca, a new promised land drawing millennials and "hipster" capital.

"The mentality of the Wild West continues to be a part of the state and of our history. We respect it, but we understand that these new companies don't share it and are coming here to have success, and so we've had to turn the page," said Mike Kazmerski, the shirt-sleeved but firm-visaged president of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN), during a relaxed chat in his office.

Kazmerski has good reason to be optimistic and happy. Not only Tesla, but also other Silicon Valley tech giants like Apple and Google are investing heavily in the region, encouraged by a tax environment more favorable than California's, loose regulations, lower production costs and cost of living, a good climate and nearness to the popular tourist and recreation zone at Lake Tahoe.

With the influx of the tech firms come young, highly qualified workers with significant purchasing power, generally progressive political leanings and the yen for spending their available funds on leisure activities, a situation that has made Reno, which welcomes its visitors with the slogan "The Biggest Little City in the World," into "The Littlest Big Hipster City in the World."

The hipster movement in recent years has attracted non-mainstream pioneers, free-thinkers, "non-conformist conformists" and vegans to a number of low-key, highly livable cities like Reno; Boise, Idaho: Richmond, Virginia: Vancouver, Washington, and others.

In just a few minutes strolling along the recently remodeled riverwalk in downtown Reno one can see the stamp of the hipster movement everywhere: bicycles priced at over $4,000, electric scooters all over, organic cafes, ecological boutiques and signs announcing assorted music and book events.

At Smee's seafood restaurant, when you order fish and chips, you also get a free appetizer consisting not of peanuts or nachos - as you might get elsewhere in the US - but rather of fresh and healthy raw vegetables like bell peppers, celery, cauliflower and broccoli, all favorites among the healthy living crowd.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the western Nevada's new image are the links it still maintains to its wild past: the fascination of the recently arrived for the mountains and nature in general, along with the spirit of largely unregulated freedom and the willingness to be pioneers in the tech industry.

The name selected for one of the locally brewed beers - and no hipster community worth its salt can do without its microbreweries - best reflects the confluence of these two worlds: "Outlaw."


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