Public Seminar: Nevada Gambles on a Tech Hub in the Desert

February 17, 2021 Media

As a general rule, anytime a lawmaker rolls out some hot new economic policy idea with the word “zone” in it, I start to get nervous. We all should. It’s usually less a way of helping struggling areas than an efficient plan for transitioning state resources to wealthy investors.

But Nevada’s Democratic Governor, Steve Sisolak, is upping the ante by rolling out a virtuous sounding initiative that would, in fact, remake the company town for the 21st century. If enacted, his proposed Innovation Zones would give tech companies the literal power to buy land and set up their own governments in the Nevada desert.

According to a draft bill, which is circulating but hasn’t been officially introduced in the legislature, Sisolak’s plan would allow tech corporations working on eight areas — blockchain; autonomous technology; the Internet of things; robotics; artificial intelligence; wireless technology; biometrics; and renewable resource technology — to form their own autonomous towns on uninhabited, unincorporated Nevada land.

The corporations would set up school districts and law enforcement systems, as well as a local government. The initial officials would be appointed by the governor from a list of candidates chosen by the corporations, but the zone would transition to an elected board of supervisors once at least 100 registered voters move to the area. These tech boards would have all the powers of a usual Nevada city or county government.