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Nevada's Most Interesting City: Reno

Long considered a desert backwater and second fiddle to Las Vegas, the city of Reno is having a resurgence. Small entrepreneurs, industrial giants like Tesla, and artists inspired by Burning Man are converging to overshadow the fading casino economy.
May 4, 2015, 12pm PDT | Josh Stephens | @jrstephens310
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Darron Birgenheier

For much of its history, Reno was Nevada's largest, most important cities. For a while, it was the biggest legal gambling center in the world. These days, not so much. With local gaming in decline, Reno's economy has see-sawed for the past few decades, hitting bottom in 2009 with the country's worst unemployment rate. The only things that are permanent in Reno are the Sierra Nevada mountains and Lake Tahoe. 

But Reno's locals have always believed in the city, and others are starting to catch on. Tesla's battery factory is under construction, and small tech startups are contributing to a home-grown economy. Mix in the Burning Man movement and efforts to clean up some of the seediest parts of what has been considered one of America's seediest cities, and Reno's luck may be changing.

"Many of Reno’s startups are niche tech companies. TrainerRoad creates apps and programs for cyclists. Inqiri helps large groups reach consensus. Filament is the 'nervous system for the industrial Internet.' Other entrepreneurs are into the 'maker' movement, partly inspired by the ingenuity of the Burning Man movement (the annual arts festival takes place in the Black Rock Desert 120 miles northeast of Reno), and the 'internet of things.' Reno’s clear skies and temperate climate may make it a hotbed for drone technology."

"To get where it wants to go, Reno has to live down a reputation spanning everything from farcical cop show 'Reno 911' to being Las Vegas’ stepchild to its very real history as the divorce capital of the United States. In the most recent Muppet movie, a haggard Fozzie Bear fronts the house band in a dank Reno lounge. Reno is the city that inspired the bleakest lyric in the American songbook: 'I shot a man in Reno / Just to watch him die,' Johnny Cash sang."

"Through it all, the city’s famous slogan — 'The Biggest Little City in the World' — remains harmless kitsch, for sure. But its essential meaninglessness also speaks of a city unsure of itself. A big venture capital score or the Tesla halo might change that — for good. Until then, Reno is doing everything it can to stand proud."

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Published on Monday, May 4, 2015 in Next City
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