Will Nevada City lead county out of recession?

Many residents like to put down Nevada City for being too liberal, scattered and out of touch with the rest of the county. They make fun of its culture.

But is Nevada City better positioned to bounce out of the recession than Grass Valley and the rest of the county?

The city has become the county’s leader in green and clean technology. Though our county is home to a stop AB 32 contingent, much of the rest of the country is embracing green technology – in Sacramento, Washington and Silicon Valley.

Nevada City, as I reported here first, has more solar installations per capita than any other California city. City Hall, led by the city engineer and others, also is embracing green technology.

The city led by A.P.P.L.E. received a grant to open a “Sustainability Center” on Commercial St. Its relatively new Farmer’s Market boomed last summer despite the recession, providing a catalyst to the “farm to table” local food movement.

The same trend is being underscored at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival that opens this coming weekend, the largest of its kind.

The Nevada City Marketplace will open as early as this week, at least the fresh fish store, and Cal Organics is on track to move into the Broad Street Furnishings Building. Bel Capelli, a new salon on Broad St., will open soon too.

The Amgen bike race starting in Nevada City underscores our unique outdoor lifestyle, activities that need to be promoted more in our town to draw tourists and young families.

Nevada City is going green faster than Grass Valley, whose mix of businesses and politics are still more traditional.

To be sure, Nevada City has some challenges: Its high unemployment rate and continued infighting at the Chamber of Commerce. Both sides are to blame.

Meanwhile, a bright spot for Grass Valley is the wine tasting rooms opening downtown. This is a young but growth-oriented business for our county.

In addition, the downtown is getting a big new mixed use building across from Maria’s Mexican restaurant (still not reported in the local media), and Maria’s itself is expanding.

On the other hand, some longtime businesses such as Amigos & Co. are departing Grass Valley for Nevada City on the same block where not one – but two – smokeshops have now opened. There are vacancy signs and big buildings (including the former Hedman and Alpha buildings) are for sale.

The Holbrooke continues to face financial challenges. Its ballyhooed Del Oro Mural is still not finished, missing a predicted year-end deadline.

In short, Nevada City seems to be adopting a more youthful, “out of the box,” forward-looking growth strategy compared with Grass Valley and the rest of the county. It’s embracing green, clean and the outdoors.

If it succeds, perhaps the rest of the county – still stuck in the past in many ways – will follow suit. Wouldn’t that be ironic? The county’s smallest town mapping a path for the rest of the region.

About jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.
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6 Responses to Will Nevada City lead county out of recession?

  1. Tom Grundy says:

    Good points and thanks for bringing it up – one correction however, the city did not receive the grant for the community center – it was A.P.P.L.E. that received the grant. The creativity of the local people, and in this case the local nonprofits that they are a part of, (in the direct words of Gil Matthew at a jobs discussion last week at the APPLE Center), are a huge economic boost to the area. QED.

    • jeffpelline says:

      Sorry Tom, I mean that in the generic sense: city with a small “c.” Cleared that up in the text for you and others. Kudos to A.P.P.L.E., led by the grant writer and Sustainability Center ED Mali Dyck.

  2. Steve Frisch says:

    I applaud your article and Nevada City’s efforts and leadership, but feel compelled to point out that the eastern county and Truckee are not doing too bad on adopting green development and innovative ideas.

    The Truckee Donner PUD is a leader in transitioning to green power. The Sierra Green Building Association is headquartered here and green building and zero net energy is catching on quickly. Sierra College has developed its first LEED certified campus here. My own organization is implementing a regional energy efficiency program in partnership with PG&E valued at about $5 million.

    Local politicians support green development, green industries and changing our energy footprint. They are even courageous enough to support conservation (oh my!).

    The anti-AGW crew is not getting traction up here where the evidence of climate change is around us every day.

  3. jeff pelline says:

    Tks. Steve. You’re right, and Truckee is not so polarized. That’s why I wanted to focus on the west end.

  4. Bob Garza says:

    Jeff, Tom Friedman’s column in today’s NY Times is about China’s Green Leap Forward, the following paragraph caught my eye:

    … Andy Grove, co-founder of Intel, liked to say that companies come to “strategic inflection points,” where the fundamentals of a business change and they either make the hard decision to invest in a down cycle and take a more promising trajectory or do nothing and wither. The same is true for countries.

    If you think about it, what Andy Grove is stating seems to hold true not only for business but for many other things including small towns and areas that are not open to change. Perhaps, those smoke shops in Grass Valley are signs that it’s not just the economic crunch but certain people’s attitudes that are contributing to a decline in business, population, and young families.

  5. jeffpelline says:

    Bob,
    Good point. When I was Editor of CNET, I interviewed Andy Grove numerous times. I always remembered his “strategic inflection point” comment and appreciate how you make it relevant to our neck of the woods. I’ll check out Tom Friedman’s column too. Happy New Year.

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