“Towns that are really livable are occupied by smart people with great ideas and a great amount of collaboration,” Johnson told the audience of about 100 local businesspeople and university faculty and staff.
Collaboration was a key theme of talks given by Johnson and Director of Wolf Pack Athletics Cary Groth. Johnson spoke about the various resources available at the university to help local entrepreneurs and to incorporate the work of university faculty into the business community. Examples include the Nevada Small Business Development Center, which is available for personal consultations with business owners, comprehensive workshops and help with grant applications, among other services; and the Economic Development and Business Relations Task Force, established in January to examine how the university can better align itself with economic activity in the area and find the best ways to spend money in its knowledge fund.
Johnson also said the university seeks to enhance quality of life for the area through athletic and musical events, which helps businesses that move here by making the area more appealing for employees.
“They want to come here to live and enjoy living here,” Johnson said.
Springboarding off this idea was Groth, who spoke about UNR’s decision to move to the Mountain West Conference starting July 1, 2012. The move, which largely is based on football, will pit the Wolf Pack against universities that draw on average 10,000 more fans per game, such as Boise State, Air Force, University of Wyoming, UNLV, Fresno State and the University of Hawaii. This stronger fan base and the closer geography is expected to provide more opportunities for out-of-town fans to travel to northern Nevada, Groth said, which will be a boon to local businesses that can take advantage of the additional travelers.
And with additional fans and television opportunities, Groth said the university can expect much higher revenue by moving to the Mountain West.
Steve Polikalas, president of the Regional Alliance for Downtown, said after the meeting that collaborating with the university is easier said than done for businesses struggling with their day-to-day activities. Business owners need to strip away the distractions and give some attention to working through economically tough times instead of just dealing with them.
“It’s hard to keep a positive outlook all the time, especially when faced with challenging times,” he said.
While the alliance of downtown Reno businesses were discussing how to capitalize on UNR’s future athletic endeavors, John Ascuaga’s Nugget spokesperson Missy Hinton said the hotel’s sales force has been busy with the Wolf Pack’s current schedule. She said the Nugget recently formed some partnerships with visiting football teams to host their players and staff when they visit Mackay Stadium. And next weekend, the Fresno State Alumni Association and Booster Club will stay at the Nugget when the Bulldogs take on the Wolf Pack.
“There are a lot of factors that determine where the teams choose to stay,” Hinton said. “The room rate is an obvious one, but it’s not just about price. The teams are looking for a location that has enough space for their team meetings, meals and other pre-game activities. They try to avoid as much distractions as possible to help with focus and help coaches enforce curfews.
“For the fans, in a lot of cases they kind of follow the team,” Hinton added. “They’ll look to stay where the team is staying or they’ll look at special packages and amenities. For the Fresno State Alumni Association, Booster club and Bulldog Foundation, we are providing a package that includes transportation to and from the game and a pre-game pep rally-style party.”
Economics professor Tom Harris said Thursday that more big football games should translate to more economic gain.
“I think about the Boise State game,” Harris said, “the impact of that gmae had to be huge in downtown.”