Addressing economic challenges and industry needs


Extension continues economic development initiative across Nevada

 Tom Harris, with Extension and the University Center for Economic Development, presents on economic development. He and Buddy Borden, also with Extension, are leading an effort to collect data to help strengthen communities throughout Nevada. Photo by David Pritchett, Nevada Bureau of Land Management.

Story by Claudene Wharton

A collaborative statewide initiative, led by Extension, was rolled out in early 2019 and will wrap up its initial assessments late this year to provide counties with timely economic data and analytical tools to improve county-level planning efforts.

The Nevada Economic Assessment Project (also known as “NEAP”) aims to provide county, state and federal agencies, and their partners, with quantitative and qualitative baseline data and analyses to better understand trends in each county’s demographic, social, economic, land use, fiscal and environmental characteristics.

The project is led by Buddy Borden and Tom Harris, who are both community economic development specialists with Extension. Harris is also director of the University Center for Economic Development, and a researcher with the University’s Experiment Station.

"Locating reliable quantitative socioeconomic data has long been a challenge for many Nevada rural counties," said Borden. "The overall goal of the Nevada Economic Assessment Project is to develop and maintain a comprehensive database and set of county analytical tools that are useful for Nevadans working on a variety of issues relating to economic development, community planning and impact assessments."

In each county, there is a three-step process:

  1. Preliminary data is collected and draft reports are issued, in collaboration with program partners.
  2. Community assets, divided into six categories – values, people, places, play, economic and groups/organizations – are identified and measured. Information is collected via in-person or virtual meetings with members of the community, as well as via online surveys.
  3. The community assets information is compiled, baseline reports are finalized through local feedback and collaboration, and NEAP’s initial package is completed and issued.

The completion of the initial baseline process helps each county with further impact studies.

Below are samples of the kind of information the program is providing.

White Pine County's
with the highest average annual earnings per worker

  1. Utilities | $113,969
  2. Mining except oil and gas | $108,098
  3. Mining support activities | $98,817
  4. State government | $97,596
  5. Durable goods merchant wholesalers | $94,489

White Pine County's
by occupation from 2010 to 2018

  • Construction and extraction | +196 jobs
  • Transportation and material moving | +82 jobs
  • Life, physical and social science | +25 jobs

Providing valuable tools for Nevada counties

"The information that NEAP is providing is going to be such a valuable tool for our counties. Our decision makers need reliable, research-based information presented in an understandable way to help them make good decisions and provide guidance in their communities. That’s exactly what they are getting from this collaborative Extension-led program." – Dagny Stapleton, Executive Director of the Nevada Association of Counties


Extension offers online town halls and webinars to help small businesses connect, pivot and adapt

 Panelists discussing economic changes and loan programs during the April 15 town hall, "Adapting Your Business to New Expectations."

Story by Claudene Wharton

When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, small-business owners not only found themselves needing funding, but also information on accessing assistance and how they might alter the way they were doing business to adapt. They also wanted opportunities to stay connected with other small-business owners.

Extension stepped in to offer free online "Coping With COVID-19" sessions: question-and-answer town halls, as well as webinars on specific topics. Experts from Extension and important partners, including the Small Business Administration, were on hand to provide information to help businesses during Spanish- and English-language sessions offered via Zoom and Facebook.

"Thank you for the great Town Hall… There are a lot of opportunities that had not even existed before COVID. It is just important to learn to pivot and be open to change during this time."

–Renee Smith-Brodeur,
Coast 2 Coast Printing & Marketing LLC

The sessions were part of Extension’s Business Development Program, which had been offering in-person workshops and seminars for small businesses prior to the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, Extension took the program online and added additional sessions.

"Not only were we able to reach more people, but we reached folks statewide where we had not been able to reach them before," said Buddy Borden, Extension economic development specialist.

Borden said the year prior to COVID-19, the average monthly attendance was 40, while from April to October 2020, the average monthly attendance almost quadrupled, to 152, with more than a quarter of the participants tuning into the Spanish-language sessions. In addition, the online sessions reached an average of 6,219 people per month via Facebook. Borden is confident that many of those who attended received information that has helped keep them afloat, and partners in offering the program agree.

"Many of the applications that we received from disadvantaged small business owners applying for Paycheck Protection Plan loans and other emergency financial programs were processed thanks to the educational material provided by Extension during their virtual town halls and webinars," said Noe Gonzalez, a business advisor from Prestamos who was a frequent panelist at the virtual programs.

"I received my CARES disbursement. Thank you so much!... We will use our funding to ensure that our business remains open. There are several businesses here in Winnemucca that are talking about not reopening. We aren't one of those! Thank you so much."

–Patty Ellifritz, business owner

"We were able to observe that the community of small-business owners that speak Spanish as their primary language were the ones that benefited the most from the aforementioned educational resources," Gonzalez added.

Prestamos, meaning "we loan" in Spanish, is a Community Development Financial Institution providing counseling and funding services for small businesses, especially to those that may be disadvantaged or underserved.

Borden thinks that the webinars and town halls have allowed his team to make connections with businesses that will continue to benefit our state and economy after the pandemic.

Strengthening Nevada's small businesses and economy

"We’ve established relationships with many more businesses. That should bode really well for the future. Ultimately, when things begin to return to a more normal state, we want our state’s small businesses and economy to be stronger than ever." -Extension Economic Development Specialist Buddy Borden


Sage Outlook Program webinars provide economic and agriculture outlook in wake of COVID-19

 Sage Outlook webinars provide an economic outlook on topics regarding the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Nevada agriculture.

Tom HarrisTom Harris

Story by Claudene Wharton

The University Center for Economic Development and the College’s Experiment Station and Extension units launched a new webinar series in April 2020. The "Sage Outlook" webinars discuss Nevada agriculture and economics in the wake of COVID-19. Each episode aims to provide reliable information so that members of the agricultural community, state leaders and consumers in general can make more informed choices and decisions.

Tom Harris, Malieka Bordigioni and Mike Helmar are committed to providing an economic outlook on varying topics regarding the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Nevada agriculture. Harris is an Extension specialist, Experiment Station researcher, professor of economics and director of the University Center for Economic Development. Bordigioni and Helmar are both research managers at the Center, and Bordigioni is also an Experiment Station researcher.

In addition to commentary from the trio, the webinars feature a variety of guest experts from the University, as well as from other universities and Extension units in the West. Topics have included the effects of COVID-19 on livestock commodity prices, beef processing, dairy markets, and local foods systems, for example.

In one recent webinar, the researchers explain that the pandemic has put pressure on and complicated the supply chain in many industries. Over the course of the last few months, they collected and looked at data and statistics from agricultural industries to evaluate trends resulting from the effects of COVID-19. For example, they examined how the transportation between producers, feedlots, processors, retailers and end consumers has been affected in the cattle and dairy industries due to factors such as travel restrictions and processor plant closures. The researchers also looked specifically at Nevada agriculture and observed that the pandemic has taken its toll on Nevada livestock and dairy producers who rely on both national and international markets to sustain their operations.

By providing information and an economic outlook on how agriculture has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, the University hopes that Nevada decision-makers, producers and businesses will be able to make informed decisions to help sustain our agricultural industry and promote a healthy economy.

Risky business

Story by Ashley Andrews

Agriculture is a risky business. Weather and disease could destroy crops, or those crops could be made worthless by a sudden change in price. Cashflow issues could leave a rancher in a lurch, or one short-term financial shock could devastate the family farm. A change in law, regulation or policy could make sustaining the operation too cumbersome or costly. And, what if someone gets hurt? 

Extension's Nevada Risk Management Education Agriculture Outlook Program aims to help the state's farmers and ranchers safeguard themselves against these and other perils of doing business. The program is a 10-year-long, grant-funded effort led by Extension Educator for Mineral County Staci Emm.

Her program team includes Harris, Bordigioni, Extension Educator for Clark County Carol Bishop, Extension Educator for Douglas County Lindsay Chichester and Communications Specialist Bob Conrad.

When COVID-19 hit, Emm and her program team already had the expertise to help local producers address the pandemic's impacts. To ensure they shared the most-needed parts of their knowledge, the team surveyed producers operating small and urban farms and ranches, and designed content just for them.

The team transitioned from reaching those producers through in-person, one-on-one workshops held across the state to reaching them online via Zoom. Participation in the interactive group meetings has grown to about 50 people.

Exploring Nevada's national and international economic ties

"One thing we need to remember is that Nevada agricultural production is more dependent on national and international markets than it is on the domestic market for our beef, processed milk, lamb, wool and hay industries." -Research Manager Mike Helmar


Extension offers training for industry professionals to help meet Nevada needs

 Dain Griffin and Aja Debruyn, with private elementary school Mountain Heights Montessori in Las Vegas, demonstrate how music can be used to support children's language development as part of an Infant Toddler Child Development Associate Training Program workshop in November 2019. Photo by Erin Skaggs.

Story by Tiffany Kozsan

The need to refine skills and acquire and maintain knowledge does not end once an individual enters the workforce. Industry standards change, and approaches that professionals take vary depending on a community’s particular need. The College’s Extension and Experiment Station units offer a variety of trainings and certification opportunities to aid industry professionals. Professionals gain a better understanding of the most recent industry standards, any new science-based information for their field, and approaches specific to the Nevada communities and climates where they work.

Below are some programs offered in 2019 and 2020 for professionals in early childhood education, fruit and vegetable production, horticulture and pesticide application.

Training toddler teachers

In Nevada, thousands of individuals become professional early childhood educators. However, many of these new teachers have limited practical experience in the classroom, especially among those who teach children ages 0-3. Extension’s Infant Toddler Child Development Associate Training Program is designed to both heighten the care and education received by Nevada’s youngest residents and to drastically increase career advancement opportunities for teachers by meeting the coursework requirement of one of the most widely recognized credentials in early childhood education.

The program, which is funded by the Office of Early Learning and Development, approved by the Nevada Registry and meets Nevada State Licensing requirements, provides 120 hours of coursework across eight specific content areas to meet requirements for the national Council of Professional Recognition’s Infant Toddler Child Development Associate credential. It has a classroom component, which includes training and online modules, and bi-monthly coaching sessions with a knowledgeable, experienced coach to practice skills and discuss challenges. To earn the full credential, participants must also complete 480 hours of work in an infant/toddler classroom, put together a professional portfolio, distribute and collect parent questionnaires from a majority of the families in their classroom, take a comprehensive exam at a testing center, be observed teaching by a child development associate professional development specialist, and pay a $425 application fee.

Prior to COVID-19, the training was offered twice a year in person in Reno and Las Vegas, with a class size limit of 27. Most attendees were from either Clark or Washoe Counties. In the fall of 2020, the training was offered virtually due to COVID-19, and the class size limit was increased to 35. Because of the shift to the virtual format, more educators from Douglas County, Lyon County and Nye County participated. In addition, four students from Washoe County were able to participate in the Las Vegas class when the Reno class was full.

"This model allowed students to participate in the classes without the commute time of traveling to and from classes," Teresa Byington, early childhood education professor and Extension specialist, said. "Students were able to participate from the safety of their homes, even when they were under quarantine orders or waiting for COVID-19 test results."

Since 2018:



Of 62 past program participants who responded to a follow-up survey:

because of program completion

because of program completion

to continue their education

The TEACH (Teacher Education and Compensation Helps) Early Childhood Nevada scholarships were funded by the Office of Early Learning and Development and administered by the Nevada Association for the Education of Young Children (NevAEYC).

Improving knowledge, expanding skills

"The goal of our program is to improve early childhood educators' knowledge to enhance young children’s skills in the areas of social/emotional, physical and cognitive development." -Extension Early Childhood Education Specialist Teresa Byington

Supplying safe sustenance

The Experiment Station’s Desert Farming Initiative supports produce growers and distributors in west central Nevada and the Tahoe region by conducting trainings, developing educational resources and visiting farms to assist with food safety planning.

"Farms of all sizes in the region are taking steps to reduce the contamination and spread of foodborne illnesses – from field management to post-harvest handling," Jill Moe, education program coordinator with the Initiative, said. "The programs, resources and trainings we offer provide opportunities for agriculture professionals to learn and implement best practices to ensure a safe food supply."

Funded by the Food Safety Modernization Act, the Initiative partners with the Nevada Department of Agriculture to assist with produce safety education, provide technical assistance and run a model farm program demonstrating best practices. In 2019, the program provided one full-day Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training and another condensed training at the Nevada Farms Conference to teach producers post-harvest handling and practical on-farm application of Produce Safety Rule requirements. The Initiative also partnered with Basin and Range Organics and Great Basin Community Food Cooperative – Distributors of Regional & Organic Produce & Products (DROPP) – to provide a half-day workshop focused on water treatment and sanitation. In addition, at the request of DROPP, the Initiative prepared a food safety planning questionnaire to guide growers in meeting Food Safety Modernization Act requirements.

"[The Initiative] provided an easy format to implement a food safety plan,” Bob Dexter, with Dexter Farms in Fallon, said. “It’s helped me put the science in practical usage."

A group of people gathering around Charles Schembre and Felipe Barrios-Masias at Desert Farming Institute's farm on Valley Road in Reno. Assistant Professor of Sustainable Horticulture Felipe Barrios-Masias and Desert Farming Initiative Project Manager Charles Schembre teach garlic production to horticulture students in October 2019. Photo by Jill Moe.

In 2020, the Initiative partnered with several local farms, businesses and organizations on different video projects to help growers during and after COVID-19. Projects included a series of short videos on targeted produce safety practices, including COVID-19 prevention on the farm and at farmers markets; a documentary, "Farm to Table: Produce Safety in Northern Nevada"; and a virtual event on melon production and safety at the Experiment Station’s Valley Road Field Station.

 The Desert Farming Initiative documentary "Produce Safety: Farm to Table in Northern Nevada" explores produce safety on farms of all sizes and showcases the journey of local food.

The Desert Farming Initiative also partnered with the College’s academic unit to create a curriculum and internship program to provide on-farm internship opportunities while earning credits for an undergraduate degree. In addition, the Initiative trains all its staff, including University student workers, apprentices and volunteers, on produce safety when they begin working for the Initiative. Staff also go through monthly refresher courses on targeted food safety topics, including pre-harvest risk assessment, handwashing, glove use, chemical safety, post-harvest handling and sanitation procedures.

“My opportunity at [the Initiative] has allowed me to fully dive into what it takes to work on an organic farm – from hoop house repairs to safety protocols, harvesting and packing,” Yesenia Morales, farm apprentice who is training to manage a 2-acre urban farm in Reno. “Their food safety and handling practices are optimal and set a standard for myself toward my future farming endeavors. I am grateful for the wealth of knowledge [the program] has given me.”

The Initiative has followed all COVID-19 safety precautions while conducting its programs, and here are some of its accomplishments over the past couple of years.

at the Produce Safety Alliance Grower Trainings in 2019

at the water treatment and sanitation post-harvest workshop in 2019

as the safety plan for their farms in 2019

for on-farm readiness reviews in 2019 and 2020

via phone or email in 2019 and 2020

at the Nevada Farm Conference in 2020

the melon production and safety virtual event

Safely supplying Nevada producers and communities

"The Desert Farming Initiative has increased its donations of produce to community food services to help feed those in need." -Associate Dean for Research and Experiment Station Director Chris Pritsos

Helping hone horticulture

Extension’s Commercial Horticulture Program teaches green-industry professionals, including landscapers, nursery workers and groundskeepers, practices to help them manage properties and landscapes efficiently and safely. By offering hands-on experience and current research-based information specific to the area, Extension helps these professionals stay competitive in the industry while providing home and property owners with quality work fine-tuned for the diverse climates throughout the state and surrounding regions.

In northern Nevada, Extension offered its annual entry-level Green Industry Training in both spring 2019 and spring 2020, pre-COVID-19. The series covers topics important to industry professionals, followed by an exam to become Nursery Worker Certified. Many local garden centers and landscape companies, including Moana Nursery in Reno, greatly encourage this certification for their entry-level employees because the classes give participants a solid, science-based foundation.

Extension also taught 15 advanced classes in 2019 as part of the Green Industry Continuing Education Series, including five in English and Spanish. In addition, Extension offered two Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper (QWEL) trainings, an Environmental Protection Agency WaterSense certified program. Participants received 18 hours of classroom and hands-on training on water-efficiency in the landscape, including an irrigation audit. Both series provided continuing education credits for certification and licensing.

In 2019, the program in southern Nevada partnered with the Desert Green Foundation to train industry professionals from Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico at their annual Desert Green, Commercial Water Conservation Training Program. Associate Professor and Extension Horticulture Specialist M.L. Robinson taught two workshops, including one with faculty from New Mexico State University.

In addition, Robinson, in partnership with the Nevada Department of Forestry, taught five bilingual tree pruning classes as part of a Best Practices for Arborists training program. The program was suspended in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Robinson and his team are working to revamp the workshops to offer them online in fall 2021.

  Landscape and irrigation professionals learn how to conduct a water audit at a QWEL training in September 2020. Photo by Wendy Hanson Mazet.

Once the pandemic began in 2020, the Commercial Horticulture Program shifted to statewide virtual courses, with a few offered in person in Reno when safety regulations allowed.

"A lot of people who wouldn’t normally use online learning as a resource had to adjust," Extension Commercial Horticulture Program Coordinator Chad Morris said. "However, we are seeing more people out of state and in the rural areas, so that’s a real plus."

The QWEL training was offered both online and in person, following proper COVID-19 safety requirements, with some online students being from California. The Green Industry Continuing Education Series had 206 participants in the October "Advanced Pruning Concepts" class, including students from Hong Kong, Mexico, Ireland, Italy and New Zealand.

Additionally, Associate Professor and Horticulture Specialist Heidi Kratsch and Horticulturist and Plant Diagnostician Wendy Hanson Mazet, both with Extension, helped organize and participated in the Western Chapter International Society of Arborists Conference held via Zoom in October. Mazet worked with Extension Master Gardener Rod Haulenbeek and the University’s David Harrison to create YouTube videos about identifying trees and tree health, which were shown at the conference in lieu of tours. Kratsch also taught "Trees, Roots and the Urban Soil Environment."

In 2019:

22 of 24
through Green Industry Training

at the Desert Green Foundation event

through QWEL

Training professionals around the state and the globe

"I think Zoom is going to fit in our toolbox well for years to come. It’s a great way to get the word out and train professionals outside of Washoe and Clark County. It gives us a fantastic launching board to reach rural communities in Nevada and other locations that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to offer programming to." -Commercial Horticulture Program Coordinator Chad Morris

Preventing pests while protecting plants and people

Extension’s Pesticide Safety Education Program teaches integrated pest management and pesticide safety strategies to agricultural producers, public land managers, homeowners and green-industry workers to help them manage pests efficiently and protect human health and the environment in both urban and rural areas. Trainings are provided in all Commercial Horticulture Programs, as well as through independent workshops.

In 2019, Pesticide Applicator Continuing Education Credits for certification and licensing were offered through Green Industry Training and the Continuing Education Series, at the Nevada Landscape Association Annual Conference; landscaper trainings offered in Spanish and English; and four statewide Pesticide Safety Education Program workshops covering aquatic, cultivator, hemp and general pesticide safety.

In 2020, Pesticide Applicator Continuing Education Credits were offered through Green Industry Training and the Nevada Landscape Association Annual Conference prior to the pandemic. There were two statewide Pesticide Safety Education Program workshops offered online and in-person with proper social distancing and prescribed safety measures.

In 2019



In 2020



Offering options for rural Nevadans

"Loved the free, online format of this year’s workshops. Hope they continue to be offered post COVID-19. It greatly helps with those of us living in rural Nevada." -A program participant in a post-program survey