Nevada County Economic Resource Council’s annual summit focuses on Green Screen Institute, job creation | TheUnion.com
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Nevada County Economic Resource Council’s annual summit focuses on Green Screen Institute, job creation

Dan Frisella, the principal of Nevada Union High School, tries out virtual reality during the Nevada County Economic Resource Council's economic development summit on Thursday. More than 300 people attended the summit to discuss economic stimulation and job growth.
Jim Hemig/jhemig@theunion.com |

The virtual reality and augmented reality sectors are projected to become a $20-$80 billion dollar industry over the next five years — and the Green Screen Institute will serve as a local technology hub that will position Nevada County as a leader in that space.

That was one of the messages communicated at the Nevada County Economic Resource Council’s economic development summit, held Thursday at the Veterans Memorial Building in Grass Valley. The event brought together about 300 stakeholders representing the region’s education, government, technology, business and tourism sectors to discuss how Nevada County can leverage its technology offerings, outdoor opportunities, talent, arts scene and quality of life to transform the area into a destination for innovative talent and business. The event was also live streamed at theunion.com.

The summit offered the most complete background yet on the ERC’s Green Screen Institute, which is expected to attract companies in the virtual reality and augmented reality markets to Nevada County and stimulate job creation in the area, according to ERC officials.



Earlier this month, the ERC announced the institute, which will be located on New Mohawk Road in Nevada City, will house a three-month accelerator program designed to provide technical, educational and financial support to start-ups; it will also provide co-working space for established corporations and digital media training.

“Virtual reality and augmented reality scored far and away the highest as the one that would fit here, and had the greatest economic potential as something that could slowly but surely benefit this region.” Scott Lenet, founder and president of Touchdown Ventures.

On Thursday, Scott Lenet, the founder and president of venture capital firm Touchdown Ventures, detailed just how his company and the ERC identified the institute’s niche within the digital media space.




Lenet said when Touchdown Ventures started talking to community members and stakeholders to identify the focus of the institute, the overwhelming priority in the community was creating jobs — but without destroying the character or charm of the county.

At the same time, Lenet noted, when working to establish a technology hub, “we want relevance and we want relationships with communities outside of our immediate area, and that especially means San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Los Angeles.”

Lenet said the virtual and augmented reality markets are a natural fit for Nevada County, which has strong foundations in engineering as well as in creative, artistic fields. He noted virtual and augmented realities have applications in a wide variety of areas, from education to gaming to entertainment to healthcare to real estate.

He said Touchdown Ventures and the ERC looked at 10 possible focuses for the institute.

“Virtual reality and augmented reality scored far and away the highest as the one that would fit here, and had the greatest economic potential as something that could slowly but surely benefit this region,” Lenet said.

Thursday’s event also featured a talk on job generation by Mary Owens, an economist and principal at Owens Estate & Wealth Strategies Group, and a keynote address from Matt Carmichael, the vice president and editor of Livability.com, a website that ranks the country’s most livable small-to-medium-sized cities.

Carmichael was eventually joined on stage by Rosalynn Bliss, Georgia Tuttle and Paul Soglin, the mayors of Grand Rapids, Mich., Lebanon, N.H., and Madison, Wis., respectively. In 2015, Livability.com ranked Grand Rapids the nation’s top place to visit, Lebanon the nation’s top small town and Madison the nation’s top small-to-medium city; the mayors shared their experiences and offered suggestions about how to develop towns and cities, promote economic development and attract visitors.

Carmichael focused his presentation on how communities like Nevada County can attract more millennials, a key demographic for the Green Screen Institute.

“You as a city, as a county, as an economic development force, have to start thinking like marketers,” he said.

A central part of that is using data to create a profile of millennials. Carmichael noted that group is more likely to get married later, have children later and rent longer before buying a home; it’s important, he said, to learn how that group is spending their money, how they consume media and other key characteristics.

That data can be used to create a targeted message that highlights the strengths of Nevada County, whether it’s jobs, recreation, proximity to a larger city, affordable housing or something else, Carmichael said.

“Use data to make your message stronger,” he said.

Carmichael said millennials are also more likely than other populations to relocate for a job opportunity — ­­ but that’s not all they’re looking for.

“They don’t just want a great job, they want to make sure they’re living in a community that supports them,” he said.

He noted Nevada County has several strengths, including its historical downtowns and its robust arts scene. But he also encouraged the stakeholders in attendance to look at some of the barriers that might be turning people away from the area, noting the county has a lot of lower-wage jobs, yet expensive housing costs.

Millennials have choices, he reminded the audience. Think about any potential incentives Nevada County can offer, such as covering moving expenses or providing property tax breaks.

“As you think about your community and the changes you want to make here,” Carmichael said, “do you have something to offer them?”

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email elavin@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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