Nevada’s Sales Pitch to Silicon Valley: You Can Create Your Own Government Here

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Nevada’s Sales Pitch to Silicon Valley: You Can Create Your Own Government Here

Drive east from Reno, Nevada, on Interstate 80 and you’ll soon hit Storey County, a sparsely populated district of around 4,000 people that hosts some of the state’s most ambitious commercial projects. A massive Tesla Gigafactory is there, part of the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, a growing, 107,00-acre industrial park that contains facilities for Google, Home Depot, Walmart, and others. In typical Nevada fashion, the TRIC land is partially owned by Lance Gilman, a cowboy hat–wearing county supervisor, realtor, and brothel owner. Thanks to the influence of a business partner of former corporate raider and convicted felon Michael Milken, who has invested in projects in TRIC, erstwhile Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin designated the park—against his department’s own guidelines—as an opportunity zone, making it eligible for a special tax break, according to The New York Times. (Citing an op-ed by Milken, a spokesman denied that he has any involvement or investment in TRIC.)*

Adjacent to TRIC is another highly ambitious project that may prove key to Nevada’s economic future—unless it becomes another cautionary tale of techno-utopian hubris. Jeffrey Berns, a former lawyer who reportedly made a killing by suing finance institutions in the wake of the 2008 crisis, owns 67,000 acres of pristine—and very dry—high desert land in Storey County. With his fortune, he’s poured money into a company called Blockchains LLC, which, as its name implies, is intended to promote and innovate uses of the blockchain—the distributed database technology powering Bitcoin, for which boosters see many other potential uses. Blockchains has promised to build a technological R&D facility and a “smart city” on its land. That project was announced in 2018, in a lavish ceremony in Prague, and was followed by an approving profile of Berns in The New York Times. Almost three years later, Blockchains has barely broken ground and is struggling to secure water rights. Last year, the company laid off almost 10 percent of its staff and appeared to refocus on less tangible projects, like a digital identity-management product.

While its marquee initiative is well behind schedule, Blockchains LLC is far from finished. Thanks in part to political donations from Berns and his company, Blockchains has become the key mover behind a forthcoming piece of state legislation to establish “innovation zones” in Nevada that would, in effect, be self-governed tech towns. A leaked draft of the legislation, obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, states that a traditional local government is “inadequate alone to provide the flexibility and resources conducive to making the State a leader in attracting and retaining new forms and types of businesses and fostering economic development in emerging technologies and innovative industries.” It thus proposes an “alternative form of local government”—to allow companies, in the words of the Review-Journal, to “effectively form separate local governments in Nevada, governments that would carry the same authority as a county, including the ability to impose taxes, form school districts and justice courts and provide government services, to name a few duties.”


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Nevada’s Sales Pitch to Silicon Valley: You Can Create Your Own Government Here

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