TRIC of the Trades
A Silicon Valley Suburb Develops in Nevada

5179 Exit 32 on Interstate 80, 32 miles east of the California state line, is the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, a privately owned industrial park outside Reno that covers 167 square miles of land, probably sufficient to support its claim to being “the world’s largest industrial center.” CLUI photo


CALIFORNIA, TOO EXPENSIVE TO CONTAIN itself, is expanding its economy and its geography, over the Sierras into Nevada. The Reno region is becoming a major supply base for the San Francisco Bay Area, less than four hours away—one round trip in a day for a trucker providing fulfillment. 
 
Reno has been flanked by commercial supply hubs for a while, from its warehouse-ridden doppelgänger, Sparks to the east, to a giant Starbucks Roasting Plant that serves California, extending southwards next to the Minden-Tahoe airport. In 1999, internet logistics pioneer Amazon established one of its first six nationwide fulfillment centers in Fernley, some distance east of the city. But with the massive and sudden growth of the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center (TRIC), Reno’s logistics hinterlands have become state of the art.
 
Located on Interstate 80 between Reno and Fernley, TRIC started as an industrial park development in the late 1990s. By the mid 2000s, large logistics warehouses for PetSmart, Walmart, and others were developed, later followed by Prologis, Zulily, Jet.com, and eBay. TRIC was mostly about logistics, and after the economic downturn of 2008, saw no additional land sales for five years. It was the announcement of TRIC as the site for Tesla’s Gigafactory in 2014 when things at TRIC really turned. 
 
The Gigafactory is primarily a lithium-ion battery plant, being built with Tesla’s partner Panasonic, to make batteries for Tesla cars and its Powerwall domestic battery storage units, as well as motors and other parts for its cars. If built out as planned, as it seems it might be, it will have a footprint that covers 5,800,000 square feet, around 133 acres, more than any single building on earth, possibly. 
 
Construction started in 2014, and is expected to be done in 2020. The factory is being built in stages, with fully functional production areas operating autonomously during construction. The first batteries were produced in the summer of 2016, when the factory was officially declared open, despite being only 14% complete. Currently around 30% complete, every day more than 3,000 people work at the building, mostly on construction. Tesla claims that when it is done, the factory could employ as many as 10,000 people, in production, and could have more than 20 million square feet of space inside, on a few levels. The final cost is estimated to be $5 billion.
 
With Tesla’s commitment to TRIC, other tech companies began developing there at a large scale as well. Data center company Switch announced it would build its Citadel Campus at TRIC, an eight-building complex that would cover up to 2,000 acres, and enclose a total of 7.2 million square feet, making it by far the largest data center in the world. In 2016 Switch opened the first of its buildings, Tahoe Reno 1, with almost 1.5 million square feet. The site connects to its Core Campus in Las Vegas, where more than 2 million square feet of data center space is up and running, connected to the Citadel by a fiber system making them less than 7milliseconds apart, despite being on opposite ends of the state. The company describes how this loop extends through other fiber links to cover southern and northern California, making a big superloop with less than 10 millisecond latency, and only 4 milliseconds between TRIC and the Bay Area.
 
5180 Mountains of data: Switch’s Citadel data center at TRIC. The company says it will spend as much as $22 billion there, making it not only the biggest data center in the nation, but possibly the biggest single commercial development in the nation. CLUI photo

Across the interstate from TRIC, in a separate development known as the Reno Technology Park, Apple is nearly finished expanding the $1 billion data center it proposed for this location in 2010. In August 2017, Google acquired 1,200 acres just over the pass from Switch, to build a data center. Ground is yet to be broken.
 
The Google site in Martin Canyon would be the first development in the part of TRIC beyond the crest of the hill. This undeveloped area is accessed by the newest divided highway in the state, called USA Parkway. The parkway is a connective bridge, 18 miles long, linking Interstate 80, running through the Truckee River Valley, with Highway 50, the old Lincoln Highway, running through the Carson River Valley, east of Carson.
 
5181 Google Valley and the USA Parkway, just over the hill from Switch. CLUI photo
USA Parkway was approved and paid for by the state of Nevada soon after the Tesla deal, and built with more than $75 million of state money. The northern half of the roadway was already mostly built by TRIC, and served as the main corridor through the industrial park, stopping abruptly at a stub just south of the pass. The state began construction in 2014 on the rest of the road, and the completed highway opened in the fall of 2017 as State Route 439. The brand new southern 12 miles of highway is notable for being a four-lane-wide limited access freeway with almost no exits, little traffic, and no legal turn around opportunities. If you end up on it, you are shunted out of TRIC like a gutterball into the dusty Carson Valley.
 
During rush hours, the highway does see some activity, as it’s the most direct route to cities to the south like Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, and helps alleviate traffic along Interstate 80, where at times vehicles can back up dramatically. With more than 14,000 workers coming and going from TRIC’s warehouses and construction sites, as well as all the truck traffic from the 11 million square feet of fulfillment centers currently operating at TRIC, shift changes are staggered to reduce congestion. Peak times for movement are in the early hours, from midnight to 6am, when trucks head out with wares to California, and when cement trucks flow in to pour slabs in the cool of night.
 
While the southern part of the USA Parkway is a lonely back door through the undeveloped part of TRIC, the northern part, heavily developed and bustling, is connected to the world through two consecutive exits of Interstate 80, six miles apart—Exit 28 to the west, and 32 to the east. With the interstate, river, and rail passing by, there was already some development here, including a diatomaceous earth plant, power plants, and a gravel pit, before TRIC was conceived, 20 years ago.
 
Back then the land was otherwise mostly empty, rolling hills, owned by Gulf Oil of Canada, which considered operating it as a hunting retreat for its executives, but otherwise had no plans for it. In 1998, Gulf’s 104,000 acres were purchased by developers Lance Gilman and his partner Roger Norman for $20 million. The land covered 162 square miles, more than half of Storey County, a county which includes Virginia City, the fabled silver boomtown from the Comstock days, which at its peak in the 1860s was the largest city in the state. Now it is one of the least populated counties in the state.
 
Their idea at the outset was to promote and develop the site as an industrial park. In the early 1980s Gilman worked as a commercial real estate broker and boat show promoter in Southern California, and developed a business park and housing tracts south of Reno in 1988, with his partner Roger Norman, a fellow Southern Californian. Based on that success, they had high hopes for growth in the region. Purchasing the Gulf Ranch and turning it into TRIC would become their crowning achievement, but it took a few years to get started. 
 
In 2002, to generate revenue and jump-start the moribund county economy, Gilman opened a brothel at the western end of what would become the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center. At the time taxes from brothels were a major source of revenue for the county, and the county was nearly broke. 
 
He also purchased the Mustang Ranch, located a few miles away. The Mustang Ranch was famous as the first legal brothel to operate in the country, in 1971, then owned by the notorious Joe Conforte. Pursued by the IRS, Conforte eventually fled the country, the Ranch went into receivership, and was eventually taken over by the federal government. Gilman bought it when it was being auctioned off on eBay by the Bureau of Land Management, which by then owned the land it was on, and wanted the buildings removed. 
 
In 2004, Gilman had the buildings flown to his land by helicopter, and installed them next to his existing brothel. He then renamed the whole complex the World Famous Mustang Ranch. Other businesses followed, mostly logistics and warehousing, before slowing during the recession times of 2008-2011.
 
In 2012 Gilman, whose holdings now covered 65% of the county, was elected as a county commissioner. A story he loves to tell is how when the guys from Tesla were making the rounds around the country looking for a site for the Gigafactory in 2013, they met with him in his office trailer at TRIC. When asked how long it would take them to receive a grading permit, one was slid across the table to them, with the suggestion that all they needed to do was to fill it out. Tesla soon agreed that this would be the place for what was being touted then, and now, as the largest and most important commercial development project in the country. ♦
 
5182 Turning TRICs: The Mustang Ranch brothel anchors the west end of the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center. One of the slogans of the Ranch is “Exit 28, where the sex is great.” CLUI photo