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At the edge of Virginia City sits an unassuming white-paneled building with a brick chimney, home to the Storey County community development department.

Inside, a staff of just three people work to review plans and approve building permits, processing hundreds of applications for some of the nation’s largest companies: Wal-Mart, PetSmart, eBay, Zulily, 1-800-Flowers.com.

And, if all goes as hoped, they could soon bewriting permits for Tesla’s giant battery factory, the unprecedented scale of which belies the tiny county’s stature.

Yet it’s exactly Storey County’s diminutive size that has become part of the draw for these companies that are building giant facilities — some big enough to land a small plane on — in the county’s Tahoe Reno Industrial Center.

Unlike any other jurisdiction in Nevada — and many jurisdictions across the country — Storey County’s development official will hand an initial grading permit over to a company on the very same day it is requested.

“The scheduling risk is almost nonexistent,” said Lance Gilman, the industrial center’s principal and director. “The regulatory environment is zilch. For a company coming in, they’ve got building permits in 30 days or less. You can’t hardly build a garage in Reno in nine months. That’s the value of deregulating your community.”

At first glance, it may seem to be the Wild West of building permits — no bureaucratic hoops to navigate; no extended waiting times for inspectors; no delay for blueprints to be examined. The contractor can be moving dirt on a site and the concrete slab can be poured within days of an application.

Construction is often underway even as the county is still completing its plan reviews.

But while it may seem like the Wild West, a significant amount of work went in on the front end to enable the quick turnaround.

In 2000, the Storey County Commission approved a development agreement that governs the uses for the park, all of the license and permit fees, even the minutiae such as setbacks for driveways. The park is zoned for heavy industrial uses, meaning all manner of manufacturing and distribution centers need no special-use permits or zoning changes.

For example, within the 107,000-acre industrial center, a machine gun manufacturer sits within a stone’s throw of an online diaper retailer.

“Everything is set by ordinance,” said Dean Haymore, Storey County’s community development director. “I can’t even raise the building permit fee or the business license fee. Everything is locked into the development agreement.”

‘It never stops’

The pace at Haymore’s tinydepartment is frenetic.

“Well, you caught me in my office, so keep talking,” Haymore said one recent afternoon when a reporter called for an interview. “I’m plan-checking while we’re talking. It never stops.”

He’s often at work just after midnight to inspect concrete pours. He’s willing to meet with prospective clients at all hours and in odd locations to help preserve the secrecy many major deals require. He even has a bed on-site at the industrial park so he doesn’t have to run home in the middle of a big project.

“I’m the first one to tell you I don’t like government. I don’t like taxes. I don’t like bureaucracy,” he said. “We run as a business.”

Haymore and one other inspector review plans submitted electronically and inspect the construction as it occurs. A third employee runs the office.

The county’s ability to make good on its promise of lightningfast permits is a tremendous selling point, helping to attract big-name companies to a state that is somewhat limited in itsability to compete in the tax incentivebattle. “In other places, they may have 20 to 30 permits to pull or agencies to get approval from,” said Mike Kazmierski, president of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada. “Any one of which could stop the process.”

In fact, speeding up the permit process is a developing tactic by states working to outdo each other with giant tax incentive packages.

“That’s one of the next frontiers in economic development,” said John Boyd, a principal of Princeton, N.J.-based site selection firm The Boyd Company. “It’s very, very important. These are time-sensitive projects.”

Hopes pinned on gigafactory

Critics of the process — many of whom come from neighboring jurisdictions that can’t match the turnaround — point out the risky business of allowing construction to begin before plans are fully inspected.

“To me, that’s a little riskier because if something is missed in the submittal and you’re already out there doing construction, it could delay the project,” said Fred Turnier, community development director for the city of Reno.

In Reno, plan review takes up to 10 days. A full permit usually isn’t issued for four to six weeks, he said.

Meanwhile, economic development officials across the state are hoping Storey County’s ability to eliminate the “scheduling risk” created by a lengthy review process will be the deal-sealer on Nevada’s bid to win Tesla’s gigafactory.

Nevada is one of four finalist states, according to the company, which is saying little else about its plans. But economic development officials have said the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center is on the short list.

In May, the county issued a permit for work to begin on a massive grading project. County officials are prohibited from talking about the project because of a nondisclosure agreement. And at least one local construction firm said it can’t talk about the Tesla project because of a nondisclosure agreement.

If Nevada wins the bid, Haymore and his tiny department will be in charge of overseeing the construction of a 10-millionsquare- foot facility that could bring 6,000 jobs to the region. To put that in perspective, only 3,900 people live in the county.

“We don’t want to blow the biggest deal in the country right now,” Haymore said.

“I’m on pins and needles just like everyone else. I’ll believe it when I see it. Until then, I pray every day that it happens.”