Blockchains abandons innovation zone plan for Nevada county


CARSON CITY — Nevada’s flirtation with the Innovation Zone concept, where governments set up by technology companies would run in place of counties, appears to have run its course.

Citing a lack of support, the company that brought the revolutionary but controversial idea to Gov. Steve Sisolak in 2020 wrote to the governor last week to say it would withdraw from further legislative hearings on the plan.

“Despite our best efforts, this concept has not gained enough traction from the state to warrant further debate,” Blockchains CEO Jeffrey Berns wrote in his Sept. 30 letter.

The governor, speaking to reporters at an event Thursday in Las Vegas, said he was “disappointed that Jeff and Blockchains chose to go in a different direction.”

Sisolak touted Innovation Zones in his state of the state address this year as an alternative to traditional economic development incentives from the state, such as tax abatements to attract companies and developers.

As first outlined, companies with an innovative technology, such as blockchains, would be able to create zones in rural parts of the state that would become standalone governments, with county-like authority to levy and collect taxes and run services such as schools, courts and police. Blockchains envisioned creating such project on 67,000 acres it owns in Storey County, reducing the existing county’s size by 40 percent.

Draft legislation discussed behind the scenes during the 2021 legislative session was never introduced, and instead an interim committee was created to review the proposal. The concept won backing from labor groups and economic development proponents but drew concern from Storey County officials and resident groups, including tribal interests. The committee has met twice, finding considerable concern and unease among both state lawmakers and local officials.

Berns, in his letter to the governor, said the Innovations Zones plan “appeared to have no champion.”

“Other than the support from the State’s labor unions, for which we are grateful, we have generally been on our own during the committee process,” Berns wrote. “Given the personal and public assurances you made regarding your commitment to this project, you can imagine how greatly disappointed we are in the effort put forth.”

He cited inaccuracies in Storey County’s position regarding the project and said Blockchains “was fully prepared to double down on this commitment,” but that the state “has not put its full support behind the project.”

“As we have always maintained, we cannot make the massive investment on our part, bring in other investors, or bring in the necessary partners to develop the project without that,” Berns wrote.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

093021 Blockchains letter by Las Vegas Review-Journal on Scribd