Economist touts need for housing |

Economist touts need for housing

Alan Riquelmy
Christopher Thornberg, considered one of the most renowned economists in the country, gave his economic outlook of Nevada County during Thursday's Economic Resource Council gathering at the Grass Valley Center for the Arts.
Elias Funez/ |

The economist minced no words: Growth could come to Nevada County, but the area must decide it wants additional people to reap the benefits of that increased population.

Christopher Thornberg, founding partner of Beacon Economics and keynote speaker at Thursday’s annual economic development summit, drew a bright line between population growth and housing. He said Nevada County must choose whether it wants more housing for an increased population, which is necessary for economic growth.

“The big question is: Does Nevada County want this growth?” he asked. “In the end, it’s about housing. Are you going to build it?”

Speaking to a crowded Center for the Arts in Grass Valley, Thornberg argued against notions that immigration is a negative and the economy is a wreck. He said wages have grown and people are spending more. However, there’s a lack of workers necessary to fuel growth.

According to Thornberg, a population shift from the coast to areas like Sacramento, and potentially to Nevada County, is coming, but only if certain conditions are met.

Housing is at the top of that list.

“If you want to have growth, you’ve got to have more people,” Thornberg said. “And if you want more people, you’ve got to have more housing.”

Mary Owens, chairman of the Nevada County Economic Resource Council, said she wants more higher paying jobs and housing. She called the lack of housing a crisis, but noted that the growth she envisions wouldn’t destroy this area’s rural atmosphere.

“We recognize as the ERC this is an exquisitely important job we need to get done,” Owens said.

Jef Lewis, with BrewBilt, is one business owner Owens sees as the county’s future. Moving from Oregon, Lewis now operates his brewery equipment company from Nevada County. He employs 11 people and has had $2.5 million in sales this year.

Lewis praised the Economic Resource Council for connecting him with local suppliers, and Nevada City brewery ol’ Republic for being one of his first customers.

“Being local for us has been a huge deal,” Lewis said.

Owens touted the county’s variety as a massive benefit, citing its technology workers, arts, culture and outdoor activities. The Bay Area’s cost of living and traffic issues should lead people to relocate here.

“Move your company while it’s young to what I call God’s country — Nevada County,” she said.

According to Thornberg, limits exist to industry growth here.

Fielding a question about marijuana, Thornberg indicated cannabis wouldn’t become a new, large revenue source for local government. He called cannabis a niche market.

“It’s not going to drive your local economy,” Thornberg said. “It’s just not that big.”

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