by Christine Hamilton-Pennell
Growing Local Economies, Inc.
May 10, 2011
Sara Jones, Director of the Carson City Library, is an entrepreneur at heart. The former state librarian took her current position because she wanted to have more influence at the local level. She had a vision that the library could be an integral part of Carson City’s community infrastructure and business support systems. The seed for developing a collaborative effort was planted when Jones attended my workshop, “Building Public Partnerships,” sponsored by the Nevada State Library and Archives. Sara also brought City Supervisor Robin Williamson and Carson City Economic Development Director, Joe McCarthy to the workshop. She returned to the library with a mission to serve Carson City’s small business community and thereby contribute to the area’s economic growth.
The state of Nevada faces enormous economic challenges. Its unemployment rate, at more than 14 percent (some estimate it is as high as 22 percent, if underemployment is included), is the highest in the nation. Its educational system is among the most poorly rated, with one of the highest dropout rates in the nation. The state budget is slated to be slashed by 50 percent. The economy in Carson City has faired slightly better than the state as a whole, but revenues are down, and both the government and the business community are hurting financially from the economic downturn.
The Carson City Library is located near the historic downtown area. It is bursting at the seams in its 21,000 square-foot, 30-year-old facility. Jones recognized that the voters would never approve expansion of the library if its value to the community could not be demonstrated. In what proved to be a smart move she hired Tammy Westergard, who had previously worked for the city’s economic development agency, as the library’s deputy director.
Together, Sara and Tammy are an unbeatable duo. Tammy grew up in Carson City, and cares deeply about the health and wellbeing of her community. She has contacts in every sector of the city; on a recent visit, we toured the area in her cherry-red VW bug convertible and met people everywhere we stopped who knew Tammy. She is a dynamo—politician, deal-maker, and superb networker.
Tammy Westergard in front of BRIC
Sara and Tammy found an ideal opportunity to position the library as a key player in economic development. After attending the Building Public Partnerships workshop, they wrote and received an LSTA grant to develop a Business Resource Center that would house the Carson City Office of Business Development, Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and a library business resource center in a joint location in the downtown area. The idea proved to be a catalyst for the city—which was also planning to move its licensing and regulatory departments to a new location—to place their offices there as well. They found the perfect solution in an office building vacated by the state. The city decided to obtain the building and renovate it, in order to house its own departments as well as local business support organizations and a business resource center staff by the library. Thus, the Business Resource Innovation Center (BRIC) was born. It was conceived as a multi-function business center that would support local entrepreneurs from the ground up by providing a centralized suite of services. Sara and Tammy already had a history of developing partnerships across the city, so it was a natural next step to collaborate with them to make the BRIC a reality.
Carson City Library Director Sara Jones in front of BRIC artwork
Upstairs, the BRIC houses the city’s Building Division, Business Licenses and Permit Center, Planning Division, and Engineering Division. On the ground floor there are offices for the Carson City Office of Business Development, the Nevada Small Business Development Center, the Capital City Arts Initiative, and of course, the Business Library. The building itself displays numerous pieces of local art, connecting commerce with culture. According to Mayor Bob Crowell, “it creates a sense of place in downtown that is welcoming, available to everyone, and is quite lovely. I can’t think of a better way to do business.”
Mona Reno, part-time Business Librarian for the BRIC, is the first point of contact for business owners. She directs them to the resources throughout the building that will help them with their needs, including business research. A recent project Mona worked on involved a local business owner who wanted to know which manufacturers in northern Nevada might have use for his company’s products. She used ReferenceUSA to produce a list of potential clients in the state and create a spreadsheet for him.
Adult Services Librarian Susan Antipa and BRIC Business Librarian Mona Reno
Adult Services Librarian Susan Antipa divides her time between the regular library and the BRIC. She was both excited and apprehensive to take on this new role at the BRIC. “I’m learning a lot,” she says. “It’s a whole new world for me. I never thought much about business. It can be intimidating, but if someone asks for something, I want to be able to help them.” Having other business service providers in the building has given her experts to consult with when she gets stuck.
Since August 2010, the BRIC has served more than 3,000 clients, the majority of whom use the center to attend workshops and access the center’s computers, which offer several business resources such as ReferenceUSA and Business Decision. The response from local business owners has been enthusiastic. One client wrote out a check for $500 to the BRIC because he said he “had never received this kind of help before.”
Sara and Tammy have not stopped with the creation of the BRIC. They have also taken a leadership role in moving forward a downtown economic development project. The City Center Project is a public-private partnership that aims to “achieve long-term sustainable and focused economic growth by building a diverse, innovative downtown economy that attracts high-wage, high-impact jobs that provide opportunity and prosperity for the City’s residents, businesses and entrepreneurs throughout the entire community.” The “catalytic civic investment” for the project is a new state-of-the-art 60,000 square-foot library, known as the Carson City Knowledge and Discovery Center.
Through the BRIC and the City Center Project, the Carson City Library has become embedded in the City’s economic, political, and community structure. It is a vital force for economic and community revitalization in turbulent times, and serves as a shining example of how public libraries can stimulate the local economy through innovative leadership and public-private partnerships.
View the Community First video on YouTube that was directed and produced by Tammy Westergard with help from a local high school student. It highlights the role of the proposed new Carson City Knowledge and Discovery Center in creating economic and lifelong learning opportunities for Carson City citizens and businesses.
Read the entire case study in our e-book, Creating an Entrepreneur-Friendly Public Library, for sale on our website at http://www.growinglocaleconomies.com/efriendly.
©2011 Christine Hamilton-Pennell, Growing Local Economies, Inc.