In Nevada’s gold country the global boom that’s pushed gold prices to an all-time high—currently approaching $1,700 per ounce—brought an influx of jobs to mining towns like Elko, population 18,000.
But in the northeastern part of the state, almost 500 miles from the Vegas Strip, life is suddenly very good, reports NBC News.
This far-flung capital of Nevada’s Gold Belt is booming once again.
Nevada is stippled with so many mining camp ruins—more than 100 in Elko County alone, locals say—that “ghost-towning” is a weekend pastime.
Only a decade ago, tanking gold prices saddled the region with abandoned homes and shredded dreams.
A city born as a transportation hub in the 1860s and possibly named by a railroad official with a fondness for elk, Elko has survived a roller-coaster history. Its fortunes are tied to the seesaw industries of mining, ranching, and tourism, though gold is clearly king.
Elko serves as the center of Nevada’s mining industry, which churned out 5.34 million ounces of gold in 2010 valued at $6.54 billion, reports GATA.
It’s not unusual to see yellow-flagged mining vehicles puttering around town and bumper stickers that taunt: “Earth First—We’ll Strip Mine the Other Planets Later.”
Nevada churns out more gold than all but four nations. The Elko area’s 7.4% jobless rate is about half that of the once-thriving Las Vegas region.
At the Gold Quarry mine, just 26 miles outside Elko, Newmont Mining Corporation brought on about 600 employees in 2011, and is expecting to make another 600 hires this year.
Leading a jobs boom is not without challenges, however.
With the average salary for a metal mine worker in Nevada around $86,000, thousands are clamoring for these jobs—some 34,000 people applied for the 600 positions that opened in Newmont’s Nevada mines last year.
Finding the highly skilled workers needed for many mining positions has led recruiters to military bases across the country, where they can find veterans fresh from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan who have extensive heavy machinery training.
Newmont is also recruiting workers from closing mine sites—from as far away as Missouri and Tennessee—and has a partnership with six research universities to attract and train engineers and geologists.
But finding accommodation in Elko for the new arrivals has proven more difficult than finding qualified workers.
The four RV parks in town are booked solid, as are the motels, originally built to house tourists visiting local casinos.
At Double-Dice RV Park, the largest in town, all but 13 of the park’s 143 spots are reserved for long-term guests, some staying as long as six months to a year while they work at the mine.
Normally, only 90 or so of the park’s spaces are booked for long-term stays,
“We get calls all the time,” said owner Dean Vavak. “We have to turn people away.”
In fact, Double-Dice is running a wait-list for long-term tenants.
Elko Mayor Chris Johnson knows the housing shortage is something his government has to take on for Elko to grow sustainably.
But getting financing from banks to build big developments has been a challenge, he said. This is still Nevada, after all, the epicenter of the nation’s housing crisis. And there’s always the possibility that gold prices could plummet, as they did in the early 2000s, when gold went down to $250 an ounce, and the mines shed workers.
“We’re based on mining; it’s well over 50 percent of our economy,” said Johnson. “There’s no question that if it plummets and the mines just couldn’t make the ends meet that it’s going to affect Elko.”
The mining companies, however, are willing to invest in Elko’s growth. Developer Pedro Ormaza was asked by another company working in the area, Barrick Gold Corporation, to build a 200-unit apartment complex on the outskirts of town to help alleviate the housing crunch. Barrick is funding the project.
“As soon as I get a building built its occupied the next day, with people usually leaving a motel room,” said Ormaza. “They’re moving up from a motel room to an apartment, and hopefully in the future they can move into a house.”
As Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”