Taking a closer look at mining’s economic impact in Elko, Nevada (Barrick Beyond Borders – April 08, 2015)


There are 670 mining vendors in Elko County alone, according to the Nevada Mining Association. At 53,000, the county’s population has climbed 7.5 percent since 2010 and 15 percent since 2002. Between 2003 and 2013, the gold-mining industry added 3,600 jobs across Elko, Lander, White Pine and Eureka Counties. Another 1,360 mine industry support jobs were added during the same period.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nevada’s unemployment rate is 7.1 percent as of October 2014. According to the same source, Elko County’s unemployment rate is 4.4 percent as of September 2014, down from 6.3 percent in February of 2014.

Below are a few vignettes that offer snapshots of mining’s impact in this Nevada community.

A carnival-like atmosphere

A new store opening isn’t a major event in big cities, but it is in rural America. So when a Jo-Ann Fabrics opened in Elko in late 2011, the local radio and television stations were both on hand to cover the event and so, it seemed, was half the population of northeast Nevada. That may be a slight exaggeration. But the new Jo-Ann’s in the Elko Junction Shopping Center did enjoy the largest grand opening in the history of the company. Within two months, a Rue21 and Famous Footwear had opened at Elko Junction and also reported record grand openings.

“These were festive events,” says Gary Pinkston, owner of Elko Junction and founder of Meridian Pacific, a real estate development com¬pany. “People came from as far away as Wells and Winnemucca. Channel 10 was there, the local DJ was there, city coun¬cil was there and some of the Barrick and Newmont folks also came. It was a real kind of carnival setting.”

With relatively low housing costs and high per-capita earnings, Elko is an attractive destination for retailers. Since the trio of record grand openings in 2011, Marshalls, Petco, Ross Dress for Less, Maurice’s and Denny’s restaurant have all opened outlets at Elko Junction.

While the price of gold is well below its 2011 peak, Pinkston says sales at Elko Junction are holding firm. “Business is fine.”

Lifeblood of the economy

Elko is a warm, welcoming and vibrant community. It’s also a small community and you won’t find any double-decker tour buses here showing sightseers around, though apparently you can rent a double-decker to host parties in. If such tours were available, visitors would quickly glean how deeply mining is embedded in the fabric of the town and surrounding Elko County.

Barrick and Newmont Mining, the biggest mine operators in the state, both have regional offices here. Cashman Equipment, the large Caterpillar dealer, maintains a service center in town. Big industry suppliers like the Liebherr Group, Joy Global and Komatsu Equipment also have a presence. Elko was important enough to Ram Enterprise’s business for it to move its head offices here in 2012. The mine equipment vendor’s 90 employees work in a new 46,000-square-foot facility that also houses the company’s largest service center and its manufacturing arm.

“Mining is very, very important to our company, and to Elko,” says Ram President Tim Horn.

The Star

It’s 2 p.m. on a September afternoon in Elko, Nevada, a rare moment of down time for Scott Ygoa. Ygoa is the owner of the Star Hotel and Restaurant, an institution in Elko that opened in 1910 to serve the burgeoning Basque community. While it still has several full-time lodgers, the Star is more restaurant than hotel these days, known for its succulent steak, generous portions and convivial atmosphere.

Its clientele has also changed over time. Basque sheepherders are only a memory now, their pictures adorning the walls of the Star along with other photos and keepsakes that offer a glimpse into Elko’s past. In their stead has come a new generation of townspeople, miners who work in one of the 18 major mines located within a 150-mile radius of Elko.

“Almost everybody that comes in here is somehow connected to the mining industry,” says Ygoa, who worked for 16 years at Barrick’s Goldstrike mine before purchasing the Star in 2004. “The mining industry is what keeps us afloat.”

A mining matriarch

Take Chris Mayer. The long-time Elko resident sits on a bar stool in the Star sipping sangria while catching up with Ygoa, who knows many Star patrons by name. She recently returned home from Juneau, Alaska, where she works two weeks a month as a lab technician for Hecla Mining. Before joining Hecla in 2013, she worked at Barrick for 12 years at the company’s Bald Mountain mine. She has five grown sons, all of whom live in Elko and work in mining.

“One works at Queenstake Resources, one is at P&H Mining Equipment, another is at Elko Wire Rope,” she says, pausing as she tries to remember where her other two boys work. “Mining is a good thing for Elko. It’s not unusual here to see different generations of families working in the industry. It’s the lifeblood of our economy.”

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