How Nevada Is Pushing to Generate Jobs Beyond the Casinos

Before the pandemic brought everyday life to a halt, Joe Kiele supported himself through the industry that dominates Nevada’s economy. He waited tables at a steakhouse inside a casino in Reno.

Four years later, Mr. Kiele, 49, remains in Reno, yet he now spends his workday inside a factory. In place of worrying about the doneness of a customer’s rib-eye, he trains people on the proper handling of industrial chemicals.

His employer, Redwood Materials, is constructing an enormous complex across a lonely stretch of desert. There, the company has begun recycling batteries harvested from discarded smartphones and other electronics. It extracts critical minerals like nickel, lithium, copper and cobalt, and uses them to manufacture components for electric vehicle batteries.

Not coincidentally, the plant sits only eight miles from a major customer — a Tesla auto factory.

Mr. Kiele’s shift from restaurant server to chemical operator parallels a transformation long championed by Nevada’s leaders seeking to make their economy more diverse, reducing its reliance on the hospitality industry for jobs. In recent years, they have tried to secure investment from companies engaged in the transition toward green energy.

The Redwood Materials plant, which occupies roughly 300 acres and is expected to require some $2 billion in investment over the next decade, looms like a monument to Nevada’s aspirations. For the employees, the factory is evidence that there are ways to pay bills besides dealing cards and delivering food.

“We’re not based on consumerism,” Mr. Kiele said. “We’re dealing with industry.”

This is not the first time that Nevada has sought to broaden its economy. The state has a history of betting its fate on the bounty flowing from a single industry.

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