January 17, 2023

Reno: The Biggest Little City Making Headway in the Metaverse by Testing Ideas and Bringing Local Communities on Board

By Elizabeth Haas

Reno is a “second” city in many ways: our second choice (after Singapore) in highlighting how the city has recently attracted entrepreneurial and tech talent to drive growth; a second city to the better-known city of Las Vegas (although catching up fast as a destination for relocation); and, a “second” city of Nevada, in terms of its size, with a metro area population of 531,000 (2023). Reno’s ability to smartly test and experiment in these early days of the Metaverse has captured our imagination. This week’s blog profiles Reno’s activity and progress against our emerging City and the metaverse model. 


City Identity and Core Strengths: A Forward-Thinking Government Moving Rapidly into the Metaverse to Build Access and Improve Community Engagement

Reno is emerging from years of second-class status and transforming into a city known for a level of promise and opportunity that very few major cities can rival. With the recent addition of several large and well-known tech companies, such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Panasonic, and Tesla, Reno has demonstrated its “gravitas” with a promise of reduced operating costs, a stable work environment (competitive salary levels), and a lower cost of living. Reno has also earned its reputation as a boom town by placing number four on Realtor.com’s Top 10 list of cities with an influx of new residents (looking for a better quality of life post-pandemic).

Reno’s attraction appears to resonate with its newer citizens -- tech talent, digital nomads, and start-ups -- who are increasingly concerned about gritty issues, such as climate change and population density. Reno’s leadership is feeding this attraction by working hard to forge partnerships with high-tech companies such as Dyneptic (and SurrealVR), which give developers a better way to build metaverse training products and capabilities. The city is also working with Sliice XR -- a Reno marketing firm specializing in cutting-edge marketing services -- to “reposition companies’ brands for maximum visibility in the emerging metaverse marketplace.” In recent years, Reno’s ties to Burning Man and art have also helped the city become a center for art, an attractive location for creative talent, with multiple art shows now held every year, and a recent NFT gallery added to its summer show.

Of concern is Reno’s GENI coefficient, a measure of income inequality, which is on par with the rest of the United States. But as companies have moved into Reno, there has been a trend toward greater inequality – a key concern looking forward.  Nonetheless, city leadership remains optimistic about potential solutions to the inequality issue. Mayor Schieve sees this movement of companies as a way to set the tone for an ecosystem capable of transforming Reno’s economy while providing improved access regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic status. She also believes the metaverse (and its technological capabilities) will play a unique role in helping people: gain better access to critical services and educational opportunities, reduce inequalities they face, more fully engage with activities in their communities, and significantly improve their daily lives.


Key Stakeholders and Influencers: City Leadership Testing Ideas with Technology Companies and Educational Communities to Drive Learning, Investment, and Access

Reno’s city leadership is a key driver behind its early success, with a mindset that sees government support and adoption as the path forward. City leadership views the metaverse as a force for good and a gamechanger for users, i.e., allowing users to take back power (banking the “unbankable”), owning their own data and choosing who and how they share it, and bringing people and whole communities together.

As a former longtime owner of a successful small business, Mayor Schieve sees blockchain technologies as a way to drastically reduce credit card fees – and give more power to small business owners. Mayor Schieve and her leadership team understand, deep down, what it will take to make the city more “bankable” and to attract investment from a diverse set of funding sources. Together, city leadership and its partners, are pursuing a strategy that builds and expands Reno’s core capabilities while demonstrating a fearlessness for new ideas and experimentation that drive access, equality, and growth.


Targeted Outcomes: Technology as a Conduit to Engage Citizens, Connect Communities, and Build a More Transparent Government

Leadership’s mission -- to use web3 and metaverse technologies and public-private investments to be at the forefront of digital equity, access, transparency, and inclusion for the benefit of the entire Reno community –is built into the city’s approach.  

The city’s first foray was focused on using digital art to support local art and to bring people together – people that might not otherwise have a conversation -- with a project in April, 2022 called CityKeys (NFTs used to unlock an art or activity). One of the first NFTs built as part of the CiyKeys project is the Space Whale -- originally an art piece appearing as the Keyhole project at Burning Man 2016, and now living in front of Reno’s City Hall. The city’s objective in this project is to monetize and support local art. Initially, the project met with some resistance from local artists and has gotten off to a slower start than expected, but Space Whale continues to generate interest and provide people with access to art in Reno.


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