Nevada governor proposes giving tech firms power to govern

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This undated illustration provided by Blockchains LLC shows a proposed "smart city" in rural northern Nevada. A cryptocurrency company that owns 67,000 acres in rural northern Nevada wants state government to grant technology companies power to form local governments on land they own. Jeffrey Berns, CEO of Nevada-based Blockchains, LLC, wants to build a "smart city" run on blockchain technology on the land his company purchased in 2018. (EYRC Architects/Blockchains LLC via AP)

CARSON CITY, Nev. – Nevada's governor on Friday unveiled a proposal that would allow technology companies to establish jurisdictions with powers similar to those of county governments, arguing the state needed to be bold to diversify its economy and pushing back against those who have likened the idea to company towns.

“This proposal is an exciting, unprecedented concept that has a potential to position Nevada as a global center of advanced technology and innovation, while helping to create immediate positive economic impact and shape the economy of the future,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said of his Innovation Zones idea. “As we’ve learned in the past, an emergency requires us to throw out the tried-and-true, discard the ‘How We’ve Always Done It’ manual and move on.”

Under the proposal, companies developing cutting-edge technologies that have at least 50,000 acres (200 sq. kilometers) of land and promise to invest $1.25 billion could establish “Innovation Zones." The zones would be governed by a board responsible for overseeing zoning, taxation, law enforcement and other government functions on their land. It would override local county regulations.

The governor’s office of economic development would initially appoint three members to govern the zone, including two required to be from the company.

While the legislation does not specifically mention the company, the proposal is geared toward Blockchains LLC, a cryptocurrency company that owns 67,000 acres of land (270 sq. kilometers) in rural Storey County. Blockchains LLC hopes to build a smart city 12 miles (19 kilometers) east of Reno that would include underground data storage bunkers, 15,000 homes and a research and development park where entrepreneurs could invent applications of blockchain technology.

Blockchain is a digital ledger known mostly for recording cryptocurrency transactions. Local governments have also taken advantage of its secure record-keeping capabilities to document marriage licenses and facilitate overseas voting.

The Innovation Zone proposal has sparked concerns about ceding excessive amounts of power to technology companies. But Blockchains CEO Jeffrey Berns insists that the company's technology has the potential to empower people to control their digital footprint.

“What we’re trying to build is a place where you have power instead of companies,” he told The Associated Press earlier in February.