Blockchains backs off ‘innovation zones’ concept in Nevada

Blockchains founder and CEO Jeffrey Berns said he's pulling out of further talks, citing the absence of "a champion" for the project.
Nevada desert
(Getty Images)

The company behind the push to create corporate-owned communities in Nevada’s sparsely inhabited Northern deserts has backed off of its campaign, citing a lack of support from Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak.

Jeffrey Berns, the corporation’s founder and chief executive, sent a letter to Sisolak late last month stating that “Blockchains will not be participating in any further Committee hearings,” referring to the state’s legislative committee assigned to study Berns’ proposed “innovation zones” earlier this year. Berns sought to enable his tech company, and others like it, to create their own county governments across large swathes of uninhabited land with the promise of boosting the state’s technology sector.

Sisolak supported the proposal during his State of the State address this year, but in April formed a committee to study the concept, delaying the project until at least next year. The lack of support “deeply disappointed” Berns, he wrote in a Sept. 30 letter obtained by The Nevada Independent.

“Despite our best efforts, this concept has not gained enough traction from the State to warrant further debate,” his letter read. “One of the biggest problems the proposed legislation encountered was it appeared to have no champion. Other than the support from the State’s labor unions, for which we are grateful, we have generally been on our own during the committee process. Given the personal and public assurances you made regarding your commitment to this project, you can imagine how greatly disappointed we are in the effort put forth.”


Berns owns roughly 67,000 acres — the proposed site of his innovation zone — in Storey County, Nevada, a 4,000-person county east of Reno and full of people skeptical of the concept, according to County Manager Austin Osborne. Under Berns’ proposal, the land that he owns within Storey County would be granted its own county governmental powers, including the ability to impose taxes and form school districts and justice courts. Osborne told committee members in August that he supports the promise of new economic investment into a “smart city” in Storey County, but not the creation of a company town.

“Bifurcating the county into two governments will result in persistent fiscal instability in the region and may weaken the county’s ability to provide public safety, social services and other core functions to current and future stakeholders in the county,” Osborne wrote in a letter to the state’s legislative committee in August.

But Blockchains will not even pursue building a “smart city” in Storey County. Berns said it will instead invest in blockchain-based autonomous vehicle technology and blockchain-based renewable energy technology. Berns also referenced his company’s care of “more than 1,000 wild horses” on his land in Storey County as an example of how exemplary an environmental steward he has been in the five years he’s lived in Nevada.

He also said he was prepared to “double down” on innovation zones, but cannot do so without greater government support.

In a press conference on Thursday, Sisolak said he was disappointed that Berns withdrew his support for the concept of innovation zones, but promised that the state would continue to seek similar opportunities for “economic diversification,” the Independent reported.

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