When most people look at Storey County, Nevada, all they see is a huge, desolate area. There are no buildings, there are no stores, and no one lives there. Nearly all of its 67,000 acres are covered by a desert plant called rabbit brush, and the only living things there are some wild horses and other animals that roam the desert.
But when Jeffrey Berns looks at Storey County, he envisions a state-of-the-art city with 15,000 homes, 40,000 jobs, 33 million square feet of commercial and industrial space, and annual wages of $1.8 billion.
But even in his vision it will be different than other developing cities. Digital currency will be used to pay for everything that is bought, sold, and made there - not dollars and cents. High-tech companies will be in charge of all of the businesses, the schools, the police department - even the government. And when deliveries are made, no one will take a package out of a truck and carry it to someone’s front door; drones will do that.
An artist’s rendition of Storey County shows a very futuristic community and buildings so innovative that they look like they are straight out of a science fiction movie. There is no resemblance whatsoever to any other small city.
A Bet On Blockchain
Storey County is owned by Blockchains, a Nevada-based company that purchased the 67,000-acre tract of land in 2018 for $170 million. Berns, the company’s CEO, is planning to build this “smart” city from the ground up, and he anticipates that over time others like it will spring up all around the country.
Berns says that traditional government doesn’t offer enough flexibility to create a community where people can invent new applications for blockchain technology and he says this has to change. “There’s got to be a place somewhere on this planet where people are willing to just start from scratch and say, ‘We’re not necessarily going to do things the way we’ve always done it,’” Berns told the AP.
He wants this to start changing in Storey County.
The Crypto Connection
Berns, a cryptocurrency millionaire who owns Blockchains, wants Storey City to utilize blockchain technology exclusively. Blockchain is the technology used to record all Bitcoin transactions. So far, it has proven to be both very secure and very reliable.
It has other advantages, too. According to The New York Times, “(Berns and others) think it could be a new way of taking power back from the institutions they believe are calling all the shots...Just as Bitcoin made it possible to transfer money without using a bank, blockchain believers say the technology will make it possible for ordinary people to control their own data without relying on big companies or governments.” They also believe that blockchain will enable people to control their identities without any governments or companies involved.
For Berns, a lot more than a dream is at stake because he’s risking his own money - and lots of it. So far, he has put up $300 million to purchase land, build offices, develop plans, and hire a staff of 70 people.
However, making profit is not his primary objective. In fact, he has promised to give away all decision-making and 90 percent of any dividends the project generates to a corporate structure that will be owned by residents, employees, and future investors.
This structure will use blockchain technology to record everyone’s ownership rights and voting powers in a digital wallet. “Something inside me tells me this is the answer, that if we can get enough people to trust the blockchain, we can begin to change all the systems we operate by,” he says.
If this seems far out, it’s not. In fact, Berns’s vision is getting both respect and support from some very powerful backers. Many of Nevada’s legislators are among them, as they are eager for the state to be less dependent on its gaming and tourism industries. Steve Sisolak, the current governor of Nevada, is also on board, as was the previous governor, Brian Sandoval. In fact, it was Sandoval who named Blockchain’s property “Innovation Park” at a recent event. Both Berns and Sandoval sat on a panel at that event, and so did Elon Musk, the head of Tesla and Space X.
Meanwhile, Tesla and Panasonic are building a $4.5 billion battery Gigafactory - said to be the largest building in the world - that will be bordering Blockchain’s land. Google, Apple, and Switch also own property that is surrounded by Blockchain land. And Blockchain has reached an understanding with a local power company to work together on projects that will run energy transactions with this technology.
Innovation Park is the first project of its kind in the US and probably in the world. Berns stands to reap huge profits if this project works out. If it does, Innovation Park will serve as a model for other futuristic tech communities, possibly including some that are even larger and more ambitious. So far, the pieces appear to be falling into place for this to become a big success. However, if it fails, Berns would suffer a terrible financial loss, and the setback would make other entrepreneurs with comparable plans become extra cautious.
“This will either be the biggest thing ever, or the most spectacular crash and burn in the history of mankind,” Berns said. “I don’t know which one. I believe it’s the former, but either way it’s going to be one heck of a ride.”
This assessment of Innovation Park is certainly exaggerated and melodramatic. Nevertheless, the efforts Berns has already made could very well make it easier for others to develop projects of this kind.
Ready or not, Blockchain will almost certainly play an increasingly important role in our lives and some will be happy about that. But others, who believe that high-tech already has too much influence and control, are giving this a thumbs down.
But will that change anything? Probably not. High-tech has a tight grip on all of us, and there’s no reason to think that this will change anytime soon.