Sisolak wants to bring back company towns

By Thomas Mitchell
Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. Gov. Steve Sisolak, according to the morning paper, is contemplating introducing legislation that would allow the creation of Innovation Zones — basically separate branches of government for companies with lots of land and money that could “impose taxes, form school districts and justice courts and provide government services, to name a few duties.”
What’s another word for Innovation Zones? Oh yes, Company Towns.
Those were rather common from the late 1800s through the mid-1930s, but for some reason they’ve largely disappeared. Perhaps, because they were frequently penny-pinching, brutal fiefdoms.
“Traditional settings for company towns were for the most part where extractive industries existed — coal, metal mines, lumber — and had established a monopoly franchise,” according to an article posted at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Dam sites and war-industry camps founded other company towns. Since company stores often had a monopoly in company towns, it was possible to pay in scrip (a term for any substitute for legal tender). Typically, a company town is isolated from neighbors and centered on a large production factory, such as a lumber or steel mill or an automobile plant; and the citizens of the
town either work in the factory, work in one of the smaller businesses, or is a family member of someone who does.”
Many workers were paid in script that could be used only at company stores and lived in housing where the rent payments were set by the company.
One of those dam sites is now Boulder City, where gambling and liquor were prohibited. The housing was called dingbat housing because of shoddy construction, according to a PBS article.
Sally Denton, author of “The Profiteers,” a book about the building of Hoover Dam and its contractors, such as Bechtel, told a Santa Fe newspaper, “Bechtel’s long history of questionable labor practices
cannot all be written off to the laissez-faire oversight of previous generations or Depression-era conditions. Although it can always be argued that accidents will happen and problems arise on the most
disciplined construction projects, the fact remains that Bechtel has been — and continues to be — a leader in scoring gargantuan government projects but has often lagged behind when its come to worker safety.”
VCU said of company towns: “Although economically successful, company towns sometimes failed politically due to a lack of elected officials and municipally owned services. Accordingly, workers often had no say in local affairs and therefore, felt dictated.”
We wonder, would a company town justice court ever convict the CEO of the company?
Thomas Mitchell is a former newspaper editor who now writes conservative/libertarian columns for weekly papers in Nevada. You may email Mitchell at He blogs at

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