(ELKO, Nev.) -- What the Himalayas were to Shangri-La -- a shield from harm -- so gold has been to Elko, Nev. This city has thrived the past two years.
"They call it the town the recession forgot," says local Mary Haigwood.
Elko, about 300 miles east of Reno, sits astride the biggest gold deposit ever found in North America: the Carlin Trend. It is five miles wide and 40 miles long. Over 50 million troy ounces of gold have been produced here, more than came from California's fabled Gold Rush.
As the metal's price has risen, mining giants, including Newmont and Barrick, have kept hiring, even as employers elsewhere in the U.S. were laying off. Unemployment, says Barrick spokesman Louis Schack, is low.
"We employ about 3,600 people in Nevada, and the majority reside in Elko. We've added several hundred new jobs in recent years," Schack said.
Since the 1970s, the industry has pumped some $6 billion into Nevada infrastructure, most of it going to mines in or around Elko. The area's population has risen from 7,000 to close to 50,000.
In Reno and Las Vegas, the housing bubble may have burst. Not here. Foreclosures, says Barrick's Schack, are few. There's even been some growth in housing. A nice home goes for $100,000.
It's not as if Elko hasn't seen tough times. When gold's price tumbled in the late 1990s, the town suffered and the mines laid people off. Stores downtown were boarded up. Today, though, gold's warm glow bathes every business. At Mona's Ranch, a legal brothel on Third Street, there's a sign that says, "Now Hiring."
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