Henderson, Nevada, is located 16 miles from Las Vegas. It’s Nevada’s second largest city with a population close to 293,000 and is located near Lake Mead and the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area. Henderson has a vibrant, walkable downtown, a healthy tech industry and a Chamber of Commerce with history. That history is shaping the city’s future and Henderson is growing.
The economy, downtown and the Chamber of Commerce itself have all seen growth in recent months. In fact, membership in the chamber has increased by 10 percent each year for the last five years, according to Scott Muelrath, Henderson Chamber of Commerce (HCC) president and CEO. Also growing are the city’s housing communities, golf courses, amenities, population, jobs, businesses and opportunities.
The Chamber Today
Laird Sanders, owner of Lake Mead Boat Storage, joined the chamber in 1992 and watched it change from a small community support group to a business-oriented organization that’s still warm and friendly. He saw membership dip with the recession, then grow up to 1,300 after Scott Muelrath took the reins.
The chamber is growing because it presents a variety of outlets and options for members to plug in and grow their network, said Muelrath.
Members join for different reasons. Some need advocacy, a collective voice to speak to government entities. Others want to be part of philanthropic activities, need continuing education or want leadership training.
But, no matter how important building a business network is, many stay for different reasons.
“When I joined, I didn’t look at it as business,” said Sanders. “I looked at it as getting to know people in the community. The world’s too busy, not taking enough time to get to know people personally or in business.” He added that, when you get to know people, you don’t mind referring business to them.
“The chamber has helped me develop relationships with people I never dreamed I’d have relationships with,” said Trish Nash, broker-owner of Signature Gallery of Homes. “What that does for my business is add credibility, because now I have connections.” Nash is a 13-year member and owner of a woman-owned, family-owned business.
The chamber celebrated 70 years in 2015 and the mission remains the same: “To support small businesses in Southern Nevada,” said Debi Raffi, Henderson Chamber of Commerce communications director. The chamber stands for brick-and-mortar, mom-and-pop as well as e-businesses.
There are several legs to the Henderson Chamber’s advocacy efforts. The Legislative Committee meets before, during and after the Nevada Legislature to review and advocate for members. The Issues Committee advocates and is creating a federal platform. Then Henderson Development Association (HDA) is the economic development arm of the HCC and directs most of the chamber’s local advocacy work. Finally, the Issues Mobilization Political Action Committee (IMPAC) interviews and endorses political candidates.
Aviva Gordon, Gordon Law, chairs the legislative and issues committees and serves on IMPAC. Members consist of, “primarily small businesses who are really good at addressing the problems that affect their businesses directly,” said Gordon. That doesn’t mean they have the time, finances or expertise to lobby or advocate, so the chamber lobbies and advocates for them.
The 2017 Legislature brought changes to how “do not compete” covenants are enforced and new laws protecting workers that place a disproportionately hard impact on small employers. Gordon hopes the 2019 Legislature will recognize that, “businesses, small businesses in particular, really drive the economy throughout the state, and making it more challenging to start and operate a small business will have dramatic and negative consequences on our economy.”
Advocating for membership sounds simple and fundamental, Muelrath acknowledged. It’s not. “As an advocacy group, we have to know how to facilitate and recognize what members are in need of on a personal level. Our government advocacy is growing, but still remains very local and state focused. That’s an area we feel we can have the most beneficial impact on for our members – working directly with the city and state legislators on certain initiatives or statutes they may be considering and which we can provide input on,” explained Muelrath.
The chamber isn’t a public agency, it’s an independent professional organization that works closely with city economic development efforts, bringing new businesses to town and helping circumnavigate roadblocks to growth, creating a healthy business environment.
One joint city and chamber event mixes the chamber’s Small Business Awards with the city’s Economic Development Awards on the same night in November and the same gala at Green Valley Ranch. This year’s Small Business Awards categories are innovation, customer service, outstanding non-profit, outstanding community service, awards for family-owned businesses and businesses on the rise.
There’s no shortage of nominees for the awards either; Henderson’s business community is thriving. New projects are growing as a result of city economic development and re-development agencies and the chamber’s Henderson Development Association (HDA), working together to boost the Henderson economy.
The chamber also hosts multiple monthly networking events which bring diverse business owners together.
“If someone is seeking an introduction or somebody is having a hard time connecting with someone, we go out of our way to make that happen,” said Lisa Chao, vice president of membership at the chamber.
The chamber offers continuing education programs and panel discussions on topics of interest to business owners and non-profit directors, programs that can help people in one industry understand what’s happening in others.
The Henderson Chamber of Commerce has a vested interest in supporting the non-profit community. “That’s just good business,” said Muelrath. A variety of chamber programs create opportunities for members to give back to the community and a number of programs are specifically dedicated to the 70 or so 501(c)(3) members.
The Henderson Chamber of Commerce Foundation is a non-profit organization. The foundation manages and distributes funds and resources into the community charitable or education avenues. The Foundation reaches out with quarterly community days of volunteering or fundraising. Its mission is to support and help develop local businesses through entrepreneurship training programs and access to capital. It also created the Henderson Business Resource Center, a business incubator.
The Foundation’s goal is to put businesses together with non-profit organizations that need assistance.
“That’s a pretty unique angle, creating channels for companies to find a great local charity to work with,” said Muelrath. “We put a lot of focus on that, which members appreciate.”
As it turns out, members aren’t the only ones who appreciate the foundation’s efforts, robots appreciate it, too. In spring 2017, Nate Mack Elementary School, a Title 1 “at-risk” Henderson school, created its first ever robotics club coached by teacher Casey Juliano, who didn’t know how to build a robot.
That’s all right, another tech team coach told Juliano – the kids are the ones who need to build the robots.
They not only built them, they won the state level competition and qualified to represent Nevada at the VexIQ Robotics World Competition in Louisville, Kentucky, with a price tag for the trip of $11,000 – unfathomable for a low-income school.
Juliano appealed to the Henderson chamber so the foundation came together with networking events the robotics team attended. Within a matter of weeks, chamber efforts raised the $11,000.
Juliano called these students the catalysts of the future. Research shows in the next 10 years the U.S. will have a million jobs in computer engineering, said Juliano, and we’ll be only able to place 400,000 people who are educated to do these jobs. In a world where computer coding is built into everyday life, from smartphones to food expiration dates to autonomous vehicles, every industry will need computer engineers.
“We are lacking in areas of engineers of all kinds, including robotics engineering, which is the wave of the future,” said Juliano. “We’re falling behind in the world because we’re not embracing and keeping those types of educational opportunities available to our kids. We need to make sure that we’re growing students who are ready for the jobs that will be their future.”
Just as there’s a need to educate the next generation of engineers, there’s a need for an educated, business-ready workforce for companies locating in Southern Nevada.
Work Ready Workforce
Nevada Workforce Connections, Southern Nevada’s local workforce development board, has brought the ACT Work Ready assessment system to Nevada, joining with more than 30 other states.
The assessment measures reading comprehension, math skills for jobs and the ability to find and interpret information in charts and documents and apply it, said Jaime Cruz, executive director, Nevada Workforce Connections.
That means an individual has the ability to, “go into a job and do the very basic things an employer needs you to do,” explained Cruz. “If you go to a job and can’t do the simplest of tasks, you’re obviously not job ready, just like if you go to college and can’t pass the first courses or the first semester, you’re not going to succeed.” In fact, the assessment was created by the same company that created the ACT.
Job seekers who do succeed earn a National Career Readiness Certificate with a platinum, gold, silver or bronze rating. Those who fail receive e-tools and e-training and can retake the assessment for a fee.
ACT Work Ready Communities provides data and tools to drive economic growth. According to Cruz, where employers coming into Nevada once asked what tax abatements and incentives were available, today they ask if the city has a work-ready workforce.
Nevada State College (NSC) is also contributing to workforce readiness. Recently recognized as the second fastest growing 4-year degree college in the nation, NSC’s current focus is on its education program – creating new teachers. With funding from the chamber, the Governor’s office, the Board of Regents and the 2017 Nevada Legislature, the college is designing a new education building and seeking matching funds from the 2019 Nevada Legislature to complete it.
“We are also partners with College of Southern Nevada (CSN), their Henderson campus, and the chamber and the city have supported a new building at CSN’s Henderson site,” said Bart Patterson, NSC president. Some of NSC’s clinical nursing and other healthcare programs will be held at the new shared health sciences building.
The healthcare industry is booming in Southern Nevada; so are manufacturing and construction. Developers, builders and businesses are investing significant money into the community, bringing new people to the area and new members to the chamber.
“Those large projects could be anything from Lake Las Vegas to Nevada State College to Union Village to Inspirada to Cadence,” said Muelrath. The chamber provides a way for new businesses from diverse industries to network.
Henderson’s growth has caused a housing shortage as inventory is bought up. That’s good news for a community where two housing developments – Inspirada and Lake Las Vegas – both struggled through the recession.
“We’re seeing so much growth on the residential real estate side,” said Nash. The ripple effect of real estate means everyone’s busy, from construction through home improvement stores and landscaping companies. “The housing industry is really on an uptick, helping all areas of our community and economy.”
For Lake Las Vegas, that means two new communities from builders Pulte Homes and Lennar Homes. New restaurants are opening, and the golf course and community center are both thriving. Not technically an active adult community, Lake Las Vegas is an attractive lifestyle community that appeals to couples who want to retire in Henderson.
“Lake Las Vegas right now is as active and vibrant as it has been in 10 years,” said Cody Winterton, executive vice president, Lake Las Vegas. New residents are coming from California, Florida, Texas, Utah and Arizona, and Lake Las Vegas employs more than 160 people between all its businesses. There’s economic impact from new jobs, new construction and new businesses.
In fact, one of the biggest challenges facing Henderson businesses is finding enough people to staff those businesses. As the economy improves, workers become scarce. Where unemployment indicates a poor economy, not enough employees indicates a booming economy. With the employee shortage in Southern Nevada, it’s clear that Henderson is growing and Henderson’s chamber along with it.
“Trying to find more people is increasingly difficult. The biggest challenge is to find quality staff not already working – all the architects in town are already employed,” said Windom Kimsey, CEO, TSK Architects, and chair elect of the HDA Board.
TSK moved into their new building in downtown Henderson earlier this year and are expecting a landscaping design firm to join them in the space as Henderson business booms.
“There’s a good mix of industries that are new to the area or expanding in Henderson, a combination of industrial manufacturing types of positions as well as services which can include customer service types of positions, collections and technical businesses,” said Darlene Magolski, business development manager, Manpower.
“There’s a lot of temp-to-hire positions where employers in Henderson are interested in adding to their head counts,” Magolski added. “We find that employers we’re working with are providing more training because of the skill shortage.”
Onward and Upward
As the chamber grows and changes with the Henderson community, it’s also getting a brand new home. Having been around since 1945, and in the same building for 30 years, the chamber is moving to a new location in the Henderson financial district.
“It’s a big step forward for our organization to be more centrally located,” said Muelrath. “Over 40 percent of our membership is outside Henderson already, so it will make us more accessible for the Las Vegas and North Las Vegas communities.”
The move is possible thanks to Nevada State Bank who donated second floor space in their Henderson bank branch.
“It’s a big move for us, and an opportunity to push forward and propel growth,” Muelrath said.
“I believe in what we do as an organization with a great deal of passion,” added Muelrath. According to him, the most rewarding times as a staff member of the chamber come when business owners meet and a beneficial partnership results. “That’s when you just feel good about running an advocacy organization that can personally serve its members and approach what we do in that manner,” he said. “It’s rewarding to help others succeed and to help businesses grow and prosper.”
Henderson Small Business Awards
All In The Family | AWARD FINALISTS | Finalists in this category were identified as an outstanding family owned and operated business.
Pasta Shop Ristorante & Art Gallery – Winner
The Pasta Shop Ristorante & Art Gallery was founded in January of 1989 by David & Ann Alenik. It began with a vision between husband and wife, chef and artist, who merged their passions together to create a unique dining experience. Since first opening in 1989, the restaurant has received numerous awards and recognition for outstanding quality in freshly made pasta, exceptional service and contributions to the community.
SR Construction, led by founder Scott Loughridge, has a passion for building and more specifically, the design/build process. Scott was raised in the construction industry and educated as an architect, so his passion for the business runs thick through his blood. He built SR Constuction to be different from other conventional general contractors. SR’s unique design/build approach allows clients to create — from the ground up — their vision of a perfect project.
Yellow Bucket Janitorial
Yellow Bucket Janitorial, Inc. is a family owned and operated commercial janitorial service. Wendy Gelbart originally started the business in 2000 as a stay-at-home mom, hoping to earn extra money for her family. Their venture was a success and within six months her husband Daniel was able to quit his job in restaurant management to focus on Yellow Bucket Janitorial full-time.
Business On The Rise | AWARD FINALISTS | Businesses nominated in this category were identified as outstanding businesses that have been operating for three years or less.
Diced Kitchen – Winner
Diced Kitchen began as a solution for friends, family and personal training clients looking to achieve their health and fitness goals while leading a busy lifestyle. Fast forward one year, Diced employs 11 people, with over 150 clients in the Las Vegas Valley, and provide meals to homeless youth and teens that need community assistance.
Waterworld Scuba opened in June 2015, by Robert, Dawn and Kevin Edgar. Waterworld is a Scuba School International agency (SSI) and has earned the five-star diamond award by SSI for being a full-service dive store. Waterworld has an instructor trainer on staff, offers repairs on site and year-round classes in a 12-foot indoor heated pool. The company also carries an array of scuba and snorkeling gear.
The first of its kind in Nevada, Code Central was established in March 2017 by brothers Eric and Brian Mendelsohn as an after-school tech center for youth to learn the fundamentals of programming, app development and computer science. Day-to-day operations are managed by Eric Mendelsohn, who has more than 25 years of experience in teaching and education management.
Customer Service | AWARD FINALISTS | Businesses nominated in this category were identified as having excellent customer service.
Over the years, Blossom Bariatrics has helped thousands of patients shed excess weight through the gastric sleeve, gastric bypass, gastric balloon and SIPS procedures. The organization’s fellowship-trained Las Vegas-based bariatric surgeons specialize in advanced laparoscopic (minimally invasive) procedures and are the only surgeons in the country to perform the patent-pending SAFE Sleeve procedure.
Rich, Wightman & Company
Since 1982 Rich, Wightman & Company has been committed to providing clients with the highest degree of technical competence, professionalism and integrity. The firm is more than a public accounting firm, it is a community of families and friends. The staff shares camaraderie with each other and the firm believes in providing employees with a means of relaxing and rewarding them for their hard work and dedication.
Voice Plus Communications – Winner
Voice Plus Communications has provided personalized communications solutions to the Southern Nevada business community since 2000. Specializing in Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), as well as standard telephone systems, Voice Plus Communications serves all industries’ voice and data communications requirements.
Innovation | AWARD FINALISTS | Businesses nominated in this category were identified as companies that are doing something new, different, smarter or better that has had a positive impact on their business.
K2 Energy Solutions is a leading researcher, designer, developer and manufacturer of lithium-ion battery solutions for customers that require the highest levels of quality, performance and safety. Within the fast-growing energy storage market, the company’s advanced battery solutions are designed to address some of the most demanding applications in the medical, military, industrial and aerospace markets.
Seven Hills Hospital – Winner
Seven Hills Hospital is a 134-bed hospital that is dedicated to providing high-quality care for adults, seniors and adolescents (ages 11-17) who are suffering from behavioral health and chemical dependency issues. The hospital sets a high standard for care and addiction rehabilitation and provides a relaxing therapeutic environment where holistic healing can begin. Seven Hills Hospital is owned by Acadia Healthcare.
Outstanding Community Service | AWARD FINALISTS | Businesses nominated in this category were identified as companies that give back to the community as part of their company culture.
Boulder Boats – Winner
Established in 2004, Kristina and Stuart Litjens began Boulder Boats from their passion for boating. Boulder Boats host many annual community-related events, including the longest lasting nonprofit partnership of seven years with St. Jude’s Ranch for Children. Each year Boulder Boats has the opportunity to bring together friends and customers to provide water sport opportunities and experiences for the local children’s homes.
McDonald Law Group
McDonald Law Group is connected to many charitable organizations and Ms. McDonald has served on the Board of Trustees at The Shade Tree shelter since 2012, which provides services to women and children in crisis. She is also the national spokesperson for Executive Pride, which promotes workplace equality. This year the firm has made lunches, raised funds, filled over 20 car loads with donations and packed backpacks of food. Additionally, the firm gives to the community by providing pro bono and discounted services to disadvantaged clients in need, providing over 100 hours of legal representation in 2017 alone.
The Brokerage, A Real Estate Firm
The Brokerage, was founded with the goal of dedicating a significant amount of time and resources to the effort of volunteerism and fundraising for worthy causes in our community, namely the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation and other organizations committed to community youth.
Outstanding Non-Profit | AWARD FINALISTS | Businesses nominated in this category were identified as non-profit organizations that have made significant positive impacts on the Southern Nevada community.
Eye Care 4 Kids
Since its inception, Eye Care 4 Kids has helped nearly 200,000 individuals through its national and international efforts. Its vision is for every underserved child to have access to professional eye care whether they can afford it or not. Eye Care 4 Kids Nevada is proud to partner with the Clark County School District to offer vision services to their students.
Lighthouse Charities is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in Las Vegas that serves refugees and at-risk families to help them become self-reliant. The organization accomplishes this goal by temporarily providing food, clothing, hygiene products, household items, school supplies, English language classes, cultural mentoring and job assistance.
Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth (NPHY) – Winner
NPHY’s programs stabilize homeless teens’ lives, while meeting immediate needs and providing a safe, supportive environment and a path to self-sufficiency. NPHY’s programs include: outreach, safe place mobile crisis intervention, Operation Go Home family reunification, drop-in center, emergency shelter and independent living program.