Read Incoming Chairman Bruce Spotleson's Speech from the Annual Installation Luncheon
Thank you all for joining us for our annual installation lunch, a celebration of both change and continuity.
I also want to thank Jay Barrett for letting me shadow him as he led our first full year as a “metro” chamber, an evolution that has already made us more effective.
I’m honored by this appointment. I first sipped the Chamber Kool-Ade at a luncheon like this one in 1996. Both our Valley and the Metro Chamber have grown and matured since then. And because of the work of my predecessors and our staff, the Chamber’s voice has gotten stronger.
Many of you know us primarily through events like this, which we had some fun with today. I mean, let’s face it: We’re not just any chamber of commerce -- we represent one of the most special business communities in the world. So we do things with both style and substance.
Andy Warhol, the Pop Culture icon and business whiz whom we’re saluting today, would have fit right in. He was meant for Las Vegas.
So, yes, we do put on some fun events. But we have a serious side as well.
No other business organization in the state works as intensely as we do in government affairs. We heavily engage in issues affecting our members, our community and our state. And we’ll do so again in 2014, even though it’s a non-legislative year. The idea is to stay ahead of things, so we’re already talking to legislators and community influencers about the 2015 agenda and priorities.
Our credibility in government affairs has grown substantially in recent years, a result of persistent and well-considered work and thanks to a dedicated committee, a very capable Metro Chamber staff and a smart advocacy team. We now get invited to the table for public policy discussions at every level of government. We intend to exercise opportunities to speak in 2014 – with the focused goal of moving the discussion forward.
Let’s face it: there are quite a few issues that have been on the community’s agenda for a long time now. One could even say too long. You know what they are: Taxes. Schools. Our infrastructure, roads and water. Health care. Economic growth and diversity. Governance. The same list of things we’ve analyzed and discussed for so many years.
I know I’m not alone in being “all talked out” on most of these things. And I don’t think I’m alone with a pent-up motivation to do something about them.
So, while we’ve made some progress, we’re going to push hard this year to build on the success of 2013, to aggressively move things forward. Analysis and words need to become decisions, and decisions need to become actions. We feel a sense of urgency with this process.
No, we’re not going rogue. We’ve learned the benefits in partnerships, we know they allow us to amplify our effectiveness, and we’ll look for alliances where they make sense. We’ll lead by example in promoting teamwork and mutually beneficial outcomes.
And we’ll expect that same spirit of teamwork by our elected leaders. The business community carries a heavy load in Southern Nevada, and we don’t have the patience for partisan theatrics. So we’ll quickly applaud you when you work together, but we’re going to call you out when you don’t. Our goal is to move the items on that old list forward, and to get them done. We don’t have time to waste.
One endeavor we ask local and state elected officials to support in the coming year – and it won’t be easy -- is an examination of how we currently govern. Given our immense growth and the issues it’s spawned, it’s long past time to review our governing structures and processes. Our state’s 150th anniversary is next year, and we’ve obviously come a long ways under the current arrangement. But that doesn’t mean we’re well positioned for the next 150 years. We want to push this tough discussion forward in the coming year. Again, with a sense of urgency.
I’m going to quickly mention a few other agenda items.
At the top of the list is the margin tax, a big problem on November’s ballot. It’s a threat to our economic rebound of the past couple years – which is still fragile -- and we really have no choice but to meet it head-on in 2014.
This is a tax that would put some hurt on all types and sizes of businesses -- even those losing money. Not only would it cut into job creation – we feel it could actually create another bump in unemployment. It is dangerous tax policy and not about improving education. We’ve seen no evidence that any of its revenues would in fact even go to education, although that’s how it’s being pitched.
Unfortunately, we’re in a defensive position on this tax, and there isn’t time to introduce an alternative. But our community is working too hard on job creation and diversification for us to simply watch it happen.
So the Metro Chamber is going all-in. Should we wake to an unsuccessful outcome in November, we’ll work to limit its negative impact to members. But we don’t want to be in that position. So we are asking that you join us in a united stand, and that you help us support this battle.
In fact, we are asking for you to take a stand today.
There are sign-up sheets on your table, for you to add your name to the list of businesses and individuals opposing the Margin Tax. We’ll be asking you to contribute financially – that’s coming – but today, we are imploring you to join this cause to protect jobs and the economy by showing your support. Our chamber staffers will collect those sheets at the end of the luncheon.
There is really nothing more important to the Las Vegas Metro Chamber than improving education…at all levels. The business community has a gigantic stake in our children getting the education they need to succeed in the world and to find good jobs.
We’re not new to this topic. The Metro Chamber has been engaged in education issues for years. Through collaboration with other stakeholders, policy experts and elected officials, we’ve achieved some success – more funding for ELL, improvements in classroom achievement, as well as some reform in putting quality teachers in classrooms and the empowerment of principals to make decisions.
Classroom performance relies upon effective teachers, and we renew our support of rewards for teachers whose students excel. There’s been success in other parts of the nation, and through our Education Policy Committee, we’ve brought experts to the table to share best practices and how they can be adapted in Southern Nevada for the quickest results.
We applaud Elaine Wynn in her role as President of the Nevada State Board of Education and her leadership in elevating standards and curriculum.
We also support the emphasis on STEM – we get it, we buy into it -- and we’ll do what it takes to collaborate with the community, with government stakeholders and with educators to develop strong science, technology, engineering and math programs for Nevada’s elementary and secondary students.
We’d like to take this a step farther and stand up for the role the arts play in our schools. Arts and music programs take young people to new places and, once again, reflect the special community in which we live. Of all communities, it’s short-sighted and embarrassing for this one to be cutting arts programs.
(Speaking of the arts, and if you have not yet heard, we’re proud to be moving our Metro Chamber offices to The Smith Center, not just because of that beautiful campus, but also because of what it represents locally. The Smith Center’s success -- including its programs for young people -- are a testimony to the importance of arts and culture here.
We thank Myron Martin for helping make this all happen. And one last thing on arts and entertainment -- we’re happy to have Headliner George Wallace representing this vital sector of our economy as a board member.
We offer our school district the knowledge and experience of its business sector – and yes, our pent-up motivation -- to help build systems and curricula that develop the qualified workforce that the business community has such a vested interest in. Pat Skorkowsky is in our audience, and Superintendent, let me say this Chamber will further grow our relationship with you to help improve classroom outcomes. No one in the community is more vested in quality education than the Chamber – we need it for our future workforce, for attracting businesses and for creating and filling good jobs. And yes, the time is now. We want to move forward.
We of course look to higher education to further develop workforce skills and expertise, but we also know that higher ed can light up a regional economy with quality job creation of its own, and we will keep pushing for UNLV to be elevated to a Tier One Carnegie Research institution.
Health care has been on that “to do” list for some time, but we recently have been presented with one of those rare opportunities that can actually be a game-changer. We’re going to advocate for an allopathic medical school at UNLV, not because other major cities have one -- but because it would increase the number of local residency programs, support our hospitals and clinics, and build the pool of physicians and health professionals we all know we need, and another item from that old list.
A medical school also brings all kinds of financial benefits as well. This is one of those things we have to get done in the right way, with the right partner and of course with the right leader who can dedicate all of her or his time to championing this start-up. We want to do this quickly, too -- but in the best way with the right players and the right leaders.
We thank UNLV President Neal Smatresk for standing as a champion of higher ed and for his partnership during his time here. His departure leaves a gap, though, and we will support a national search for our next university president – a leader prepared to develop research status and a medical school, and who will embrace the role UNLV plays in our business community.
The College of Southern Nevada, led by President Michael Richards, educates 70,000 students in more than 200 career fields every year, one of the largest community colleges in the nation. We value the critical role CSN plays, and we will lock arms to get the financial support it needs and deserves.
Of course, the notion that Southern Nevada should have to fight for its fair share of attention and state resources is also 150 years old. It hasn’t made sense for a while. But experience is a great teacher, and we’ve learned how to play in this arena when we need to.
We applaud the fact that the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance also recognizes that the quality of our education system is important to developing the skilled workforce we need to attract new businesses and industry. And we look to working closely with the leadership of LVGEA as we continue to explore the relationship of economic development and education.
Another issue we share is Interstate 11. This is a long-term play, and we’ll keep it on our federal agenda for 2014. We began this crusade by working in partnership with our Congressional delegation and others in the community, with the assistance of former Congressman Jon Porter of Porter Gordon Silver, to get I-11 designated as an interstate, and now we’re working with the I-11 Caucus in Washington and partners both here in Nevada and in Arizona to get it built. We want to fund and finish it.
Transportation is of course another issue that’s been on that old list for years. We made progress last year when we partnered with the county and other business organizations to get fuel-tax indexing implemented. That pays for about 185 road projects, including completion of the beltway. (Thank you, Tina Quigley and RTC for your collaboration with us.) Transportation represents a fundamental part of economic development strategy, and we want to see those tax dollars put to work. We’ve waited long enough.
I already touched on one aspect of health care, but on a related note, be assured that the Metro Chamber’s Insurance and Benefits team will meet the challenges of the Affordable Care Act. Our insurance plan is vital to many members -- we know you need strong and affordable coverage -- and we’ll stay on top of this rather fluid situation. Incidentally, we’re partnering with Sen. Harry Reid for an educational forum on the topic on Thursday, so check our website for details.
Another regional issue is a natural result of our evolution as a Metro Chamber. We want to recognize North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, with whom we’ve collaborated to get national monument designation for Tule Springs, both to protect its fossil treasures and also to create new jobs. We also must acknowledge Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, Councilman Steve Ross and city manager Betsy Fretwell for all their help with this. We thank you sincerely.
We hope to work with Mayor Lee on some of his city’s unique challenges in 2014.
Two last agenda items I will very briefly mention also are related to our “evolution” as a Metro Chamber.
As I said, we’re excited that 2014 will be the year we move into permanent offices at the Smith Center. I don’t have to describe that setting to anyone here. Its central Valley location is just right for a Metro Chamber, with a few other additional benefits as well, such as the fact that we will be moving closer to the downtown area of Las Vegas, which is evolving as we are.
The last agenda item relates to what might be termed a more personal type of growth. There is much to be done in this Valley, and we plan to get more people enlisted and prepared to help. So in the coming year, the Metro Chamber will assert itself as a center of leadership and as a developer of leaders, by creating a dynamic forum for collaborative vision, and a sharing of ideas and ideals. We will abide by a sense of urgency here, too, so watch for these announcements in the first quarter.
There’s a lot on the plate, but nothing distracts from our mission. The Metro Chamber will continue as a standard-bearer for businesses and entrepreneurs, a channel for connecting members with resources, and as a catalyst for job and business growth well into the future.
As for today, I’m proud to be with Tom Axtell and Vegas PBS, which has a table here. Tom, thanks for your support and I apologize for how many meetings I will certainly miss in the coming year. Superintendent Skorkowsky, I think you know where to find me. You won’t need to make an appointment. Just drop by.
And I’d like to point out some other important people who are here. My daughter Jaime and her husband Justin from Nashville. My son Vinny, and his partner Emi Horiai. And my incredible wife ,Kay. They’ve been my team through so many things. And my mother, Dollee. And Sheria Spleen is like a daughter. Thank you all for coming.
Like a lot of our members, our family wondered what local life would be like when we were deciding whether to move here. By introducing me to you and the local community, this organization helped make this home. So it’s special to now be chair.
But this is not about me; it’s about us and we as a community. We don’t really have time to waste. We need to forge ahead with urgency.