Chambers, EDAWN talks started at breakfast

Not long after Doug Kurkul announced plans to leave the top executive spot of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce last autumn, Mary Simmons and Bruce Gescheider placed a call to Len Stevens at the Northern Nevada Chamber of Commerce.

Was it time, they asked the executive director of the Northern Nevada Chamber, to once again talk about combining the two chambers?

Simmons, the NV Energy executive who served as chair of the Reno-Sparks Chamber last year, and Gescheider, the owner of Moana Nursery who serves as chair of the group this year, got together with Stevens over breakfast.

The conversation was promising enough they began a series of meetings, involving an ever-widening set of participants, that culminated with last week's announcement that the two chambers, along with the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, are studying some type of combination.

No deadlines are in place, and leaders of all three groups emphasized that lots of questions need to be answered before ink is put to paper. But Dick Bostdorff, brought in as a facilitator 90 days ago to keep the talks moving forward, said the two chambers and EDAWN have completed much already.

For starters, they share a view that they'd probably be more efficient working together, and financial pressures from the recession demand that they seek efficiencies.

"Everybody, all three organizations, really wants to make a difference in the community," said Bostdorff, a former president of Nevada Bell who's worked as a business consultant for the past decade. "They all believe we have to grow business and help the economy forward."

The Reno-Sparks Chamber, which has about 1,500 members, operates on an annual budget of about $1 million. The Northern Nevada Chamber - known as the Sparks Chamber before a merger with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a name change last year - has about 1,100 members and a $600,000 annual budget. EDAWN's budget runs about $1.5 million in its current fiscal year.

Bostdorff says the groups also completed a careful analysis of their focus.

The Reno-Sparks Chamber, for instance, prides itself on its advocacy of business-related positions before the State Legislature and local governments and places substantial importance on its leadership-development initiatives.

The Northern Nevada Chamber, meanwhile, has developed strength with small businesses, with Hispanic-owned businesses and with networking and social events.

And EDAWN got out of the events business a couple of years ago to focus exclusively on growing jobs in the region, both through recruitment of new companies as well as retention of existing employers.

Even something as simple as that analysis of their strengths pointed up an issue that the three groups will need to work through: EDAWN gets money from the state government for its economic development work. The Reno-Sparks Chamber lobbies state officials. Some sort of firewall will need to be established between the state-funded work and the lobbying efforts.

More prosaic issues also need to be resolved, said Bostdorff.

Information-technology systems don't always match up. The dues structure is different at each of the three groups.

And then there's the matter of a board structure - and a name. For the short-term, the group that's shepherding the process will be known as the Northern Nevada Business Team, but a permanent name has yet to be selected.

Bostdorff, who was involved in three multi-billion-dollar corporate mergers during his business career, including integration of DHL Worldwide Express and Airborne Express, said the talks between the chambers and EDAWN been fairly smooth.

Although the chambers had talked several times in recent years about a combination, Gescheider said the resignation of Kurkul to take a post in Round Rock, Texas, provided an opening for the most recent discussions.

"Whenever there is a change, it's an opportunity to see if there might be a better way to do things," he said, while emphasizing that the departure of Kurkul was otherwise unrelated to the talks between the two chambers.

After some preliminary talks between representatives of the two chambers, they invited EDAWN into the discussion.


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