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October 1, 2014

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Never spoil a good party with talk of a recession

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Steve Marcus

David Dahan, above left, president of the Henderson Chamber of Commerce, talks with host John Daley on Aug. 15 during the 2008 State of the Chamber and Board Installation Banquet at Lake Las Vegas.

The Henderson Chamber of Commerce recently held its annual State of the Chamber banquet at the usual place, Lake Las Vegas.

At earlier, happier banquets — in, say, 2006 — the chamber president called Henderson a “modern-day boomtown” and the “address for success.” Back then, Lake Las Vegas wasn’t in bankruptcy and Henderson was indeed a boomtown.

These days, running a business in Henderson can be trying, although everyone at the dinner was too polite to mention this over cocktails, braised Kobe short ribs or monkfish ($75 per plate, cash bar). Besides, there were so many other things not to mention.

A short list would include the foreclosure crisis, the credit crunch, the woes of the homebuilding industry and its supporting businesses, high fuel prices and declining retail sales, and ... well, you get the idea. What recession?

Occasionally, “challenges” were alluded to in a mostly sunny, Roman nobility way. “Visigoths? Phooey. Pass the lark tongues.”

Or at least the broccoli rabe.

The evening was mostly taken up with appreciating and swearing in board members, trustees and committee members, who made up about 50 of the evening’s 330 attendees. It’s what chambers do and it is an element of their success across the country.

A few elected officials, mostly Republicans, worked the room. Rep. Jon Porter was awarded the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “Spirit of Enterprise” award, which also had been presented to him the day before at a different chamber’s luncheon.

Henderson Chamber President David Dahan’s State of the Chamber speech skipped over the recession, with roughly half devoted to a trip the chamber had taken to a private South African game reserve called Thula Thula.

The state of the chamber went unsaid.

So we called Dahan the next week and asked what the state of the chamber was. “Healthy,” he said, but later added, “as a matter of fact, we’re doing everything we can to hang on.”

As it turns out, the state of the chamber is like the state of the economy in Henderson: stagnant, or as Henderson Economic Development Manager Bob Cooper put it, “OK, not great, not horrible.”

Declines in parts of the economy — such as construction, insurance, finance and real estate — are offset a bit by growth in smaller companies, health care and alternative energy, Cooper said. It doesn’t compare to a couple of years ago, of course.

At the chamber, membership has held steady at 1,400, mostly small businesses that look to the chamber for health care plans, advertising discounts and networking.

Instead of the robust talk of two years ago, these days members talk about pulling together, and Dahan proposes worker training and talks about lobbying for better mass transit.

Back at the banquet, before the petite opera tortes and white chocolate semifreddo desserts were passed out, there was one oddity. Nicky Watts is a recent art school graduate who said the chamber has been a big help since she moved here three months ago to start her commercial photography business.

Why start a business when the economy is awful?

She said she watched her classmates graduate and not find jobs.

“So why not just start it now when everyone else is broke, too?”

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