Nevada Lights up the Capitol

Ben Goldstein on Wednesday, October 18, 2017 at 11:20:00 am 

Lawmakers and Hill staffers were treated to a night at the casino when the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual gala on Capitol Hill last week.

At the celebration, dubbed Nevada Lights up the Capitol, attendees sporting cowboy hats and bandanas were greeted by cigarette girls and Venetian stilt walkers, as a jazz trio rattled off show-tunes and a contortionist writhed on a platform in the dimly-lit hall.

“We view this as an opportunity to bring our members together and enable them to build relationships with our leaders here in Washington, D.C.,” said Kristin McMillan, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber. “It’s a great way to celebrate our state, while at the same time communicating to people in D.C. that there are important issues in the western part of the U.S. that need to be addressed.”

Guests at the party tried their luck at an assortment of table games like blackjack, craps and roulette, while snacking on hors d'oeuvres and sipping cocktails. Vendors representing organizations from across the state manned booths distributing swag and chatting with passersby.

“This isn’t just southern or northern Nevada—it’s the whole state,” said Bill Noonan, senior vice president at the Boyd Gaming Corporation and chairman of the chamber’s board of directors. “We have such a diversity of things to offer people who come and visit, and we want everybody to be exposed to that tonight.”

The gala kicked off the chamber’s annual D.C. fly-in, a tradition that dates back to 2006. Aside from the festivities, the chamber uses the trip as a chance to engage lawmakers, agency officials and policy experts on longstanding regional issues, like its ongoing opposition to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository due to safety and environmental concerns.

“Yucca Mountain has resurrected itself with the new administration, so we’re fighting it with a multi-pronged approach,” said Cara Clarke, associate vice president of communications at the Las Vegas Metro Chamber. “Because tourism is so vital to our entire state economy, any type of accident, even a minor one, could devastate that industry and scare tourists. It’s just too much of a risky proposition.”

Infrastructure is also a major priority for the delegation, which wants to see construction begin on Interstate 11, a planned freeway that would connect Phoenix to Las Vegas. Those metro areas are currently the two largest adjacent U.S. cities without a direct freeway link.

“With Interstate 11, eventually, we’re talking about building a pathway between the new ports under construction in the Gulf of Mexico all the way up to Canada,” said Clarke. “The connecting of business and economies and trade and shipping will all be huge drivers for the entire U.S economy.”

McMillan says that she hopes that those who interact with the delegation during its time in Washington will gain a greater awareness of the issues that affect the western U.S.

“So many decisions that are made in Washington are viewed from an east coast perspective,” she said. “We’re hoping that there starts to be more understanding that when you invest in the West, you’re actually growing the national economy, too.”

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Tags: D.C. Fly-in, Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, Washington

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From the winner's circle: Advocating for Paducah

Ben Goldstein on Thursday, October 5, 2017 at 11:00:00 am 

Since 1952, the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant has been an economic driver in McCracken County, Kentucky. These days, the plant is still the premier employer in town, although since being deactivated in 2013, its workers have switched from powering the plant’s uranium-enrichment operations to cleaning and decontaminating the site, a long process expected to stretch on for decades.

The first federal contract for cleanup at the site was awarded for a three-year period in 2013. Because of the plant’s importance to the local economy, Sandra Wilson, president and CEO at the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce, knew she’d have to take action to obtain a longer follow-up contract, which would provide a sense of certainty to the town of 26,000.

“From our community’s perspective, we needed the federal government to make it a longer contract because people need that stability for their future,” said Wilson. “Moving here for just three years doesn’t necessarily give you the feeling that you might want to buy a house and permanently relocate here.”

In September 2015, the chamber capitalized on its annual D.C. visit to make the case in person to Ernest Moniz, then secretary of the Department of Energy. During those meetings, Wilson invited energy department officials to Paducah to tour the plant and attend an “appreciation reception” hosted by the chamber.

It was there that Wilson was told Paducah had been chosen to receive a permanent display at the DOE building in Washington to commemorate the gaseous diffusion plant’s decades of national service. The 20-foot-long display would consist of panels recounting the site’s storied history, including its connection to former U.S. Vice President Aben Barkley, a Paducah native who helped the city land the plant back in the 1950s.

“We’re very proud that we were only the fifth community in the country to be invited to receive a display like this,” said Wilson. “It was really a big plus for Paducah that highlighted our site and the important work done there.”

The chamber’s relentless advocacy efforts paid off big in early 2016 when the DOE announced the plant’s new contract would run for a five-year term, followed by two renewal periods for a possible total of 10 years.

“With the renewals tacked onto the five-year contract, it is now likely that we will have stability for our workers for at least the next 10 years to come,” marvelled Wilson. “In that sense, we really achieved what we set out to accomplish through our advocacy in Washington and in Frankfort, Kentucky.”

The campaign on behalf of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant was part of an eventful year for the chamber, during which it set new membership and revenue records and launched the area’s first young professionals group—achievements that helped it win Chamber of the Year at the ACCE convention in Nashville.

“When we got the call from ACCE, we screamed so loudly that the tenants upstairs came down to make sure we were okay,” recalled Wilson. “With our advocacy success and the other milestones we hit, it was just a wonderful accomplishment to be recognized for the amazing year we had.”

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Tags: Advocacy, D.C. Fly-in, Department of Energy, Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce

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