VEGAS INC Coverage
When the morning arrived for my breakfast with Scott Muelrath, I intended to dazzle him with tales of my fishing adventures.
Rumor had it that Scott also had a slight interest in fly fishing, and I couldn’t wait to wow him with mostly true anecdotes of my own exploits. I was eager to boast of the catches that my co-workers long ago grew tired of hearing about.
He proved an attentive listener, and it was all going splendidly until I felt obliged to ask him to share a few of his own experiences, which I’d assumed might be more modest.
Then again, that’s what you get for assuming. Turns out Muelrath takes fly fishing to a whole different level. He and his father have long waded some of the world’s greatest waters, catching some of its best and brightest fish. Shoot, his dad actually specializes in arranging such trips. In fact, the family Muelrath has published a book entitled “The Hunt, Fly Fishing’s Greatest Adventures.” He wrote, his sister designed, and dad took the photos.
Though he displayed a cordial interest in them, my own stories suddenly paled in comparison. And so it seemed time to move on to a safer topic, like the Henderson Chamber of Commerce. It had hired Muelrath as its executive director and CEO in early September to fill the position vacated by retiring icon Alice Martz. Current board Chairman Rick Smith has helped guide the transition.
Up to September, Muelrath had worked for Forest City Enterprises as general manager of the Galleria at Sunset, the only real mall in Henderson. He did well in that position, and we selected him as one of the Las Vegas valley’s most influential business people in 2006.
At Galleria, the Napa native was responsible for operations, administration, leasing, marketing and security. It was, as they say, full-time work. So is his current position at the Henderson chamber, where some very large companies are members, but about 80 percent have 10 or fewer employees.
“That’s our niche,” he said. “We’re a champion for small business.”
An itchy civic streak and a feeling that a chamber exec’s role would be a good way to connect with the community compelled him to pursue the position. He came to the job both optimistic and somewhat prepared, having served on the chamber’s board of directors and foundation for a few years.
“It was all about opportunity,” he said. “I knew the organization pretty well.”
He also felt there was a good foundation in place. Historically conservative with its finances, the chamber built up reserves that have helped it weather an economy that has been tough on most chambers of commerce in our metro area.
More than anything else, businesses are seeking more value from chamber of commerce memberships these days, something that’s not always so easy to demonstrate. Muelrath’s approach is as basic as tying on a fish hook.
“You have to identify what you do well and what you need to improve on,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll stop and start a few times, and not everything will work. But we’re going to try some new things.”
There are currently about 13,000 business licenses registered in Henderson. With only about 10 percent of the holders of those licenses as members, and particularly low representation among retailers, Muelrath feels it’s critical to get people exposed to obvious chamber benefits like networking, but also to organize, market and promote events that will help show additional value. He says there is no better place to do this work than in Henderson.
“There’s more of a sense and feel of community in Henderson than in some other segments of the valley,” he said. “That’s one of our opportunities.”
He favors a “shop local” strategy that would benefit merchants and area residents alike. “People want to feel they have special access to deals,” he noted.
He has begun a strategic planning process, held focus groups and a board retreat, scheduled an economic development forum and worked with the Henderson Development Association on a new program called “Henderson Onboard,” which we’ll undoubtedly soon be hearing more about. Yeah, he already has a lot of activity under way.
He sees nothing but upside both in the job and in Henderson itself, and feels that progress will be relatively simple to measure. “Any growth is success right now,” he said.
Looking at his family’s book again this morning, it’s obvious Scott Muelrath is patient, persistent and clever enough to land some serious fish — skills that also may come in handy on dry land.