The B.S.:

Chamber leader out to add pizazz to events

Bruce Spotleson

Bruce Spotleson

VEGAS INC Coverage

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The audience, including Curtis Cummings, center, the president and CEO of the North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, claps for North Las Vegas Mayor Shari Buck after her speech during the North Las Vegas State of the City address at Texas Station on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012.

It was the lunch hour and I was enjoying the down time as I waited at the Famous Dave’s at Craig and Losee. When you’ve got a mobile device with you, you’re never really idle, anyway.

With a few taps on the screen, I learned that Famous Dave Anderson has more than 170 other barbecue restaurants across the U.S. I also learned that Dave has had his share of challenges along the way, that he barely got by in high school, and that he somehow earned a master’s degree from Harvard without ever getting an undergraduate degree.

But then, I digress.

I was at Famous Dave’s simply because that is where we seem to be whenever there’s a lunch meeting in North Las Vegas. I’m not sure why.

This time, it was to connect with Curtis Cummings, the likeable veteran of the local construction industry who last April became president and chief executive officer of the North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. Somehow, he still manages to be CEO of Alan Jeskey Builders.

Back in the day, when there was so much work going on at the big resorts, Cummings led the immense growth of Eberhard Southwest Roofing and Waterproofing on the Strip corridor, but the North Las Vegas chamber came knocking, seeking stability after longtime CEO Sharon Powers vacated the position in mid-2010, with her replacement Mike Varney leaving for Tucson the following spring. After more than four years on its board of directors, Cummings felt he could do the job. He took over on May 1, and today seems genuinely happy he did.

“I love small business,” he said. “I feel like a guy who gets to go to Disneyland every day.”

A person who pays attention to management science and the psychology of behavior, Cummings knew what he was getting into when he took over the central business organization in one of the nation’s hardest hit economies. He’s been busy ever since, the most exciting aspect to the new gig being the opportunity to help create positive change.

“Especially when business is down. If there was ever a time to really make a difference, it’s now.”

The board experience helped. He knows, for instance, that local “area” chambers of commerce generally have similar goals for their biennial political lobbying in Carson City. That is one of the reasons he favors increased collaboration with his counterparts in Henderson, Las Vegas and Mesquite.

“We should be singing from the same sheet of music,” he said.

He knew, too, that a majority of members’ businesses are actually outside the city limits of North Las Vegas.

“That says we fill a niche,” he said. “You know, the North Las Vegas chamber used to operate in a bubble. Took care of its own. Now we’re trying to be a good neighbor."

He sees no competitiveness with the Latin Chamber, but rather hopes to form some sort of partnership with its CEO, local icon Otto Merida.

But getting back to his own chamber, Cummings has a good idea of what members expect in exchange for their dues.

“It’s really simple. They want results. Programs and events that are relevant, and they need a return on their investment. The magic is in how you deliver that. But I think that’s the same for all chambers.”

Research always shows that one of the key reasons people join a chamber of commerce is to meet other businesspeople. Cummings acknowledges this, which makes him want to take his chamber’s mixers to a new level.

“Everything we do has to have a value, to drive people to come back. If they go to a lunch that’s fun and exciting, they’ll want to come back. We won’t have to ask them. So we’re doing mixers at which non-members are welcome. Last time we did it, 70 percent of the attendees weren’t members.”

As with other membership-based organizations in the valley, the North Las Vegas chamber saw its base decline in recent years, before stabilizing at about 500 members. The goal now is to grow it about 20 percent a year. Such optimism relies on North Las Vegas jump-starting its economy, but then, Cummings is an optimistic guy.

“It’s really the moms and pops who are ready to get things moving. We just need to support them.”

From the CEO’s chair, Cummings has come to see a chamber as an organization that can help its city if it isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty.

“It’s still how the rubber meets the road,” he said. “Delivering results.”