Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell about your job at the Chamber?
Tray Abney: I represent the 1,800 chamber members in the various halls of power, with the vast majority of those being small businesses. I represent them before Reno and Sparks city councils and right now in the state legislature. The average business owner doesn’t have time to sit at the Reno city council or in Carson City all day. It’s my job to represent them down there and let them know what’s going on and keep them engaged. My title as director of government relations is a fancy term for lobbyist, which essentially means I have no marketable skills whatsoever.
NNBW: How did you get into this profession?
Abney: I was a political science major in college. I went to grad school at George Washington University in D.C. I thought I was going to be the next Karl Rove or James Carville, as a campaign manager guru. Prior to that I worked for Gov. Jim Gibbons as his legislative director and prior to that when he was a congressman in D.C. I started with the Reno-Sparks Chamber when there used to be two chambers — the Reno Chamber and the Sparks Chamber — more than seven years ago now.
NNBW: What important thing(s) have you learned in your career that helps you in your job?
Abney: I’ve learned to listen a lot more than I talk. I learned that most people we deal with in public office or otherwise, have the best interests at heart either in this community or in this state. The truth doesn’t always lie on one end of the political spectrum or the other. Being a business owner is one of the toughest jobs you could ever have. One of the most rewarding aspects of this gig is meeting and hanging out with different businesspeople and trying to learn what drives them.
NNBW: What aspects of your job present the most challenges?
Abney: There are always challenges, but we have a tremendous opportunity to make headway this session on issues that we’ve struggled with in the past. We always struggle with the perception of the business owner and “big business.” Our community’s changing at a rapid rate, so we need to help out the young entrepreneurs and business owners. It’s a challenge for us to keep up with those trends.
NNBW: Are there aspects of The Chamber that people may not be aware of?
Abney: All business owners are affected by some form of government, whether it be building a new office, or workers’ comp issues, taxes, etc. It’s important that they have a voice in the process. We would fall woefully behind if we didn’t engage in those processes. We want to make it as easy as possible for business people to open their doors and hire people.
NNBW: What was your first job?
Abney: My first job was as a dishwasher at Mrs. O’Mealeys restaurant in my hometown of Springfield, Mo., just before I turned 16. I eventually worked my way up to cashier.
NNBW: What did you dream about becoming as a kid?
Abney: I didn’t have anything in particular at that age. For awhile I wanted to be an astronaut and then I was going to be a stand-up comedian. I didn’t really grow up thinking I was going to be one thing or another.
NNBW: How do you spend your time away from work?
Abney: I spend most of it with my wife and chasing my five-year-old son. When it’s nice outside, I like to go hiking or to the park. Perhaps grab some extra sleep on the weekends.
NNBW: Favorite vacation spot?
Abney: My wife and I went to Ocho Rios in Jamaica two years ago for our 10-year anniversary. It was a great trip.
NNBW: If you could live your life over again, would there be anything you would change.
Abney: No. I think I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
NNBW: Last concert or sporting event attended?
Abney: The most recent concerts we went to were to see the Eagles and Aerosmith at the lake. We also try to catch Aces and Wolf Pack basketball games.
NNBW: If you had enough money to retire right now, would you? Why or why not?
Abney: I don’t think I could completely retire. I’m only 34 years old. If I had more money, I would maybe work less or travel more, but I don’t think I could completely stop.
NNBW: Why did you choose a career in northern Nevada? What do you like about living/working here?
Abney: I moved from Missouri to D.C. to go to grad school and sent my resume all over and ended up working in Congressman Jim Gibbons’ office in 2003. If you asked me 12 years ago if I would be living in Nevada, I would ask “Why?’ When I started working for Jim Gibbons, I came here several times for work and ended up deciding to live here. It was the best decision we ever made. I was born in Louisiana, lived in Missouri, moved to D.C. and ended up here in Nevada. I love living out West and want to stay here forever.
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