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Auld Lang Syne

Len Stevens

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,

We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet for auld lang syne.”

Robert Burns

Scottish poet and author

As a former college basketball coach and an all-around sports fan, I am often amazed at the number or cliches, idioms and phrases that coaches, players and broadcasters use to describe basic life principles. (Yes, I confess, I am guilty of this as well). Sayings like “play your game” and “give it 100 percent” are thrown around so frequently that we sometimes forget their meaning and value. However, it would be foolish to dismiss these expressions and tired jargon from the sports world when, in fact, if we would truly listen and adhere to them they could have a profound impact on our professional and personal lives, along with our business community.

As 2009 comes to an end, I am reminded of one such expression that seems especially applicable. It’s an expression frequently used to describe great quarterbacks and pitchers and a term that I used in my coaching days when we would suffer a particularly bad loss. Furthermore, it’s a motto that could benefit every business person as we begin a daunting recovery from a once-in-a-lifetime recession. It’s the value of “having a short memory” or “putting this game behind us and getting ready for the next one.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s important to learn from past mistakes and successes. And, it’s critical we learn from the practices and beliefs that led to such a significant economic downturn. However, if we look backwards for too long, it can be easy to become complacent or even feel self-pity. These are not the entrepreneurial qualities that will spur economic recovery and lead to a successful 2010.

So, as I enter my seventh year as executive director of the Sparks Chamber of Commerce, what is my outlook for the coming year? In short, I think that northern Nevadans will really begin to demonstrate their entrepreneurial spirit. There is no doubt that there are many difficult challenges ahead; however, there are many more exciting possibilities and opportunities that will inspire the entrepreneur in all of us. Sure, our region is home to many successful entrepreneurial men and women. However, while it’s been a frequent topic of discussion over the last several years, I have only recently really seen the spirit of entrepreneurship begin to grasp the community as a whole.

I have always said that one of the best parts of my job is getting to talk and work with a wide variety of businesses and professionals on a daily basis. And, over the last few months, as I have been out and about, I’ve begun to notice an interesting occurrence. The recent epidemic of layoffs and unemployment has been well-documented. Never has our community seen as many experienced, educated and qualified men and women left without jobs. Yet, in true entrepreneurial fashion, many of these people have become self-employed, opened their own businesses or redefined their field of expertise to allow for new avenues of employment. I think this will especially be true in 2010 as many businesses learn to operate more efficiently, forcing out-of-work professionals to create opportunities for employment.

I think that 2010 will be a year of unmatched creativity and hard work. There is no question that we still have adverse times ahead. Spending habits have changed and the marketplace has become more competitive; jobs are at a premium and salaries have been rolled back. In order to reverse this trend, the business community needs some out-of-the-box problem-solving to identify better ways of doing business and opportunities to fill the unmet needs of consumers. We, as professionals, have been and will be forced to work harder and smarter, while being more innovative in how we go about our business. Over the next year, I am confident that imagination, endurance and dedication will again set us on a path towards economic prosperity.

I am proud to say the Sparks Chamber of Commerce is even undergoing an “entrepreneurial expansion.” We have long tried to offer programs and services that are aimed to help businesses of all types and sizes. Over the past couple of years, as we have experienced rapid growth in membership, we have also tried to expand the support we offer to the business community. Recognizing the cultural diversity of the community and the workplace, and thanks to our merger last year with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, we have created a Hispanic Business Network that offers chamber members free ESL classes and a free, monthly business seminar called “Desayuno.” We have also been able to expand our free, monthly “Biz-Flash” program to help businesses be successful during tough times. We recently began offering a free, bi-monthly orientation and networking program called “Pizza + Planning = Progress” designed to help new chamber members and non-members learn understand how to use the Sparks Chamber and its members to survive in today’s changing workplace.

Certainly, the last few years have been difficult. It’s been well-documented and we’ve all been impacted. However, the time for reflection is passed. It’s time to begin to put the negative behind us and look towards the future. As I used to say often as a coach, “It’s gut check time and now we’re going to find out who wants it (to win) the most.

Len Stevens is the executive director of the Sparks Chamber of Commerce. Contact him through the chamber’s website http://www.sparkschamber.org.