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Optimism, new thinking cited after Directions ’09

Pat Patera

Despite the distressing economic forecast dished out by speakers at the Directions 2009 event, area business owners remain generally positive about the local economy.

Attendees at the region’s biggest business event came away with the impression that northern Nevada companies would survive the recession by rethinking and returning to their core business.

“A positive attitude prevailed,” says Erich Schmitt, director of business development at Kaizen Consulting.

“Business owners are going to take positive steps to get through this. While things aren’t great, we can do things to get through this. But we need to turn off our TVs at night and not listen to the doom and gloom.”

Norma Havens, corporate clarifier at University of Street Smarts, took away the words of speaker Bob Barone, principal at Ancora West Advisors: “This is all about a lack of confidence. This will all end when people get their confidence back.”

Meanwhile, says Pete Parker, president of Parker Development Services, “Business needs to sell strength. The strongest will survive. As a society, we follow those who are successful, popular, strong.”

And Dali Wiederhoft, vice president public relations at Estipona Group reports, “This year trade show participants seemed generally optimistic and most said they are busier today than they were a year ago.”

Others picked up on an undercurrent of worry at the gathering.

“In talking with people, there is concern,” says Michael Stearns, executive director for Legends Reno-Tahoe Open. “A lot of bad news we hear can wear on you.” But on the positive side, he said people felt “We need to activate.”

Becky McBride, accountant executive at David Branby Advertising LLC says, “Although it seemed the outlook was rather dismal, people still seemed hopeful for the future.” And, she says, her company has already activated, with a campaign launch tailored to the times: Marketing On A Shoestring.

Like others, McBride picked up on an undercurrent of pulling together in the face of difficulty. “Rather than compete, people seem to want to corroborate.”

Kathy McHenry, development projects coordinator at DP Partners, says, “There was a lot of pride displayed in what people were doing in business and how they could be of service to other business people.”

Others came away ready to rethink how they do business.

“Two things happened at Directions this year,” says Chris Cox, owner and CLO – chief learning officer – at Amplitude. “Real talk about the economy, our area, and impact on our business. We heard things that were real and troubling. Lots of organizations need to think and do things differently. If they need to lay off, how they lay off matters. If they create distrust among the remaining staff, they may not rebound as fast as the overall economy.”

One clear message: Things are no longer business as usual.

So says Havens. “If you’re going to survive, you’ve got to have a different set of eyes. This may be a great opportunity to reset our sails and get back to what’s important.”

She took away the words of speaker Michael Stead, a director at Bank of the West, who said 70 percent of our gross national product is personal consumption, a good chunk of it financed by home equity. “How do we change that national mindset from consumption to production?” asks Havens.

Keynote speaker Bruce James, director of Nevada SAGE Commission, won over listeners with his account of government accountability.

“I was pleased at the approach: Accepting responsibility and requiring responsibility from state agencies,” says Carol Martin, event coordinator and leasing assistant at DP Partners. Pointing to the plan that layered 90 days to produce a report with 90 days to implement the suggestions, she says, “It’s not an open-ended assignment. It’s got teeth in it. In private business we can follow that lead.”

As ever, many take advantage of networking with the 730 attendees at Directions.

“I thought the economists were rather rosy,” says Brian Wallace, assistant vice president, Nevada State Development Corp. “But it was good to see all the bankers turn out. It was beneficial to talk with everyone.”