Closing Ranks, Opening Doors

Veterans Chamber of Commerce links former military members with business opportunities

Transitioning back into civilian life is far from easy for many returning veterans, and Veterans Reporter publisher Chuck Baker has long worked to publicize their issues, ranging from physical injuries and emotional scars to difficulty acclimating at home and finding work. To ease that transition, Baker and Air Force widow Su Phelps, who owns Lakewood Recycling in North Las Vegas, launched the Veterans Chamber of Commerce of Nevada to help former military members publicize their business endeavors.

Baker, a Vietnam veteran, once worked as a real estate reporter and editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and says he campaigned while at the newspaper for more coverage of veterans’ issues. He launched the monthly Veterans Reporter 10 years ago and became increasingly interested in connecting veteran business owners with non-veteran-owned businesses. With support from the Las Vegas Valley Water District, Baker and Phelps registered the Veterans Chamber of Commerce of Nevada as a nonprofit organization last December. The group now has 25 members.

“I’m a journalist, but I’m also a businessman; I own a newspaper,” Baker says. “Just like I felt that veterans deserved more news coverage in the state and the country, I feel that veteran-owned businesses deserve to be promoted. I know that the people I talk to want to do business with veteran-owned businesses. Some people would like to do more—be a volunteer, give money—and they can’t always do that for whatever reason, but when it comes to doing business with a veteran-owned store and company, that’s very easy. They’re already going out and spending money, so if they can help a veteran-owned business, it’s easy for them to do it.”

Chamber membership is open to both veterans and non-veterans, with lower membership rates for veterans, and has drawn non-veteran-owned businesses that are interested in finding veteran-owned vendors with which to do business. Rob Supin, sales manager of Southwest Printers, met several veteran business owners in April at the chamber’s kick-off mixer—which attracted Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus—and has received a handful of inquiries about his company’s services since then.

“We like to support veteran affairs, so we joined and I was hoping to get some action out of it for our printing business at one of the mixers,” Supin says. “I have gotten a few inquiries about printing, and I’ve done up some quotes. I expect one of those inquiries to turn into a job. Right now, we really haven’t made any money off of it, but I do expect to make something of it in the future.”

While matching veteran-owned businesses with non-veteran-owned businesses is the chamber’s primary goal, the organization also aims to assist newly returning veterans who plan to start their own businesses.

“There’s a lot of younger vets that are coming out of the service,” Baker says, “and they might want to start their own business or learn how to start a business and what they have to do, so we’re going to be helping those people as well.

“Older veterans who have established businesses, they know more about starting a business, about running a business, about how to keep it going. But as far as reaching out to the public, new businesses or younger vets, they have to jump through the same hoops and do the same things. You always have to be out there promoting your business and working with the public, providing good products and services or whatever it is you’re selling. To a certain extent there are differences, but there’s a common ground.”

As the group becomes more cohesive and solidifies both its membership base and its board of directors, Baker says the chamber plans to release a directory of veteran-owned businesses in Nevada, organize a job board for unemployed veterans and veteran-owned businesses, and eventually launch a scholarship program for children of wounded veterans. The chamber also recently began offering health-benefit supplements for its members.