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Rod Smith

Nevadan At Work: Steven Horsford

19 April 2004

"Stubbornly driven to serve" barely captures the spirit Steven Horsford brings to Nevada Partners and the Culinary Nevada Partners and the Culinary Training Academy, where he is both president and chief executive officer.

And it's not so hard to understand, given his tough life experience.

He is from Las Vegas -- all over Las Vegas.

Technically the oldest of eight, his father had three other children Horsford admits he doesn't know well.

His mother had three other children whom he helped raise after his father was slain in a drug incident when Horsford was 19. The killing happened one block from where he now works.

His family moved at least every year when he was a child for financial reasons and to get away from a variety of people on the darker side of life. He attended so many elementary schools and middle schools he can't even count them, let alone name them.

Horsford got off the personal treadmill in a quest for stability when he attended Clark High School for four years and the University of Nevada, Reno, for another four.

Then he jumped on a professional treadmill and he's always on the go. Sitting still is alien to him. Setting goals high, and pacing, always pacing, to meet the goals is his style.

He's comfortable discussing policy, programs and organization, but much less at ease discussing himself.

His restlessness shows in his office and adjacent conference room at the Nevada Partners headquarters in an industrial strip of North Las Vegas.

His wife decorated his office for him, and the conference room is dominated by a massive fresh-water fish tank he moved from his home simply because there was not enough room there -- not with two young sons running around.

But Horsford says he lucked out because it also helps keep him calm, especially when he and his staff are discussing performance goals and whether they've been met.

Question: Describe your job.

Answer: I'm responsible for overseeing the state's largest employment and training work force developer (with a staff of 66). I lead my management staff in providing the best level of customer services to our clients and to make sure they become employable.

Question: Why did you drop out of government relations?

Answer: After Sept. 11, (2001) I had the opportunity to work on the rapid-response effort for the workers who were laid off. Seeing people who were helpless and knowing I could be a comfort in their time of need affected me. I'd always wanted to work in the community. The opportunity came around and it was a difficult decision, but I felt it was the right time to serve in the community in a way that this position allows me to.

Question: How did you get into government affairs in the first place?

Answer: I worked on ballot initiatives. I worked on campaigns. During legislative sessions, I advocated for different interests. I've always loved public policy. Everything is politics in one way or another, and I wanted to make an impact in a way that made a difference. I felt and I still do that the legislative allows you to make a difference in people's lives if you allow it to.

Question: How are you making a difference?

Answer: Our agency is responsible for serving over 3,000 people a year in developing the employability skills they need to get jobs and advance in employment.

Question: Is it gratifying?

Answer: Yes. Very gratifying. I love what I do. I grew up here. I didn't always know what I wanted to do. Some people took me under their wings and guided me. Now, I feel I'm doing the same thing for other people -- guiding them to opportunities they may not have know existed. And that's very gratifying, knowing you're making that kind of an impact in somebody's life.

Question: How does being Democratic National Committeeman from Nevada fit in?

Answer: It's another avenue for me to serve our state and the community in another realm I enjoy. It's an honor to be one of the youngest in the country and to be involved in helping determine the political future of our country.

Question: What do you like most about your job?

Answer: The people. I enjoy the people. I like coming to work every day and the dedication of the people I work with and the people we help get the skills to get jobs. They bring me the greatest joy. Sometimes it's the biggest frustration, but really it's a joy. We try not to process people. We try to make it about that individual. They're here about a goal, their potential, a goal only they can reach. We're here to help them do that.

Question: What do you like least?

Answer: The bureaucracy. The layers of rules and compliance and policies that we're required to meet because of our funding. That sometimes gets in the way of what's the intent of the individual clients. I don't like that. I come out of the private sector, where if it's right, you just do it. I understand it has to be done, but I think sometimes it could be streamlined to serve the public more effectively.

Question: What do you like most about Las Vegas?

Answer: The opportunities that exist. I don't think I could achieve what I have done and what I hope to do anyplace but Las Vegas. You see it with the students we serve, working with people trying to get ahead. They couldn't do it anywhere else. Las Vegas presents them with opportunities and they can get ahead and that's a wonderful thing.

Question: What do you like least?

Answer: I think sometimes we're a little too separated. There's a strong sense of community, but we don't always see the other side. If you're from the east side, you're from the east side and don't see the west side. Different pockets are separated from the core.

Question: Where does Nevada Partners go from here?

Answer: We want to complete our capital construction campaign, which will double our size and allow us to increase the number of people we train for the industry. And we'd like to focus on other high-growth industries, such as health care and construction.

Question: Where personally?

Answer: Professionally, I'm here until we can complete the goals we've established with the board and my job is done. I'm committed to being here as long as I can and the board wants because I love what I do.

Question: Is elective office in the picture?

Answer: I think so. People in the community have encouraged me to run and I'd like to serve our community in that way at the right time. That's why, after careful consideration with my family, I announced on Friday my intent to run for the state Senate seat being vacated by Joe Neal.

Question: What do you find most gratifying about your job?

Answer: The most gratifying part for me is when I look and see how many people we placed in jobs. That's the best thing. To create income and community wealth. That, to me, is where I get emotional. It's when we exceed our goals in getting people in jobs. It feels good, especially when people tell me it can't be done.

Question: Are your stubborn?

Answer: Yes. My wife, my staff, my friends -- they all agree. I'm just adamant that we can truly achieve excellence and we shouldn't settle for anything less. I set the bar. No one rises to low expectations. You'd don't always reach it, but at least you've tried. I had to overcome a lot of obstacles growing up. I lost my father. He was shot and killed one block from here over drugs. My mom raised me as a single parent. I didn't always have a lot of support. But all the time, there were people who said I could go there and do that and I believed it and now I'm doing it. So now I feel an obligation to reach back because someone helped me.