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'Champion for economic development' retiring

After initially being recruited by the CIA — a job he turned down — Bob Cooper spent years convincing his family that his career was in economic development and not as an undercover operative.

“I debate periodically with my wife where I would be if I chose the CIA,” Cooper said. “Her reaction is I’d be dead by now. I think I’d be overseas somewhere.”

As Cooper prepares to retire after nearly 40 years in economic development and 14 years as the economic and redevelopment manager with the city of Henderson, he knows he wouldn’t change a thing.

“Always at the end of the day, I love it,” he said.

Cooper studied geography with an emphasis in urban planning at the California State University, Fresno. While he was in graduate school, he decided to get married.

Looking for a real job to support his future wife, he applied to work for the CIA.

“It was during the time of Watergate,” Cooper said.

After interviews in Washington, Cooper remembered attending some of the Watergate hearings.

“I thought, ‘Washington seems like an exciting place to be,’ ” he said.

Cooper was offered a job at the CIA.

He told his soon-to-be father-in-law that the family would be living on the East Coast — away from all the family on the West Coast.

“He didn’t find the humor in it,” he said.

Instead, he set up Cooper with an interview with the director of economic development in Moscow, Idaho.

“I told (the director) I already had a job,” Cooper said. “I told him we can pretend to do the interview to make everyone happy.”

However, Cooper was offered a job in the department.

“My wife and father-in-law were thrilled,” he said.

The family moved to Moscow, where Cooper began his career overseeing economic development in five counties.

He began working on projects that connected him with state officials such as the governor and larger organizations such as the U.S. Forest Service.

“I was amazed that everyone was interested in economic development,” he said.

But the workload began to pile up.

Cooper began working nights and weekends, turning a 9-to-5 job into a seven-day-a-week ordeal.

About six years later, Cooper had reached his breaking point.

Burned out, he decided to look for a new job after a six-month vacation traveling.

“After that, I was ready to return to work,” he said.

His family relocated to Redding, Calif., where he began working in economic development again.

“I didn’t know at first that I would head back into the field,” he said.

But Cooper enjoyed the positive aspects of helping businesses and people in the community.

After a few years in Northern California, he moved to Ventura County in Southern California.

In 1999, a headhunter who wanted to see if he would be interested in coming to Henderson contacted him.

The family moved to Nevada, and Cooper spent the next 14 years working for the city.

There were two things Cooper liked about starting in Henderson. The first was the city wasn’t a “bedroom community.”

“It doesn’t contract anything,” he said. “The city has its own council and fire department.”

The second was the vision of the council, especially regarding economic development to be comprehensive and not focus on business recruitment only.

Cooper was still able to work with and recruit new businesses.

He worked with the Henderson Chamber of Commerce to implement a business visitation program and a campaign to inform businesses of different incentives available to them.

“Bob’s done such a great job at recruitment and bringing new businesses and jobs to the city,” said Scott Muelrath, CEO and president of the Henderson Chamber of Commerce. “He’s a champion for economic development.”

This also gave him the opportunity to look at how education and health care could play a role in economic development.

Cooper said he was one of the people pushing for Nevada State College to open in Henderson, which it did in 2002.

He also played a role in the opening of 14 other colleges in Henderson, from Roseman University of Health Sciences to Touro University Nevada.

Another proud moment in his career was opening the door to international recruitment.

Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen, former City Manager Mark Calhoun and Cooper traveled to South Korea in 2007 to learn more about its economic development.

“It has certainly helped plant a lot of flags that are paying dividends today,” he said.

The partnership is still open and has led to businesses setting up shop in Henderson.

Looking back, one thing he wishes he had championed harder was being more incentive-driven — offering more benefits for businesses that come to Henderson.

“Other places in the country such as Texas and Utah are incentive-driven,” he said.

But after the recession, there wasn’t the financial backing to make incentives possible.

Regardless, Cooper enjoyed his career with the city.

“It’s pretty much a second family,” he said.

Cooper decided to retire after his brother and mother developed many health issues, which resulted in them moving in with Cooper.

On top of that, after nearly 40 years in the industry, Cooper said it just feels like it’s the right time.

He will miss the competitive nature of economic development.

“In business recruitment, there is only one winner,” he said. “You play to win.”

He will even miss the occasional Saturday night when he would wake up wondering if he would have adjusted his pitch, would he have won the deal.

Members of the business community are going to miss Cooper as a resource, Muelrath said.

“When I have an issue I don’t know the answer to, he’s the one I call,” he said.

After four decades, at least Cooper no longer has to convince people he’s not a secret agent.

“I had an aunt that held off for years, believing I worked for the CIA,” he said. “She finally figured I was telling the truth.”

Contact Henderson/Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at or 702-387-5201.