2018-19 to mark challenge and opportunities for Chamber members

October 5, 2018Seaton Higginbotham, 2018-19 Chairman of the Board

One week ago today, I assumed my role as Chairman of the 110-year old Abilene Chamber of Commerce.  It’s an awesome responsibility, and I’m grateful for all those leaders who served before me for creating and sustaining an organization that is in great shape, strong on direction, staffed with the best professionals in the industry and supported by one of the most dynamic and engaged constituencies on the planet.

Your Chamber will continue to pursue
Advantage Abilene, our strategy that is entering its third and final year.

That plan, developed by the Chamber’s membership, sets forth the goals that are pivotal in positioning Abilene – and those businesses the Chamber represents – for continued success. It is based on the TIP strategy, a 10 point 21st century approach to economic development adopted by our City in 2016.

You’re no doubt familiar with Advantage Abilene – but as a refresher, take a look HERE.

The coming year will be one of challenging and exciting progress. We will continue to perform at a high level by continuing the work our members have already started and invested in through their past commitment and engagement.

And while we have operated at full speed for as long as I’ve been associated with the Chamber, we will refine our work by adjusting our structure to ensure that we’re representing our members’ interests in the most time and cost efficient manner possible. While our dedicated and talented staff continues that effort, my tenure will be marked by an opportunity that has become a centerpiece of conversation throughout our community, and one that not only directly impacts our 1,300-plus member companies and the 55,000 employees they represent but our entire community. It’s call Collective Impact.

The truth is, Abilene does a superb job of taking care of the least of us.  With more than 201 non-profits stretching across our community, and a faith based organization second to none, one would be hard-pressed to find a more caring city anywhere.

But to some, we’re only treating the symptoms of some of our most serious social ills.  The root causes of these challenges elude us, and are impacting the very fabric of our community.

During my time with Team Workforce we identified collective Impact as an approach that I believe can fuel our renaissance. I believe this approach will help our community to rise above these challenges, but it’s entirely up to the community – and the Chamber – to decide if it’s a fight worth fighting. I believe we can and should lead this effort.

There are statistics within our community that keep me awake at night, and I won’t rest until we find a way  to reverse these troubling trend. Team Workforce and I have invested the last two-plus years working alongside business and educational leaders to move the needle on our workforce challenge.  We’re making progress, but alone we’ll never reach our goal.  We must engage in open, ongoing dialogue and debate with not only the business and academic worlds, but the city world, non-profit world, faith-based world, and our neighborhoods if we are going to solve big social problems.

We discovered that in the year 2000, 52.1 percent of our AISD students were considered “economically disadvantaged.”  In 2018, that percentage has grown to nearly 74 percent.  That’s not acceptable, and we all have a responsibility to step up and step in and do what we can to reverse that trend.  Think of it this way – if the percentage of economically disadvantaged kids has steadily increased over the last 18 years by nearly 25 percent, what will that statistic look like in the year 2030.  In 2030, those entering school this year will be high school seniors.

Poverty is real, and Abilene is not immune.  Making an impact on poverty is a challenge that requires the unprecedented action of many people, including non-profits and social services, churches, neighborhoods, local government, schools, the business community and any other group that reaches into the areas of our community where we can affect change.  No one world caused the problem and no one world can fix it. We do a wonderful job of treating and supporting those impacted by poverty, but are we doing all we can – with all the right people at the table, and by taking a collective impact approach to problem solving, we can agree on a common agenda and together make a lasting impact.

Poverty affects our community’s quality of life. It affects business, economic development and our ability to live full and prosperous lives. I hope you’ll follow this effort and ENGAGE. We must always have our best collective foot forward; it will take all of us to impact those most affected.

Our work as a Chamber won’t end there.  We’re also taking a look at our community’s brand.  We won’t decide what Abilene is to be known for.  We won’t commit our city to a new logo.  But we will engage in a conversation to better understand how the world we compete in views us and how we want to be viewed.  Long gone are the days where Abilene, Texas was known as a “remote, West Texas outpost.”  We’re a city in the midst of a renaissance and how we’re perceived on the outside matters.  I’m inviting you to be a part of that process.

At the end of the day, I assure you that your Chamber is in capable hands, has a defined direction and understands what matters to our members and we will lead.  We’ll spend the coming year working collaboratively to not only exceed your expectations as a member but as a citizen of Abilene.  And one year from now, we’ll look back over this year with pride and a strong sense of accomplishment.

Let me end with this.  We need your help.  You are a tireless, ardent supporter of Abilene’s chief business advocacy organization.  Please help us to build the voice of business by inviting and encouraging those you interact with in your business to support a collective approach.  We have a lot on our plate, and as we experienced in Washington DC just last week, when we advocate from a collective common agenda people understand Abilene means business.

Our voice is only as strong as the members we represent.  You are important. Thanks for being part of the team.

Thanks to the immediate-past Chairman Scott Hibbs and the Chamber’s Board for setting the stage for my year at the helm.  I’m excited for the year ahead, and encourage you to ENGAGE and make an impact.

Respectfully,

Seaton Higginbotham
(Arrow Ford)
Chairman of the Board
Abilene Chamber of Commerce

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