Building an “empire?” Trying to, anyway…

December 17, 2018Doug Peters, President and CEO of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce

I had an interesting conversation with 2018-19 Abilene Chamber Board Chairman Seaton Higginbotham (Arrow Ford) this week.

Sitting in my office, we were exchanging updates on the tremendous progress the Chamber, its scores of tireless volunteers and professional staff have underway.

As we talked, I mentioned to Seaton, “you know – I wonder if the community thinks the Chamber is out ahead of its skis, building an empire?”

Without hesitation, the Chairman looked me square in the eye and said, “We are. And, that empire is Abilene, Texas.”

Seaton squared away in my mind some thinking that has honestly troubled me a bit recently. Are we doing what’s expected of us by our members? Are we within the scope of our authority? Does the community understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and why it matters?

The answer is simple. While we, as an association of businesses – the area’s employers, the risk-takers, those who provide opportunity for thousands upon thousands of area employees and their families – know what we’re doing, those who aren’t engaged day-to-day may not.

Let me explain.

This year, the Chamber is completing the third year of a three year strategic plan (program of work) known as “Advantage Abilene.” Our work over the last two years has been tied to the interests of our 1,200 plus members and based on the economic development (“TIP”) strategy our community adopted in early 2016. While we can’t do all that’s contained in that strategy, we can instigate progress on a number of the focus areas with the long-term intent of moving the economic ball down the field.

You’ve heard the term “Collective Impact?” There’s probably little chance you haven’t. In simple terms, Collective Impact is a focus area of the Chairman and, by extension, the Chamber. It is intended to convene all the influencers around specific community issues that have bearing on business and our economy. It’s to assemble the horsepower and expend the energy that’s needed to tackle the tough problems that can impact all of us as we continue to work together to advance our community. By collectively agreeing on the priorities that can invoke change, and measuring the progress of the effort, our community can fix things that aren’t easy to fix.

And in this particular instance, it impacts all of us, from the faith-based community, neighborhoods, law enforcement, government, business, education and many others. Ironically, it’s tied to my belief that Abilene, Texas, won’t be good enough for any of us until it’s good enough for all of us.

There are troubling data points “out there” that suggest that in our Abilene Independent School District (AISD), the needle that tracks our economically challenged is moving the wrong way. In the year 2010, 52.1 percent of AISD students were categorized as “economically disadvantaged.” In 2018, that number has grown to 73.7 percent, a staggering and troubling increase. Compare those numbers with the Texas state average, which was 49 percent in 2000 compared with 59 percent in 2017. It is good to outpace the state on economic measures, but this is a race our great city doesn’t want to win.

Collective impact is an effort to, impact this and other socio-economic challenges of our city that directly affect business, their associates and the workforce they draw from. Collective impact connects silos, it is a concept that connects people from different worlds. If we are to compete in this age of acceleration we must connect the city world, business world, academic world, nonprofit world, faith based world and neighborhood world. If we do this we will compete with cities 10 times our size, and we will create a culture of inclusion that will propel us though the 21st century.

Understand this, please. The Chamber isn’t interested in building for itself an empire. But we are indeed interested in building Abilene, Texas, as an empire. We want strong growth, opportunity, engagement and an assured bright future for each and every one of us, whether you’re the risk-taker or someone who supports the risk-taker. We’re committed to delivering value to those members who support the effort – that’s why we make referrals, network our members, provide resources and promote and champion this great city.

While it’s true that the Chamber will always unapologetically swing for the fence, we do know our boundaries. And we respect them.

Your support and influence in the lifelong process of building a better Abilene for all of us is appreciated, and your voice and engagement is paramount.

Thank you for all you do.

#TeamAbilene!

Doug

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