It’s what we do
I’ve had an interesting past few weeks. Much has happened recently that has caused me to really think about my role with the Chamber in Abilene, Texas.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve never second-guessed why I’m here or what’s expected of me. Contrarily, I’ve soul-searched a bit to make sure I’m doing the best I can, and most importantly that I’m doing what’s expected of me by our members, in a way that positively impacts our great community. I listen a lot. And your words are never lost on me.
What am I talking about?
The Chamber has been a long-standing institution in Abilene, Texas since 1908. That’s right – this year is our 110th anniversary of service to Abilene’s business community. We can put the Chamber’s name on many of the community’s accomplishments over the past century. There have been hundreds of women and men like you who, for no other reason than love of our city, have sacrificed much to make good things happen.
Those people are Abilene’s cheerleaders. They’re the civic-minded business owners and leaders who want our community to win, and to win big. They’re the people who put their money where their mouths are and become a part of the solution to our challenges as a community, rather than the problem. Like me, they believe that Abilene will never be good enough for any of us until it’s good enough for all of us. We’re doing the same work we’ve always done, but we’re intentionally taking the time to engage those who support our work and to tell the story of “why.” The streets of this amazing city are filled with Chamber champions, and we’re grateful.
The Chamber’s work in recent years has, perhaps, surprised some folks. We have no intention of being Abilene’s “800-pound gorilla.” But without apology, we are determined. We are purposeful. And we are accountable. And by “we,” I mean more than 1,900 representatives of business, contributing an average of 65,000 people-hours annually, as part of our effort.
You see, the Chamber is people. People doing most all those things that many folks think “just happens.” It doesn’t just happen. The Chamber’s work is purposeful, transparent, accountable and strategic. And it’s an organization that’s driven by the leadership of its investors.
At our core, we’re a small yet sophisticated local non-profit, that runs lean and is positioned to always be in the corner of business, no matter what. We don’t make willy-nilly policy decisions based on the interests of a few. Rather, our positions on issues that impact your business and the community as a whole are based on a long-view and are based on fact, and broad input. Our members elect the peer representatives (our Board of Directors) each year who make those decisions.
Business advocacy is paramount to an economically vibrant city. And that effort is privately funded by our growing membership. We’re present in local government, in Austin, in Washington and elsewhere to influence policy and to ensure that the stage is set and maintained for business success right here at home. Having a positive, productive relationship with government at all levels matters – and we’re often able to resolve challenges for our members through those relationships.
We do “economic development.” It’s no secret that the Chamber operates some of its functions by performance contract with the City of Abilene and the Development Corporation of Abilene. Neither are profit centers for the Chamber – nor have they ever been. We do industry recruitment and retention through our private Abilene Industrial Foundation (AIF) in partnership with the DCOA because it’s an important way to grow our community, by broadening our tax base. Spreading the cost of our functioning city ensures that we can do more for our citizens, because more people and companies are contributing to the resources. There are no dark, smoke-filled rooms. We work openly and account for our work. Our public-private partnerships do not pad the Chamber’s bottom line.
Part of economic development is tourism – a massive industry in our community. Over 4,000 jobs in Abilene are hospitality based, and visitors support our city by shopping, dining, sleeping, touring and filling their cars up with fuel. I’m still in awe of tourism’s impact here – and the fact that we’d each have to pay an additional $700 per year in taxes to maintain our current level of municipal services if we were to lose those dollars paid by those who visit us.
We’re in the workforce development business. Why? Because the business community is the chief consumer of workers. It makes perfect sense. Instead of standing on the curb and wagging our collective fingers at those who prepare our workforce for underdelivering the quality and quantity of workers needed to retain our current businesses and attract new ones, we’ve chosen to be a part of the solution. We’ve engaged businesses to help our education partners. They need to know what we need, and customer feedback is important.
We’re in the downtown revitalization business, but we are NOT downtown-centric. We understand the importance of a vibrant center city and its role as an economic barometer for those who visit us as tourists or site locators for expanding companies. We’ve engaged the community to develop a plan that is in place and underway. We’ve helped to create a vision for a new downtown hotel, sure to be a catalyst for additional growth. And we believe strongly that the workforce that we need to attract to enhance our economic development efforts is directly tied to young adults who value a dynamic urban atmosphere.
You know our history with supporting the mission and families at Dyess Air Force Base. As our region’s largest economic driver, it’s important that the community watch over those who watch over us. We work daily to preserve, protect and to grow the mission at Dyess, as we have for more than 60 years. We’re proud of the national recognition we’ve earned through our community’s support, led by the Chamber – including our namesake “Abilene Trophy” and the first ever Global Strike Command Community Support Award, presented to Abilene just last year.
It goes without saying that we love our arts and culture – and we’re darn good at it. In fact, if you talk to my family you’ll learn quickly that Abilene’s vibrant arts community was a major, determining factor in our choosing Abilene for our family’s future. From our designation as the Storybook Capital of Texas (soon to be America) to our emerging local music scene – and everything in between – Abilene sets the standard for arts, culture and enhanced quality of life. Why does it matter to the Chamber? Because we know that “quality of place” is chief among the factors considered by corporate site selectors and CEOs who are seeking places to invest.
Remember, economic development is more about site elimination than site selection. We must be on top of our game at all times.
So, when you hear that the Chamber is working on something, understand two things – one, everything we do has our members as the reason, and our policies and business lines are determined by our members. And, just like we’ve done for 110 years, we leverage the passion, time, treasure and spirit of our members to ensure that Abilene remains competitive in an ever increasingly competitive global marketplace.
For the Chamber and our great city, it all begins with jobs. I invite you, as always to help share the Chamber’s story – but more importantly, to be a part of writing the next chapter. This organization is fortunate to work with business, government and our community from an important vantage point, and we take our role seriously. I hope that’s evident in our work.
Thank you for your support!