We are NOT from the GOVERNMENT and we really ARE here to help!

February 1, 2019Doug Peters, President and CEO of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce

Now, before you misinterpret that headline, let me say that I’m not settling in at the keyboard to punch government in the nose.  We value our relationships with government at all levels – in many cases, government – and its impact on your business – is central to our work at the Abilene Chamber of Commerce.

But I do want to take a minute or two of your day to tell you who we are, and who we are not; and if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to make the case for what we do and why it matters.

Still with me?

Chambers have been around for thousands of years, and no, I’ve not been around since their beginning.

The first known Chamber was established more than 6,000 years ago in Mesopotamia to help establish trade routes.  I borrowed the following from our friends at the Avon Park, Florida Chamber, which nicely sums up the history of Chambers of Commerce:  “down through the centuries, perhaps as long as commerce has existed, traders have banded together. In the beginning, perhaps it was for the purpose of seeking common protection against enemies and marauding bands of robbers. Later, codes were established to govern the conduct of trade. And still later, efforts were begun to exert influence on legislative matters.

“But, those early associations of traders had little in common with Chambers of Commerce as we know them today.”

I had a fun conversation this morning with Development Corporation of Abilene interim president & CEO Charlie Dromgoole, and we were talking about Chambers.  We talked about how “if you’ve seen one Chamber of Commerce, you’ve seen ONE Chamber of Commerce.”  All are different.  We’re one of more than 7,000 Chambers in the US (and among the top 199 best-performing).  All are independent of one another.  We’re not a local chapter of the US Chamber.  Charlie put it this way, saying “think of the Baptist church.  They’re all called the same thing, yet every one is different.”  He nailed it.

Our Chamber is NOT an arm of local government.  Nor are we the antithesis.  The city and county, in our local case, represents the interests of the taxpayer.  The Chamber, on the other hand represent the interests of business, and in particular our Chamber members.  We want the same things, but we have different constituents, with the Chamber’s constituents making up the single-largest taxpaying constituency in the community.  Make sense?

As a private, not-for-profit association of business, we don’t have authority to change the things we work on.  But we do have the influence to help make change happen.  In Abilene, we represent roughly 1,300 companies.  Among those companies are some 37,000 employees.  That’s a lot of constituents.

We work closely with government.  Local, state, federal – it doesn’t matter.  We don’t pound our fist and demand action.  We are gracious yet persistent in our approach to government, and we always strive to head off polarizing challenges by ensuring we’re at the table to represent the interests of business every chance we get.

No bloodshed.  No raised voices.  No flying objects.  Gracious, yet persistent.

So, what is it we do?  We carefully interpret public policy, both existing and proposed that impacts or has the potential to impact businesses.  We determine the impact on our members, who are business owners and their associates.  We advocate for the peaceful and impactful influence of business to ensure an optimum operating environment for our members.  We help our community to win.  And we do that purposefully, with a strategy, and as a partner of many in our great city.

And you know all those programs, events, networking sessions and such that we do?  Those are value-added benefits of membership.  At our core, we’re a business advocacy organization.  But we know our members appreciate and in some instances have come to expect, a tangible return on their investment in our work.  That’s what those are – ways to help our members meet, expand networks, engage with and establish relationships with their peers in the community.

Clear as mud?

We’re proud of our Chamber and the work that it does.  The Chamber isn’t a building, it isn’t the staff.  It’s those who invest in our collective work to create a better Abilene for all of us, through community and economic development initiatives that touch us in many ways.

Thank you for investing in a centuries-old effort.  Because of you, Abilene, Texas is better than it was yesterday, and not nearly as good as it will be tomorrow.

Onward!
Doug

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