What is the Abilene Industrial Foundation?

July 3, 2019Doug Peters, President and CEO of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce

If you were to ask a business leader who has been around awhile what the role of the Chamber’s Abilene Industrial Foundation (AIF) is, odds are they’d tell you that it’s the private sector to the community’s public/private economic development partnership.

And they’d be 100 percent correct.

But what does that mean, exactly?

The AIF has been a part of our great city’s economic development initiative for decades – perhaps longer than most can remember.  Dating back more than 60 years, the AIF is a private organization operated as an affiliate of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce that partners with a number of local entities – both public and private – to make good things happen for our city’s economy, such as creating and retaining jobs and attracting capital investment that broadens our tax base.

Decades ago, the AIF played a key role in the statewide passage of the 4A sales tax to increase the economic competitiveness of Texas. And recently, it was the private dollars invested by those AIF members who helped our City attract the interest of hotel developers to bring an economic catalyst to our downtown.  The AIF’s impact has been far-reaching.

At its core, the AIF is a partnership.  Historically focused on industrial recruitment and retention, the AIF is made up of more than 60 dues-paying members who have a keen interest in growing the Abilene economy.

Back in the day, members of the AIF were largely industrialists, financial leaders and those who love our city as much as we all do.  While that remains true today, time has brought added dimensions to this cornerstone of our community, and the AIF’s ability to understand and respond to economic opportunity confronting our community is as strong today as it ever has been.

Take for example its traditional role of industrial recruitment.  In most cases, the AIF serves as the primary industrial marketing, recruiting and retention arm of a partnership between the Development Corporation of Abilene (DCOA), the business community and those who seek assistance and other support in investing and growing their company in Abilene, Texas.

Funded in part by the DCOA, the AIF is actively out in the marketplace telling the Abilene story – working to attract the interest of companies and site selection decision-makers and consultants representing companies who seek a site to grow their companies.

And they do it well.  With direct-reporting to the Chamber, the AIF’s own board of directors, a newly formed executive committee and its funding partner in the DCOA, the AIF is constantly on the road selling Abilene as a preferred location in West-central Texas for business investment.

But then again, so does every community in the world with any level of economic appetite and the sophistication to pursue it.  The beauty of Abilene is that it’s a great place to sell, and it’s getting better every day.

But times are changing.  And they’ve been changing for a while now.

When I first entered this professional a long (long) time ago, companies seeking sites were primarily interested in three major components – location decisions then were based on access to market, the ability for a “deal” spreadsheet to support the company’s bottom line long-term, and the business friendliness of the communities they considered.

Today, that remains the same, however not necessarily in that order, and the list has expanded.

Economic development today is a game of “site elimination.”  Decision-makers enter a process of casting a wide net for locations to consider.  Then, they begin a process of eliminating communities who don’t measure up to their needs, wants, expectations.

What is it those companies want?

Nine times out of 10, and particularly in today’s environment, relationships matter.  Knowing a community can deliver on its promises – whether it be quality of place, availability of workforce, a clean and safe community and more matters more than it ever has.  The days of a community winning an economic development deal based on their ability to incentivize the deal into being are almost forgotten (although still a factor).

Today, the litmus test, if you will, for communities to think about is relatively simple:  is the community being considered a place where that company’s CEO would want to live?

The little things matter.  I cringe at crime headlines, because I know “clean and safe” are a factor to potential investors.

I also feel unsettled when I see litter strewn across our city.

I shudder at what may appear as forgotten areas of our city, places that can leave an indelible impression on those who may be here, long before we know about them, kicking our tires as they consider our city as a place to invest.  Downtown is but one example.  Young workforce wants access to “big city” amenities, like an urban environment with a hip vibe.  They want quality educational access; quality, affordable and accessible healthcare; things to do (don’t get me started on all there is to do in Abilene) and certainly they want to feel safe.

But they also prefer, when it comes time to talk turkey about the prospects of locating to an area, that they can trust the confidentiality of their local partners – tying directly into why relationships matter.  They want to know that government isn’t a bully whose primary role is to block progress and make it hard for companies to open their doors.  They want pro-business, pro-community, pro-growth.  They want a partner who understands their unique needs and can advocate for them with the public sector.

Who better to serve in the role of advocate and confidant than a business peer?

I’m proud of the work of the AIF and am grateful for those who continue to contribute to the private “opportunity fund” that allows great things to happen in our city.

If you’ve ever had an interest in participating, either hands-on or passively in the economic development process, we have a place for you.

For more information on the AIF, its role, how we sell our great city and any number of initiatives under its wing, call or email me or visit DevelopAbilene.com.

Onward!

Doug

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