Here’s the Thing

August 23, 2019Doug Peters, President and CEO of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce

Grab another cup of coffee and settle in – this is one of those long ones.

Everybody has a “thing.”  Every organization – public or private – has a “thing.” And I love it when people ask me, “What’s the Chamber’s thing?

You’d better believe we have a thing. The Abilene Chamber of Commerce has had a formal “thing” since 1908. In fact, I was just looking back over a document that was written God only knows when. I believe it was dated in the early 1960’s – at least it appears so because it was written on a typewriter (if you don’t know what that is, call me).  It traces the Chamber’s roots back to the 1800’s.

It’s interesting to read the document – a copy of which can be found HERE. It’s only two pages, but here are a few noteworthy excerpts:

“One organization down through the years has been dedicated to a single purpose — promoting Abilene’s growth and development. It is the Abilene Chamber of Commerce, an association through which Abilene business people have concentrated their efforts in behalf of their town.”

The paper goes on to say, “the organization has been known by many names, but the purpose has stayed the same. The Chamber can trace its history back to the earliest days of the community.  The “Fair” might be considered the Chamber’s grandparent, because it was through its efforts at a fair that the first town leaders began telling the story of what a wonderful place Abilene is and will be.”

It cites our days as the “Progressive Committee,” led by names such as Legett, Sayles, Steffens, Lowden and others. It talks about the Chamber’s leadership role in 1910 to ensure an accurate Census count, an effort that we’re working on even today. “Livestock and agriculture development, better transportation systems, water programs and development of Abilene Schools” are noted. It speaks to our first membership drive in 1913. It talks about notable achievements throughout time, and it even mentions a shortcoming or two.

And for all those years – decades (even a century) in fact – the Abilene Chamber has had a “thing.” Fast forward to today, and Chamber members remain in governance of the Chamber, and it’s work in aviation development through the procurement of a modern airport in 1945, the location of Dyess Air Force Base in the 1950’s; sidewalk construction in 1910; and leading an effort in 1964 to pass a city/county bond election that resulted in a new Taylor County Coliseum, a new airport terminal, a downtown civic center and auditorium, and a new Taylor County Courthouse are permanently noted in its achievements.

All of that to say that even today, the Chamber is in pursuit of its “thing.” And although broader in scope and far more inclusive of today’s 1,300 plus member businesses, our focus is steady and intended to benefit this community. As we prepare for fiscal year-end, we also prepare – as we have for so many years – to address the challenges and seize the opportunities that position our great city – and our region – for the “good stuff.”

We’re grateful that our board and volunteer leaders have developed the foundation focus for the coming year and beyond, in-keeping with Chairman-elect Darrin Black’s (Black Plumbing/Maverick Saw Cutting & Core Drilling) theme of “back to basics.” For Black, it isn’t enough to be good at what we do – his intent is to ensure we’re brilliant with the basics.

And so for the coming year, the Chamber will certainly focus on the timely issues that impact our community for the long-term – the big, noteworthy issues that can impact a community in historical ways. But at our core, we will work to master what matters to our growing membership and that includes five key areas:

Membership. Job one for the Chamber for years, we will work to grow the voice of business and to ensure that our members are engaged. Whether it’s “showing up” or “stepping up,” there’s opportunity for the members who support the “promotion of Abilene’s growth and development.”

Advocacy. A staple in our fight for the interests of business – large or small, for profit or not-for-profit. We’re all vested in this community and we must always ensure that we’re looking after it’s long-term viability by minimizing the impact of bad public policy and ensuring pro-business policies that impact your bottom line.

Marketing. We have a heck of a story to tell. Abilene in and of itself is a great story that’s still being written, and the Chamber’s role in helping to guide the pen that writes it matters to us. But the Chamber itself is a unique animal – complex, some might say. And it’s important that folks know not only what we’re doing to support our members, but why our business lines like tourism development, industrial recruitment and retention, arts and culture, downtown revitalization, military affairs and more are linked to the effort, why they matter and the impact they’re having on our region.

Business Assistance. The heart of the Chamber is small business.  When large companies join, it’s often because they know that if we can help our community to grow small business, they’ll grow their customer base, that jobs will be created, payroll will grow, their supplier base will grow, our tax base will grow, and the quality of life of every man, woman and child will be positively impacted.

And finally, Resourcing. Even after 111 years, the Chamber’s role is well-defined and continuing. Are we properly resourced to deliver the goods? Are we prepared for the unexpected opportunities that might land in front of us as a community? Do we have the tools we need to properly represent and adequately sell our community to new residents, businesses and visitors?

In the coming weeks, the committees that drive the Chamber organization will be looking closely at and adding specifics and tactics to the document that was developed through careful planning and unanimously agreed to by its Executive Committee (you can review it HERE).  And then, as it comes time for your own membership renewal, you’ll be asked to support this work through your time (engagement), talent (the brain power that drives us) and treasure (your membership investment).

And so that’s our “thing.”  Brilliance in the basics.  Past, present and future.  Worthy, I believe of broad support because if not the Chamber, then who?

Thank you for all you do to make this community’s story worth telling.  I hope you’re telling it along with the story of the Abilene Chamber.  Proudly encourage your peers to join the effort.  It matters as much today as it did more than a century ago.

Onward!
Doug

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