Chamber Member Voice Heard in Austin

April 27, 2020Doug Peters, President and CEO of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce

As the legendary Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead would say, “what a long strange trip it’s been.”

These last however-many weeks have given us all plenty to think about. And plenty to worry about. Some, like your friends at the Chamber, may have seen their daily work productivity increase, motivated by those around them and doing everything they can to help.

Many others have taken a swift kick to the teeth, spending time hunting down resources to ensure their mere survival.

Regardless of your camp, one thing’s for certain – these recent days and weeks are something none of us have ever seen or experienced before. And to be honest, once is more than enough.

I was talking to the Chamber’s Industrial Foundation Chair Gary Grubbs (Lawrence Hall – Abilene) last week and shared with him that this is unquestionably the perfect storm of economic challenge.

First, our love for oil has been devastatingly painful. Historic declines in futures trading has brought West Texas oil production to a screeching halt. Our friends and neighbors are feeling it. And, so are we.

Then we have this stock market thing going on. One day the Dow is gaining and the next day it’s falling. Rinse and repeat. It’s as if someone is playing a cruel trick with our money.

Add to those two issues a presidential election year. Historically, economies sputter during such times, as investors, developers and even companies drag their feet on major decisions to better understand the impact that a sea change in DC might bring to businesses.

And then there’s the mother of all challenges, this stupid, scary, all-consuming, business-crippling virus. As I said in my blog a week-or-two ago, “what in the world?” I’ve still not figured it out.

I received a note last week from a long-time Chamber member who suggested that the Chamber had fallen into the government overreach trap, perhaps suggesting that our 112-year-old organization has played into the hands of a tyrannical government.

You know, to a degree, he was right. But on the other hand, what the heck else are we supposed to do but play the hand we’re dealt. Turn lemons into lemonade.

Short of scaring up a bunch of pickup trucks and forming our own militia, our options have been limited. But one thing that hasn’t been limited is our communication to those who’ve put the economic squeeze on our great city.

I don’t fault our elected leaders. Most all have done what was expected – preserving lives from an abundance of caution while trying their best to minimize the impact on businesses.

Does your Chamber like it? Nope.

Have there been alternatives to putting a lid on our economy in an attempt to protect us in a global pandemic that no one seems to know a whole lot about? Maybe. Probably.

But think about this.

This country – and certainly our city governments – have done relatively well in being (perhaps overly) cautious. If we hadn’t been, they’d have been ridden out of town on a rail. There was no way to win, no matter who you consider.

So here we are, the hope of a light at the end this long, dark tunnel and rumors of a “reboot” of the Texas and local economies.

And that light shines brighter than we may think as we still stand a fair distance from it. Here’s why I say that.

Last week, your Chamber was invited to the table to share the perspective of our members. You know all those “Business Conditions” surveys you were asked to participate in? One a week since this “thing” first started?  Your data has been put to good use (and your identity protected).

As you likely know, Scott Dueser, Chairman of First Financial Bankshares, was appointed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to serve on the Reopening Texas Task Force. Kudos to Scott for reaching out to the Chamber along with others, including our school superintendents, our healthcare system CEOs and our mayor and county judge. Within 24 hours of being notified, we sat together in the First Financial Board room, appropriately distanced, and spoke openly from our respective perches.

As he opened the meeting, Scott reminded each of us that we have one goal – find the balance between protecting lives and protecting livelihoods. I’ve never seen a business leader take more notes from what was being shared than Scott Dueser did.

And so that meeting took place on Tuesday, and we had a deadline of last Friday to get Abilene’s perspective and recommendations back to the Governor. Remember the Reopening Survey we sent out?

454 of our members responded, and that’s a record. If you took the time to respond, thank you. Here’s what you told us, and by extension, told Governor Abbott.

Today will be interesting. Governor Abbott will share more details about how and when Texas will reopen. And he will do that with information provided by your Chamber, with solid guidance by our health professionals, education system, CEOs and local government leadership.

Here’s one thing I know for sure. Abilene will survive this. We may be covered in Band Aids for a bit. Some will hurt more than others. Many remain concerned about reopening too soon. Others believe we should’ve never shut down in the first place.

No matter which side you fall on, your Chamber is here, continuing to run point for you and your business, voicing your concerns collectively and with one common, unified voice. Our eye is on not only ensuring our community’s economic survival, but also that we come out better than we were when this mess started.

After all, we are Abilene. We do these kinds of things. Adversity isn’t new to us, nor is heavy lifting. It’s who we are and what we’re made of.

And the best part? No matter how much all of us have hated our circumstances over the last however many weeks, we never stopped looking out and caring for one another. Whether physically, emotionally or economically.

And that’s exactly what will make Abilene thrive again after “this” is all said and done. Mark my words.



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