The new CEO of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce took the stage Tuesday – both live and virtually – as he hosted his first annual meeting.
The theme this year was Fortitude. Fortitude signifies that Fort Worth continues to attract new business even as the year 2020 continues to present challenges both here and around the country.
The vision for the Chamber is to “develop, attract, cultivate,” said Brandom Gengelbach, the new CEO. “Those are the three words. Develop stands for develop local industry. We want to work to develop the industries in Fort Worth that have competitive advantages, help them be able to attract new business and new talent, and help those businesses grow at the same time. But we want to do it in a way that’s very specific to funding and very specific to getting results.”
Gengelbach used technology as an example for how he wants to develop local industry.
“I want to start a tech council so companies like Simpli.fi and PMG can invest in a tech council, hire a specific staff person that can be housed at the Chamber, leveraging chamber work and chamber staff support but independently be focused on growing and developing that particular industry. We want to replicate that with aerospace, aviation and mobility,” he said.
The goal is for businesses to see a return on their investment in the chamber.
“We’re going to introduce this new strategy of leveraging your investment in a more specific way in these industry councils. So, there’s more dedicated support, and you can really see a return on investment,” he said.
The attract component, Gengelbach said, is not just about bringing the businesses that traditionally focus on Fort Worth, such as industrial, manufacturing and distribution. To diversify Fort Worth’s economy, “we have to go after more office jobs,” he said.
“If they’re not coming in, we need to go out to them, which is why I’m so pumped about the mayor’s Fort Worth Now initiative,” he said.
Fort Worth Now is an economic recovery and growth program headed by JPMorgan Chase’s Elaine Agather and business leader John Goff.
“They are here to help with the economy now, but also to help from the business recruitment and attraction side [as well,]” said Gengelbach. “So, our role is going to be working with [Fort Worth Now Director] Jarratt Watkins and John Goff, and working with Elaine Agather to really develop a strong rapport so that we can work together.”
The cultivate component relates to keeping businesses here as well as attracting new ones. “There can be public-private partnerships, but there’s got to be unity on how we develop as a community, so that we can cultivate in a way that makes that environment enticing for new businesses,” he said.
In an earlier news release about the Chamber’s plans for the future, officials noted that Fort Worth added more than 50,000 jobs in the past year. The new jobs included highly skilled positions in biotechnology, aviation and transportation automation and health care, according to the news release. Businesses like Linear Labs, M2G Ventures and Bell Helicopter chose to grow in Fort Worth, the release noted.
“Fort Worth embraces innovation in all forms,” Linear Labs’ co-founder and chief executive officer Brad Hunstable said in the news release. “In doing business in this city, new ideas are welcomed, and informed key collaborations allow businesses from here – and those planting a flag here – to flourish. Fort Worth has embraced our big dreams and plans, and we’re excited about being a part of the next tech innovation hub right here.”
Gengelbach, in his speech and in the earlier news release, noted that Fort Worth has plenty to offer, both in its rich heritage and in its look to the future.
“Those living outside of Texas might imagine Fort Worth (if they imagine it at all) as a sleepy town filled with citizens in cowboy boots, riding their horses alongside cows and tumbleweeds on the way to the oil derrick,” Gengelbach said. “And while this north Texas city embraces its heritage, business leaders around the country and the world may be astonished to learn what Fort Worth has to offer.”
Keynote speaker at the event was Fort Worth entrepreneur Jonathan Morris.
Morris has started several businesses in Fort Worth – Fort Worth Barber Shop and The Lathery – and is developing a boutique hotel on Montgomery Street near Dickies Arena. Morris was recently announced as the host of Self-Employed, a program about entrepreneurs and small businesses set to launch on the Magnolia Network, Chip and Joanna Gaines’ newest venture, in 2021.
Morris moved to Fort Worth in 2012 and opened Fort Worth Barber Shop in 2014 to give men in Fort Worth a barber shop experience he couldn’t find here. Customers responded quickly, Morris noted.
“Everybody says Fort Worth is a big city with a small town feel and I think that there’s something special there,” he said. “It’s so cliche, but I feel like there’s something kind of special in that because in the same way that we have that familiarity with one another, and I think we have a very special connectivity with one another.”
As Fort Worth grows, Morris said it means small businesses don’t have to appeal to everyone.
“For a small business, we don’t necessarily have to capture every heart, but at the same time, there’s a lot of volume,” he said. “There’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of population that are looking for a lot of things. So, whether that be a barber shop or coffee shop or cleaners, there’s a lot of space for growth. And I feel like we’re still missing a lot of things that we need small businesses and entrepreneurs to plug [with businesses].”