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Council Report: Fort Worth Chamber reports on changes, addresses issues of inclusion and diversity

UPDATE ON CHAMBER INITIATIVES

Some changes are taking place at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce and the Fort Worth City Council was brought up to date by incoming Chamber President Brandom Gengelbach at its work session Tuesday. In the process, several council members also offered Gengelbach some advice on expanding the Chamber’s approach to diversity and inclusion.

Gengelbach, who has been serving as executive vice president, will assume his new role on July 7, 2020. Bill Thornton, who has been leading the Chamber for three decades, will be retiring.

Gengelbach noted that the Chamber’s structure has been tweaked from a senior executive-led organization toward an economic development agency model where data and marketing have become the core of what they do.

As an economic development agency, Gengelbach said the Chamber is clarifying its focus on business attraction and retention, highlighted by:

*Talent: Market talent solutions. Business attraction and expansion support.

*Small business: Celebrate and market small business. Connection to people,

business, mentors. Targeted networking and education.

*Advocacy: Convener of ideas, issues and candidates. Market ideas, issues

and solutions. Business attraction and expansion support.

Since Jan. 1, 2018, a total of 4,695 new jobs have been added. Existing business jobs in that time are 1,452, and new attraction jobs in that time are 1,380.

The marketing cooperative includes a joint effort between the chambers, including the Metropolitan Black Chamber, Hispanic Chamber, Visit Fort Worth, and the Real Estate Council for a common look, branding and messaging. Gengelbach said a “crown jewel” of the effort is a joint economic development website portal.

“This is going to be the debut of what I consider a stronger Fort Worth brand,” he said.

The marketing of Fort Worth includes:

*Eight site consultant visits.

*Nine trade shows.

*Three familiarization tours.

*Visiting New York City.

*Participating in the South X Southwest Festival in Austin.

Partnerships include:

*Fort Worth economic development.

*Fort Worth School District.

*East Fort Worth and Southeast Fort Worth.

*Visit Fort Worth.

*Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth

*Hispanic and Metropolitan Black Chamber

Gengelbach noted that statistics show from 2012-17 Fort Worth became the nation’s third fastest growing city with the third-fastest employed population, third fastest growth of college graduates, and second fastest growth of creative class, all of which create future opportunities.

The implications include:

*Defining development priorities.

*Strengthening downtown office market.

*Marketing of East Fort Worth property.

*Working to develop and fund a transit plan.

“I’m not talking about DFW, I’m talking about Fort Worth,” he said. “We’re headed in an amazing direction, and with that comes a lot of responsibility. I really want to maintain the brand and charm of Fort Worth. That is the challenge we face with this growth.

“How can we maintain the Fort Worth we want compared to the Fort Worth that knocks on your front door?”

Following his presentation, several council members urged Gengelbach to, as the council moves forward, to work to strengthen diversity and inclusion. For example, District 5 Councilwoman Gyna Bivens suggested he pay closer attention to East Fort Worth.

“I think it would serve you well to talk to the HOAs and neighborhood associations in that area or they will show up and it won’t be pretty,” Bivens said.

“What does diversity and inclusion for the Fort Worth Chamber look like in a real way?” District 8 Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray asked, adding that talks about race and equality appear to gloss over the chambers. “We’re not having a Kumbaya moment. How do we get all those people at the table working for the good of Fort Worth?”

Gengelbach acknowledged the perception that what is being done now isn’t good enough, but said he doesn’t agree with folks who call the ideas “window dressing.” He also said that the Chamber can’t come in and be all things to all people, but by working together, advancement can be made.

“This is the role of the chamber, this is what I’m asking of you, this is the role of this organization,” he said.

“It’s happening, in my opinion, in a greater way than it’s happened before. Is it enough? No, but it’s a start.”

Gengelbach said that he takes insult with anyone suggesting the Chamber isn’t working to be diverse and inclusive, adding, “I hope that demonstrates a willingness. If not, pull me aside and coach me.”

Gray said, “Whether it’s a reality or not, it’s a real perception.”

Bivens also said, “There is a perception that is getting closer to my line of reality. I don’t mind pulling you aside. I am willing to work with you because this is my city.”

District 4 Councilman Cary Moon pointed to some opportunities for Chamber growth in zip codes 76244 and 76137, where he said the population has grown to be larger than the city of Waco.

“There are multiple chambers competing for those businesses, and I don’t see Fort Worth there,” Moon said. “This is the time to shine, to really bring in some good quality jobs to continue to make Fort Worth great.”

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