The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce unveiled an ambitious four-year growth plan Tuesday that intends to work in concert with a recently released city economic development plan to attract companies to Fort Worth, but the plan also targets poverty, transit and education.
The plan involves a major restructuring at the Chamber, not only in staff, but also in programming, executives said. The plan, called Fortify, puts goals in place that address business needs of the “Fort Worth region.” It would also help to find money for the Fort Worth Transportation Authority’s $1.2 billion master plan, among other things.
Brandom Gengelbach, the Chamber’s executive vice president of economic development, said the Chamber wants to raise Fort Worth’s profile as an international destination.
“The reality is, for us to be successful long term, we have to be involved in creating prosperity for all people living in Fort Worth, not just where the growth is happening currently,” Gengelbach said.
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The Fort Worth economy and residents’ prosperity would greatly improve if the Chamber achieves all of its goals. One goal is to increase the commercial tax base by 10 percent, which could help keep property taxes lower, and finding ways to improve the median household income by 10 percent. That stands at $53,214, according to the city.
Chamber President and CEO Bill Thornton, said the plan “responds to a very sobering reality. We — the Chamber, Fort Worth and the region — are at a crossroads in economic development. We can risk gambling on business as usual to try to keep up with unprecedented growth challenges and risk missing opportunities. Or we can field new strengths for greater reach and achievement. We needed a different structure, a different approach.”
The plan was developed after a lengthy feasibility study with its members. In that, members said economic development was the Chamber’s top concern, followed by advocacy for its members.
The Chamber will become more aggressive in its marketing efforts under the new plan, Gengelbach said.
But it will take money. Gengelbach said the Chamber wants to up its $4.4 million annual budget this year to $6.5 million, and up to $8.1 million in the next couple of years. The amount, though, still puts the city behind similar-sized cities, he said. According to 2015 figures, the latest available, Oklahoma City’s budget is $16 million, Kansas City, Mo.’s is $10.6 million and Denver’s is $10.3 million.
The Chamber has also started reorganizing its staff, which has included the layoff of three people. Gengelbach said he intends to hire four senior vice presidents by the end of March to oversee the newly defined focus areas of its plan, including business recruitment, retention and expansion; talent development, attraction and retention; small business and entrepreneur support; and government advocacy.
Among its goal, and dovetailing the city’s efforts, the Chamber wants to attract four Fortune 1000 corporate headquarters and 20 Inc. 5000 companies in the next four years. It also wants to attract 2,000 jobs and create 2,000 jobs, while finding ways to increase affordable housing by 20 percent and decreasing the city’s 18.8 percent poverty rate by 10 percent.
“Our approach to the quality of place piece and our approach to prosperity across the board is new to the chamber industry,” he said. “We’re on the cutting edge of that. For us to take our next step we need to be more outward-thinking in terms of what we’re doing.”