Whether you’re an established business owner, someone looking to increase their network, or you’re a new graduate, joining the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce is an essential step to thriving in the Fort Worth business community.
In this the gilded age of social media, we might think that casting as wide a net as possible when trying to promote our businesses or build our network is the way to go. We probably even carve out a certain amount of time every day to update our LinkedIn profile or a Facebook page associated with our business. And while creating and updating these social media tools are a good start, what if I told you that there’s a tried and true way to help grow your business, no matter what it is, that’s been around long before Mark Zuckerberg was even a glimmer in his parents’ eyes?
Chamber of secrets?
When I talk to business people, especially younger ones, about their thoughts on chambers of commerce, many have misperceptions and some have no perception about what chambers offer their members. “We’re a 501c(6) non-profit business association, and our mission is to represent the business community by assuming a leadership role in making Fort Worth an excellent place to live, work and do business. So when a business joins, all of their employees may individually represent that business through the membership,” said Andra Bennett House, vice president of communications, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. “A standard Chamber membership is $435 a year and goes up from there. The Chamber has seven tiers or dues levels with increasing number of benefits as the level goes up. Our top tier members – usually large companies — invest $30,000 or more annually to help drive the chamber’s mission.” The Chamber also offers a Vision Fort Worth membership for young professionals aged 21-40 that ranges from free if your company is an upper tier Chamber member to $150 if joining as an individual.
So what does one get for their money with a Chamber membership? It turns out, quite a lot. “Businesses or individuals join for different reasons based on their company or professional goals,” said House. “But all companies want to increase visibility, garner leads, build relationships, and generate revenue from marketing opportunities. Some join to actively influence public policy and advance business interests. Others want to be seen as a corporate citizen that is supporting economic and workforce development. Upper tier members receive customized introductions and access to top executives and elected officials.”
Through its programs and events, which they are continually tweaking in order to offer their members the most bang for their buck, the Chamber never loses focus on the fact that networking is the backbone of a business’s bottom line and a vibrant business community. House provided a few examples of these programs: Area Council coffee connections, monthly coffee meetings in five distinct geographical areas of Tarrant County for businesses to discuss area-specific issues and build relationships with their neighbors; Job Links Excelerator, a monthly meeting of hiring companies and job candidate providers to align workforce needs; Impact Your Business luncheons and workshops, where speakers address professional development and business needs identified by our Small Business Council; and Leads Groups, which meet all over town specifically to exchange leads with each other every week.
“We’ve added business briefings a few times a year on public policy issues and economic updates – like the natural gas economic impact or the Texas high-speed rail project. We try to recap as many of these on our blog (Chamberletter) or with YouTube videos to keep business owners informed about major projects that could impact their growth strategies,” said House. “On the fun side, we also have a Group Travel program, for business members or anyone in the community who likes to travel. We’ve taken groups to China, Italy, Ireland and on European river cruises.”
Wheeling and dealing
With total membership at 2,323 businesses, and having brought in 491 new businesses just last year, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce not only maintains the largest membership of any Chamber in the D/FW Metroplex, but it is one of the most active. They have phenomenal working relationships with numerous organizations including the City of Fort Worth, Fort Worth Independent School District, and D/FW International Airport. “We work with the City and Tarrant County on almost every deal. And when it comes to recruiting or retaining some businesses, it is a “deal” because it’s very competitive. Some examples of recent deals are the retention of American Airlines headquarters in Fort Worth, the recruitment of the Facebook data center, the expansions of Alcon, Galderma and Smith & Nephew. Each of these required negotiations on land, tax incentives, energy, contractors, workforce, water, etc. We’ve had 40 prospects for relocating businesses contact us so far this year and it’s only March,” said House. “On an individual basis, we assist our members with navigating City Hall for permits or other issues.”
Being “plugged in” to social media is a necessity for any business owner these days. But equally important is being plugged in to the local business community, and the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce has been helping its members do that since 1882. “The Fort Worth Chamber’s message to businesses is that we are ‘In Your Corner’ – from your first ribbon cutting to helping you grow and expand, from City Hall to Capitol Hill. Greater membership means greater Chamber strength, support and enthusiasm in contending with all of the issues that businesses face in the 21st century,” said House.