New Arlington chamber CEO played role in Fort Worth Intel deal

Michael Jacobson has been chosen as the Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s next chief executive.
Michael Jacobson has been chosen as the Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s next chief executive.

A former Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce business recruiter who worked for Intel Corp. for 19 years will return from California next month to become president and chief executive of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.

Michael Jacobson, who has served on chamber boards of several California cities, will take over from interim President and CEO Kelly Curnutt on Feb. 8.

Curnutt declined to be considered for the permanent post but stepped in to run the chamber in August when Wes Jurey retired after 14 years at the helm.

Jacobson, whose duties for Intel included searching around the world for plant sites, admits that homesickness played a role in his desire to relocate.

“It’s hard to believe that I have been away for 16 years,” said Jacobson, 53, a North Richland Hills native who lives in Folsom, Calif., with his wife, Kristen. “The Texan in me — that’s who I am — decided to come home.”

I’m very excited to have him back in the community. I think he will be a great regional partner.

Bill Thornton, CEO, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce

Curnutt said the chamber received about 40 applicants for the job and that a “handful” of finalists were interviewed by an executive committee of the chamber’s board.

“He was the unanimous choice,” Curnutt said, adding he spent an entire day with Jacobson, running him through a gantlet of community stakeholders, business leaders, chamber members, city leaders and business owners.

“I got to see him answer all their probing questions,” he said. “He had great answers.”

In addition to Jacobson’s Tarrant County roots, Curnutt said, his professional experience was a match for the chamber’s ambitions.

“His work experience is very broad, with economic development, public policy, management of staff and volunteers,” Curnutt said. “I’m really proud for Arlington to pass the torch to a really awesome servant-leader.”

Jacobson is director of Intel’s corporate responsibility office and has served on the chamber boards of California cities and on the board of the U.S. Chamber Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center.

“Arlington is exciting because I think there are some great assets — a world-class university, a world-class community college,” he said. “You have the best sports venues in the world, and you have strong elected officials and a strong business community. And you have real passion for Arlington.”

He arrives as the Arlington chamber is developing a long-term strategic plan to “capitalize on the community’s strengths in areas such as education, manufacturing, entertainment, health care and other industries,” the chamber said in a statement.

“It is a perfect time for Michael Jacobson to lead our Chamber team,” Bob Kembel, the Arlington chamber’s board chairman, said in the statement. “Through his exceptional economic development, public policy, stakeholder engagement and leadership skills, Michael will help us achieve a new level of success in and around the Arlington business community.”

Jacobson received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Baylor University in 1984.

As a kid, he played football in junior high and high school and dreamed of playing pro football.

“But I wasn’t very good,” he said. “It became clear pretty fast, as it does for most young boys growing up in Texas, that sooner or later you’re not going to be playing football.”

Instead, he said, influenced by his parents’ community endeavors throughout his youth, he soon began thinking about a career in politics.

“I grew up in a family that was very actively engaged in the community,” he said. “My mom was a political leader and was on community boards. My dad was a physician and he and his partners built a hospital” — what is now North Hills Hospital. His father, Bruce Jacobson, also served on the Birdville school board, including as president, for many years.

Jacobson described his late mother, Pat Jacobson, as a powerful political fundraiser who was “friends” with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, which helped him land his first jobs out of Baylor — in the Social Security Administration and the Transportation Department under Reagan and Housing and Urban Development under Bush.

Jacobson worked four years with the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce recruiting businesses and played a role in luring Intel, which decided to build a $2 billion microchip factory near Alliance Airport.

Intel bought 527 acres in 1997 and invested $65 million in the project before deciding in 2000 to build the plant elsewhere. Then working for Intel, Jacobson had to inform the city that the chipmaker was pulling out.

Bill Thornton, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Chamber, was Jacobson’s boss at the time.

“You had to bring that up again,” Thornton said Wednesday, referring to the painful Intel debacle. But he was happy to talk about Jacobson.

“I’m very excited to have him back in the community,” Thornton said. “I think he will be a great regional partner. We already have strong existing levels of collaboration between the two chambers, and I’m sure they will be enhanced with Michael and his skills and approach. He’s a regional thinker, there’s no doubt about it.”

Tony Rutigliano, president and CEO of Downtown Arlington Management Corp., said he’s looking forward to meeting Jacobson and has already heard good things.

“For me, the most important thing is someone who is passionate about Arlington,” said Rutigliano, whose nonprofit works to develop and improve the city’s downtown. “From there, we can work through the rest of it, right? It sounds to me like they got that guy.”

Robert Cadwallader: 817-390-7186, @Kaddmann_ST