Own, support, ignore. These are the three decision buckets the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce board of directors will utilize to determine the future direction of this organization. There are no shortage of issues and objectives for which the Chamber can undertake. It is particularly the case in our area where there exists a large concentration of residential development combined with a void in governmental responsibility to address many of the needs residents seek. Therefore, lines of responsibility start to blur when people reach out to the Chamber and other organized groups looking for solutions to their problems. Obviously, the Chamber cannot solve all problems, and quite frankly, the limitation of resources and lack of authority only allows for a very small percentage of issues the Chamber can undertake and successfully accomplish. Therefore, it is imperative the board be diligent in its selection of which community economic challenges it chooses to embrace. As we vet these issues, the board will either decide to “own” (be the leader), “support” (work in conjunction with), or “ignore” (neither within the mission, nor attainable).

On November 4, the board participated in a day long strategic planning session. The day concluded with a sense of accomplishment, which for those of you who have served on boards and engaged in these activities before, know this is not always the case. I attribute much of the success to the 5 months of preparation that lead up to the day’s event. In order to guide the board’s decision-making, there were a number of outreach efforts to collect information and data, consisting of an online survey, focus group meetings, listening tour, and one-on-one interviews with each member of the board. The answers and comments from each activity were compiled and organized into categories to better aid in identifying key issues. From this analysis, three themes emerged, which I have labeled “Value in Membership,” “Identity Crisis,” and “Be a Leader.”  

Anymore, it is not enough to designate oneself as the “local chamber” to entice membership. Chambers of commerce everywhere are being challenged to produce a value proposition to prospective members before that business or organization makes the decision to join. The request to “join” has become a very crowded field with everyone from the YMCA to Amazon Prime, wanting your attention, money and opportunity to market to you, heavily. Therefore, if Chambers are going to remain relevant, it is imperative they establish their worth and clearly articulate why belonging is beneficial. 

The combination of an absence of jurisdictional definition, a diversity of cultures, neighborhoods and demographics, and economic decline has contributed to a chronic and collective “Identity crisis.” This issue leads to frequent debates about the causality and solutions. Honestly, I am not convinced of any of the ones I have heard or have been tried to date. I believe the issue is more ethereal. Many of the long-time residents speak of a time of grandeur when they reflect on the “Good ol’ days.” What people need is a sense of hope. Hope that it is possible to reemerge as one of the premier areas of Houston to live and work. Residences and businesses alike are looking for that beacon, that sense of place for which they feel proud to call home.

Lastly, there were many comments asking for the Chamber to “Be a Leader.” Yet, be a leader in what? To everyone, that statement takes on a different meaning. This is where the own, support, ignore process really begins to show its worth. The board will need to be thoughtful and selective about the issues it decides to place in each of those buckets, the most critical being the “own” bucket. Because when we decide to own it, we own it, and it will be through our leadership of owning that we set about improving the economic condition and quality of life in northwest Houston.