Advocacy: From Cornerstone to Pillar

Voting Hands

Fort Worth Chamber launches stakeholder engagement and legislative lobbying efforts to address workforce, poverty, housing, public education and elevating the city’s global profile.

Advocacy has been a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce cornerstone since 1882 when city leaders joined forces to attract railroads. Today, Advocacy is one of four pillars that’s driving our four-year strategic plan, Fortify, along new and innovative paths.

Advocacy, led by Senior Vice President Rebecca Montgomery, has a three-part set of initiatives: voter engagement, investor engagement, and preparations for the 86th Texas Legislature that convenes Jan. 8.

The spirit of Advocacy pervades all areas of Fortify as an engine of support for business and Fort Worth’s quality of life. Fortify advocates for a wide of range of initiatives – from attraction and development of talent to poverty reduction, affordable housing, skilled workforce, advances in public education, and elevating the city’s global profile.

These are urgent steps, particularly for small businesses, 80 percent of Chamber investors. Larger corporations have a bigger voice; they have people who are employed to engage elected officials. Smaller businesses also have been very vocal about how legislation and policy affect them.

Voter Engagement
As with most Texas counties, Tarrant is known for low voter turnout. Last May’s $399.5 million city bond election won 80 percent approval with turnout of only about 4 percent.
So here comes the Nov. 6 midterm election. Much is at stake, from congressional seats to JPS Health Network’s request for approval of bonds for critically needed expansion to the county health care system.
Fortify’s Advocacy arm will respond with fresh voter registration and education efforts, especially among the thousands of residents moving here every month.

Member-Investor Engagement
We now refer to all Chamber members as “investors” in Fort Worth’s future and believe the strongest Advocacy impact with the highest value will flow from increased investor involvement in close, relevant partnership with Chamber staff. Montgomery’s plan is to expand and diversify Chamber committees that address areas of transportation, government, environmental affairs, and health care.
These efforts align with Fortify’s Advocacy goals: 1) developing and communicating annual public policy agendas; 2) increasing business sector diversity on Chamber advocacy committees; 3) legislative advocacy; 4) identifying problems and developing solutions; 5) promoting Fort Worth as a center for political issue discussions; and 6) being transparent on Chamber position statements.

Prepping for the Lege
The Chamber’s pro-business legislative agenda is shaped by member priorities, gathered in surveys, vetted through committees, and finally approved by our board.

Results from a recent survey of business owners confirmed the business community’s continued widespread concern about unfunded federal mandates, state sales tax burdens, pressures from traffic congestion, requirements related to employee health care plans, and more.

The Chamber’s Advocacy team will intensify response in getting investors before government leaders to discuss key issues and press for pro-business action. Our Leaders in Government luncheon series will continue. Additionally, we soon will launch a series of Power Hours for business owners on governmental issues.

Here are a few examples of results from the Chamber’s Advocacy work:

Chamber collaborative efforts with Hillwood’s lead, the state, U.S. Department of Transportation and others helped design and fund the reconstruction of Interstate 35 West, also known as the North Tarrant Express project, from downtown to the Decatur cutoff at U.S. 81/287. The five-year project was completed in July.

Annexation legislation became a part of the Chamber’s agenda and passed in 2016 because of the potential impact of noncompatible growth around our Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base. With 11,000-plus employees, the base is vital to Fort Worth.

The Chamber backs bond elections and for years has focused its resources to ensure victories, including last May’s passage of the city’s $399.5 million package and the 2017 $790 million FWISD bond package.

The Chamber’s Advocacy roots run deep in Fort Worth. We once worked to attract packing companies, the bomber plant and Texas Christian University. Now, we must address 21st-century challenges.

By Brandom Gengelbach
Executive Vice President of Economic Development
Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce