Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read September 2021 — Communication, collaboration, and partnerships that continue to grow, build and thicken. This is the core that Maggie Titterington, president and CEO of The Chamber (Schertz-Cibolo-Selma) believes will ensure sustained growth in the region. In an interview with Invest:, she also discussed The Chamber’s value as an economic driver.
What is the intrinsic value of a chamber of commerce in driving economic growth?
We were never more relevant than we were the past 17 months. There is a saying in our industry that when you’ve seen one chamber, you’ve seen one chamber. We’re not all the same. We may have the same foundation of memberships, advocacy efforts and events but beyond that, we are a reflection of the area that we are in. Our chamber is going to look different from San Antonio’s chamber, or the North Chamber or the Seguin Chamber. Some are more economic development-driven, some are more advocacy-driven. With us, our advocacy has come to the forefront. When the pandemic hit, our Governor had to declare counties an emergency area in order to receive funding. Several counties around us had been. For some reason, Guadalupe County was not being similarly recognized. A lot of our businesses were hurting as a result. We were able to get on the phone with our representatives and senators to fight for that recognition. It was through that fight and sharing it with the membership that the relevance of what we actually do as a chamber of commerce shone through. We maintained a retention rate of 87% of our members. Our members saw the value in what we were doing. Not only that, 80 new businesses joined as well.
What is the key to sustainable, long-term growth?
The key is communication among all the stakeholders. I meet with the city managers of our three cities on a quarterly basis. In parallel, I meet with them individually on a monthly basis to let them know the feel of their particular business community. I also attend the city council meetings for all three cities and have active meetings with their economic development agencies. It’s critical that we not only bring in the city governments but also the school districts, parallel to the voices of the local businesses. You can’t leave any of those out because if you do, you’re going to miss something. Our three cities have done an outstanding job of trying to keep that communication up as well as the transparency of everything that is going on — public forums, workshops, possible fundings, to name a few. For example, together with the city of Schertz, we were able to develop and implement the Local Flavor Grant. After four years of collaboration, they are now able to offer businesses coming into our Main Street a matching grant toward expenses, up to a certain limit. About 10 businesses were planted on Main Street as a result. Those are the kinds of initiatives that good communication produces: catering to what is needed for secure growth. It is also essential to listen to all key stakeholders and have them come together to produce careful growth. Growth can quickly spiral into an explosion that looks good on the surface but comes at the cost of losing your town’s feel and look. New Braunfels has done a great job with that type of growth, striking a commendable balance. Our three cities have also maintained that good balance.
What are some of the significant advocacy efforts you are leading?
We’re working with all three cities to expand the grant program, developing business incentives for small businesses as well as making sure that ordinances within the municipalities are business friendly. A pet project of ours is to have a business incubator in all three of our cities; a building that could allow either retail, small medical ventures, a small restaurant or something along those lines. It could include a fixed rent for a fixed amount of time. Once the time for “planting” expired, the business would relocate to hopefully a larger space or their very own built brick and mortar. This would allow for another business to come in. We hope to make it a reality in the very near future.
On a local level, we are working with our cities staff and teams to implement and/or update their ordinances to more business-friendly ones. We work quite closely with those businesses in those cities, listening to their input and guidance.
What are the main challenges facing those growth efforts?
The biggest challenge is traffic control. As we grow and as we have more distribution and manufacturing, there is wear and tear on the roads. Most residents do not understand that that the city has limited funds and that during annual budget meetings, the monies allocated for such repairs or improvements cannot cover all areas that it is needed. Maintaining our roads while alleviating the traffic that has come already as well as protect for the growth to come, is going to be a tough factor to figure out.
What is your general outlook for The Chamber and the region?
Our chamber will be expanding to a second location in Selma in the first week of September. Eventually, there will be an office in Cibolo as well. The reason for this is that none of the cities had their own specific chamber of commerce. We were the Schertz Chamber, who grew to be The Chamber (Schertz-Cibolo-Selma Area). We wanted Selma and Cibolo to know that we ARE their chamber of commerce. Besides changing our name to include them, we also need to have a brick and mortar in them so those businesses located within their own cities felt that they were being listened to. At the same time, my main goal has always been to bridge the three cities together, not to lose their identity, but to work together. Increasing our membership and our advocacy is also in the pipeline, with ideas about bringing in new business and partnering up with other cities to alleviate or share some of the costs. Our hope for this region is that partnerships will continue to grow, build, and thicken.
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