Now what?

new building under construction in abilene
Aug 2023
Doug Peters, President & CEO of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce

It’s been fun to watch and participate in the opening of the new downtown convention headquarters hotel – the DoubleTree by Hilton Abilene Downtown Convention Center. The amount of due diligence that was invested into this new asset for our community, the anticipation of its opening and its impact as it was built an exciting and forward-thinking vision by our community’s leadership.

But…What’s next?

Infill development is an interesting animal.  It isn’t always as easy as greenfield development, where vast open and undeveloped land can be turned into something that serves as a higher and better use.

Infill development serves a community in a variety of ways, from the reuse of existing infrastructure to bringing new life to tired, and often underserved areas of a community.  Hats off to the City of Abilene and so many others who understand that Abilene is only as strong as its “weakest links.”

Workforce, workforce, workforce

If you recall, the Abilene Chamber of Commerce adopted downtown revitalization as one of its priorities nearly eight years ago – and for multiple reasons.  Chief among the Chamber’s focus was to build upon the foundation of our local, private foundations which did the heavy lifting in the downtown years ago.

We also knew that if Abilene was going to compete with larger, metro-areas in Texas and across the country, we needed to help create a “hip, urban vibe” that lends itself to the young folks who want a clean, safe, affordable environment while also having an 18-hour downtown in which to live, work, and play.

The Center City Vision document, which brought together a great number of community members – from high school and college students to those who remember downtown as “everybody’s neighborhood,” is alive and well and continues to help guide the work that we undertake.

But make no mistake – the Chamber’s work extends far beyond the downtown.  Downtown, however, remains one of many Chamber priorities.  Our work extends into the Big Country region, realizing that what impacts our neighbors so too impacts Abilene.  This is evidenced by the rebranding of our Abilene Industrial Foundation, now operating as the Abilene Regional Growth Alliance (ARGA).  Our neighbors outside our city limits signs rely heavily on Abilene for jobs, for retail trade, for healthcare, and for education, among others.

The little things matter

A mentor once told me that I could accomplish many great things over the course of my career, but all will be for naught if I chose to overlook the little things.  What are the little things?

Little things like walkability, favorable gateways into the community, projecting a strong economy and the opportunity that accompanies it, telling the story of who we area as a community and why we matter – all add up along with so many other attributes to help make a difference.

Communities are fluid and their needs change.  Opportunities are often sometimes unexpected, and the market ultimately decides what can and can’t happen.  But in Abilene, it seems the market is on our side.  I hear constantly that our great city is on a special, upward trajectory.  And that too, is fun to watch – and help where we can.  Successful communities are those who are prepared for unexpected opportunities. Carpe potestatem. (Seize the Opportunity)

It takes a village

So, how do all the pieces fit together?  First and foremost, we must have a business-friendly environment that provides for an easy, understandable development process.  As I can attest, Abilene is just that.  We have pro-business local government and a city administration that is committed to doing all that’s reasonable and necessary to accommodate opportunities.

We also need those who are willing to take the risks.  Those are the businesses and individuals who not only understand what the market will support but are willing to take the risk to meet the market demand.  In the case of the downtown hotel project, I’ve never seen a finer example of public/private partnership (P3) than that one.  Significant investment in our community with mitigated risk to the taxpayer, and ultimately a catalytic benefit to the entire community.  Again, hats off to the City of Abilene and so many others who not only “got it,” but stuck to it for the long-haul when so many others would’ve walked away.

The road ahead

The Abilene Chamber will continue to pursue its five-year strategy, adopted last year by our Board of Directors.  The plan’s center point is workforce – a critical element of any sustainable economy.  But the plan focuses on much more, and pieces of the plan impact not only the Chamber, but each of its operating divisions – Abilene Convention & Visitors Bureau, Abilene Cultural Affairs Council, Abilene Regional Growth Alliance – all P3’s committed to advancing opportunity for every member of our community.  Bounded by the Chamber’s core function of business advocacy, everything we do – from those divisions noted above to our 70-year-old Military Affairs function, our Young Professionals, our Abilene Downtown Initiative – brings literally hundreds of people together who not only love their city but are willing to put up both time and treasure to create a better Abilene for all of us.

It ain’t always easy

True, making good things happen isn’t always a walk in the park.  It takes fortitude, it takes creative vision, and it takes willingness to do the hard stuff.  Fortunately, the Chamber also serves as a convenor, an organization that for more than a century has brought people together to explore, identify, and pursue opportunities for our community.  And if you listen to people like Abilene Historian Jay Moore, we’ve done a pretty good job of it over the years.  And what’s more – we’re just getting started.

Creative solutions to complex challenges are something that I love to talk about.  In his book Magicians of Main Street, author (and friend) Chris Mead talks about notable accomplishments by chambers of commerce.  If you aren’t aware, so many things we know and take for granted germinated from a chamber somewhere.  Whether the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Golden Gate Bridge, the St. Louis Arch or the Spirit of St. Louis, major accomplishments happen because people like you come together to make it so.  I’ve told many that the Chamber hasn’t accomplished much on its own.  Rather, we work cooperatively and collaboratively alongside those with whom we share a vision with a commitment to success – without regard for who gets the credit.

If you have any questions about the private sector’s role in development or how we work collaboratively with partners, please don’t hesitate to reach out.