DALLAS — If 2018 is a year of change for the Dallas Area Visitor’s Center, the same can be said of the Dallas Area Chamber of Commerce.
JD Shinn, CEO of the chamber, and DACC Board President Mike Barker, said the chamber board and staff outlined changes to the chamber’s structure and services, and is in the process of implementing them.
“We have to do what modern business needs from us — developing our future workforce, developing community leaders,” Shinn said. “That’s valuable now.”
Shinn said the chamber board and staff consulted Salem-based marketing strategist Kyle Sexton with Chamber Think Strategies to develop its new programs and structure.
“He works chambers all over the country and we’re in his backyard,” Shinn said.
Among those changes is an increase in chamber membership with a goal of year-over-year 20 percent growth in each of the next two years.
That kind of growth requires improving what chamber offers businesses in the community, Barker said.
“Is the chamber of commerce going along as it has? No. We are improving ourselves and implementing some broad sweeping things that are really going to help the business community,” Barker said.
Currently, chamber membership is at 143, Shinn said.
“The membership is growing. We hit a low in memberships before JD came on board. We are turning that corner,” Barker said. “Are we rich? No.”
But the chamber does have enough resources to keep the doors open, contrary to what Shinn has heard in areas of the community lately.
He said he’s heard rumors that the chamber is closing.
“The only thing that I can think of is that it’s related to the visitors center,” Shinn said, referring to the decision the Dallas Area Visitor’s Center made to no longer coordinate community events starting in 2019. “That’s really the conclusion I have to come to, that the assumption is that we are not doing those particular events so that we are shutting down.”
While it’s in the process of restructuring, the chamber isn’t closing, he said.
“We have to keep in mind that the visitors center and the chamber are two separate entities,” Barker added.
They are separate, but housed in the same building and share staff.
With letting go of event coordination, the visitors center is foregoing a contract with the city of Dallas that provided tourism funding for organizing them. The visitors center has a second contract with the city for tourism promotion, meaning marketing the area to pull in visitors from more than 50 miles away.
That contract, set to expire in June 2019, is more lucrative, representing 70 percent of the transient lodging taxes the city collects. The event coordination is allocated 30 percent of those taxes, which are collected from hotels and motels.
Shinn said by relinquishing event coordination and hiring someone with a background in marketing, the visitors center has better positioned itself to retain the tourism promotion contract.
“As I understand it, the plan is to have those dollars remain with the visitors center because of the shifts we’ve made away from events and some staffing changes that were frankly forced upon us, but that I know will be for the better,” Shinn said.
Barker said the first example of the chamber’s new direction is Tuesday’s Mid-Valley Leadership Summit, a one-day seminar focusing on improving how businesses relate to one another.
Shinn said the chamber should advocate better for business interest, including being an educational source for how legislative changes or ballot measures may impact businesses. Also, he believes the chamber should have a role in developing the next generation of workers.
He said he’s been working with the chamber’s Young Pros group to find out what they need the chamber to provide. Shinn said the chamber has added a quarterly educational seminar as result of the feedback it’s received from young professionals.
Chamber members have asked for more networking opportunities, which have resulted in Wake Up Wednesdays, a twice monthly morning event hosted by a member business.
Another recent change is the organization’s dues structure has shifted to meet the needs of business of different sizes and circumstances.
“We want to cater a membership to every different level and what different folks are looking for,” Shinn said. “Each different tier receives a little bit more from us.”