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Fort Worth Chamber announces new entity to lead economic development efforts

March 15,2023

See full Fort Worth Star-Telegram article by Jenny Rudolph here.

The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce announced a new structure Tuesday that spins off the role of economic development to a new organization.

The Fort Worth Economic Development Partnership will be responsible for recruiting new businesses to the city. The partnership will be led by Robert Allen, the former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Greg Abbott.

Allen currently serves as the president and CEO of the Texas Economic Development Corp. based in Austin. The new partnership will emphasize recruitment efforts, while the chamber will continue in its role of serving its membership.

The announcement comes one month after chamber CEO Brandom Gengelbach stepped down. Gengelbach led the chamber since 2020.

On Tuesday, Gengelbach told the Star-Telegram that said he thinks Allen’s leadership of the FWEDP will be a great opportunity for the city.

“Robert is the greatest,” Gengelbach said. “I think so highly of him. He has tons of class, charisma and potential to do great things for Fort Worth. I’m the biggest fan of Fort Worth and will be cheering from the sidelines.”

Hillwood president Mike Berry has served as the chamber’s interim CEO since mid-February. He said in a statement that this new organizational structure is similar to other larger markets.

“Many cities the size of Fort Worth have chosen to separate business recruitment activities from traditional chamber functions,” Berry said.

The chamber’s other roles have included member services, including workforce development, education programs, government advocacy and infrastructure and transportation efforts.

“This move is essential for our city to gain a competitive edge in economic development,” Berry said. “We’ve had our successes, but there is still tremendous opportunity for us to bring growing, vibrant businesses and a diverse range of high-paying jobs to the Fort Worth area. To do that, we need an experienced leader with unparalleled economic development experience at local, state, and national levels.”

Allen, who starts April 3, is a multi-generation Texan who has worked in economic development and job creation in Texas since 2017, the chamber said.

“In my role with TxEDC, I have met with companies from across the country and every corner of the globe and I’ve learned what they are looking for. I can confidently tell you Fort Worth holds tremendous promise for companies looking to establish or relocate their business,” Allen said in a statement. “Having spent the better part of the past decade focused on driving economic development at a statewide level, Fort Worth must be nimble and proactive when it comes to developing reasonable, responsible growth.”

The partnership will be funded by the business community and chamber investors. A separate board of directors will govern the entity.

“Getting someone the caliber of Robert Allen to spearhead the economic development efforts for Fort Worth is a tremendous boost for our city,” said chamber board chairwoman Rosa Navejar in a statement. “There is no one in Texas that has a better perspective, better relationships, and proven results than Robert Allen.”

The chamber had spent months researching and analyzing how comparable cities drive business attraction and retention, Navejar said.

Navejar told the Star-Telegram the partnership will enable the chamber to strictly focus on relocating new businesses to Fort Worth, which will in turn create jobs.

It remains to be seen exactly what type of businesses the FWEDP will look to attract. The team will review a strategic plan moving forward when Allen enters his role next month.

“Since we’re making these changes, it’s still a little early, but we want to find the best businesses that will be compatible to Fort Worth,” Navejar said. “Looking at various sectors and making sure it’s a fit for both. You don’t want to relocate businesses that are not going to be able to grow within the city and find the workforce needed.”

Fort Worth’s Economic Development Department has worked hand-in-hand with the chamber for many years to attract businesses, said Robert Sturns, who leads the department.

“This new entity will take that partnership – and ultimately, the capabilities of both organizations – to the next level, which is great news for our city,” Sturns said.

Berry said the FWEDP will lead in the business recruitment efforts and marketing of Fort Worth as a destination for business while working closely with the city.

“Robert Allen and Robert Sturns, director of economic development at the city of Fort Worth, will work together on city processes including incentives, permitting and more. We look forward to continuing a strong partnership with the city of Fort Worth.”

While Allen’s leadership of the FWEDP will begin next month, the search continues for a full-time CEO of the chamber while Berry serves in the interim. Navejar said the chamber completed a request for proposals on Friday to hire a search firm and put a timeline together for Gengelbach’s replacement.

Meanwhile, Abbott is expected to appear at a Fort Worth chamber event Wednesday to talk about Texas’ economic development issues and initiatives, education, workforce and property tax relief, the chamber said. Abbott visited the Greater Arlington Chamber of Commerce last month to discuss his legislative agenda and vision for economic development tools.