The new head of the Fort Worth Chamber is aiming to focus the organization more on supporting small businesses and increasing the value of a chamber membership.
Steve Montgomery was announced as the chamber’s new chief executive officer in June after a months-long search for a new leader. His appointment came after a restructuring that spun off economic development efforts to a new organization.
In recent sign of the chamber’s new focus, it announced in August a new chief operations officer who will oversee membership engagement. Jared Sloane, the former Accelerate DFW CEO, will also work to grow business retention and expansion operations and initiatives in business intelligence.
“With all of our big, major, local employers,” Montgomery told the Star-Telegram, “I want to make sure I nurture those relationships and continue to grow them, but also focus on small businesses. We have a lot of companies in this town that are members of the chamber that need attention. We need to show them that we appreciate their membership and that we can bring value to them.”
Early on in his career, Montgomery worked on Capitol Hill after receiving a political science degree from UT Austin. After spending a few years on the East Coast, he returned to his hometown of Fort Worth and has been in the city for more than three decades.
Over the years, Montgomery spent time in the public sector, doing government policy and advocacy work, and the private sector as an executive to a small healthcare data business for nearly two decades.
“I honestly feel like I’ve been training for this my entire career,” Montgomery said.
When Montgomery started at OZ Systems, the company had three employees and no revenue. Over 17 years, Montgomery helped grow the business to generate $10 million to $11 million in revenue and employ more than 50 people. His duties ranged from government sales, finance and accounting to human resources and operations.
“I can credibly look business owners in the eye and say, ‘I know what you’re going through, I know your challenges,’” Montgomery said. “I can relate to that and hopefully help advocate for them, understanding their challenges and their priorities.”
Montgomery said he hopes advocacy for small businesses will help grow a vibrant economy in Fort Worth.
Montgomery also spent six years running his own consulting firm. Some of his clients included Trinity Metro and the Fort Worth Chamber on a contract that ended in June. He was also on the JPS Hospital board for several years.
“My commitment and fidelity to Fort Worth runs deep,” Montgomery said. “I’ve spent my life here. I’ve built my businesses here. All my extended family is in the area, so this is home. This may sound corny, but I truly believe a well functioning chamber has true civic value.”
The chamber’s former leader, Brandom Gengelbach, stepped down in February after seven years with the organization. In March, the chamber announced the restructuring that created the Fort Worth Economic Development Partnership, led by Robert Allen, a former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Greg Abbott. The partnership now focuses more on business attraction and recruitment, while the chamber emphasizes business retention.
Montgomery said chamber investors can expect collaboration with the Economic Development Partnership, but not a duplication of services.
“(Allen) is trying to establish his budget and figure out how we can staff it, and I’m coming in to sort of restructure an organization,” Montgomery said. “So we have a little bit different tasks at hand, but we’re running in parallel.”
The partnership will get the majority of revenue generated by both entities in the beginning as the organization gets up and running, Montgomery said. Investors will be made aware what percentage of their contributions are going towards each entity, Montgomery said. And smaller investors will have the option for their funds to stay within the chamber.
“There’s total transparency on that. There has to be,” Montgomery said.
It remains to be determined when funding would shift from majority focus on the FWEDP to a more even distribution, Montgomery said.
“It just really depends on how the investments come and how quickly he can get set up and start getting some successes under his belt,” Montgomery said. “We’re going to depend on each other’s success. I can’t be successful without him being successful, and we both realize that.
Allen said the chamber’s existing work is critically important.
“Servicing the business community that’s here, the advocacy work, the infrastructure work, the awareness piece —those are critically important as we move forward with the workforce talent development piece,” Allen said.
While the FWEDP is governed by a separate board of directors, Allen said he hopes the organizations will complement each other and work so closely that the community cannot see a difference on the outside.
“When you’re talking about putting together the team that’s going to respond to a new business inquiry, that’s going to be something the Fort Worth Economic Development Partnership handles,” Allen said. “But again, to reinforce very importantly, in very close coordination with our partners across the board. I think the community may not see much tangible difference frankly.”
Advanced manufacturing, healthcare innovation and aerospace and aviation are a few of the first industries Allen hopes to target with the FWEDP. The organization will also aim to work together with the Texas A&M-Fort Worth campus on entrepreneurship and innovation.
In early August, the FWEDP announced Jessica Heer, the Dallas Regional Chamber’s former senior vice president for regional marketing, would become the Fort Worth organization’s new executive vice president. Heer’s work will focus on creating “groundbreaking strategies that position Fort Worth at the forefront of economic progress.”
This tale was originally printed September 10, 2023, 5:30 AM.