Dallas Regional Chamber president and CEO Dale Petroskey has a favorite saying: “If you’re a member of the business community in Dallas, you’re on the winning team. But if you’re a member of the Dallas Regional Chamber, you’re inside the winning locker room.”
It’s now the official winning locker room.
The chamber has been named the national chamber of the year by the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. Dallas is one of four winning chambers in separate categories sorted by size. The Dallas chamber won in the association’s largest category and beat two other finalists, the Bluffton Chamber of Commerce in Hilton Head, S.C., and the Portland Business Alliance in Portland, Ore.
The Dallas chamber was singled out for its success in recruiting businesses to the area, its Take Care of Business campaign, which vaccinated North Texans over the age of 16, and a campaign tool kit for vaccinations that included employee information posters, resources for employers and vaccine providers in the area.
“Chambers of commerce have never been more essential to regional prosperity,” said Sheree Anne Kelly, ACCE president and CEO, in a statement. “This achievement reflects how hard chambers work to ensure the vibrancy of their communities and organizational success.”
The chamber helped attract over 200 headquarters relocations since 2010, including six Fortune 500 companies. And the region gained 1.3 million jobs during the same time frame.
The award, given since 2007, involves a multistage process of benchmarking, application and interview. It recognizes excellence in operations, member services and community leadership. The association represents more than 1,600 chambers and 9,000 members globally.
Petroskey says his team won the award for many reasons but mainly it’s about the strength of the staff. “The bar has been high here, and we choose people who can jump over that bar,” he said.
Here’s how the Dallas Regional Chamber became No. 1 in the country.
At the chamber’s core is relationships.
“We’re good listeners, and we’re flexible in terms of listening to the needs and wants of our staff and the community,” said Petroskey, who worked previously as the assistant White House press secretary for former President Ronald Reagan and was also the Texas Rangers’ executive vice president of marketing.
Those relationship-building skills are something the chamber’s 13 departments have mastered. The Dallas chamber is the largest of 175 in D-FW and the only regional chamber.
Petroskey said hiring is a large part of why the chamber has been so successful. He said the chamber hires people who are very good at engaging with their member companies.
It’s a tactic he models for his staff. As a Michigan native, he connected with the current chief financial officer at American Airlines, Derek Kerr, who is also from Michigan.
“I’ve seen how effective those guys have been in Dallas and to grow the Dallas community,” Kerr said. “And getting companies to come to Dallas, it has been just amazing.”
The proof is in the corporate moves.
Most recently, Fortune 500 company Caterpillar Inc. moved to Irving in June, which made D-FW home to 24 Fortune 500 companies. Ten of those are in Irving, which bills itself as the “headquarters of headquarters” city. Caterpillar joins commercial real estate firm CBRE Group, which moved in 2020, and engineering giant AECOM, which moved in 2021.
“We just want the best fit for them,” Petroskey said. “And we’re just the honest broker. We don’t have a dog in the fight, really.”
The chamber works directly with companies that are interested in moving here, and its employees have to be knowledgeable about demographics, labor costs, transportation assets, real estate and tax incentives. For every major relocation, the chamber offers to meet directly with employees and families who are about to become Texans.
Petroskey says the chamber has worked with more than 200 companies that have brought their headquarters to Dallas in the past 12 years.
Angela Farley, chief operating officer and chief financial officer at the chamber, said another key component in maintaining community relationships is the chamber’s University CEO Council, which brings in presidents and chancellors of Dallas’ 11 colleges to discuss conversations going on in the Legislature. The council meets every other month.
“We really wanted to have a collective voice around legislative issues, around best practices and around what they were doing to tell our story,” Farley said.
Matt Garcia, senior vice president of public policy at the chamber, said that when it comes to policies in the Legislature, the chamber works on three key areas: advocacy, convening stakeholders and connecting with business members.
In 2021, Garcia said voting was a hot topic in the Legislature. The team worked to do a lot of research on how Texas’ voting restrictions compare with other states in the nation.
It’s a business model the team is confident in. The chamber also has a three-year strategic plan called “Building Tomorrow Together” that has guided its growth and progress in the region.
Challenges to overcome
The chamber was created in 1909 when three Dallas business groups, The Commercial Club, the 150,000 Club and the Freight Bureau, merged with the Board of Trade to form the Dallas Chamber of Commerce. In 1915, it was named Dallas Chamber of Commerce (Incorporated).
By 1988, the chamber was referred to as the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce. It wasn’t until 2008 that it was named the Dallas Regional Chamber.
Over the past several years, the Dallas Regional Chamber had developed a steady rhythm. Businesses were coming here, members were actively participating and it was growing by the second.
But that all changed when the pandemic struck. The chamber had to overcome challenges to engage its core. Petroskey said 80% of its member companies still paid dues even during the worst of the pandemic.
“A number of companies gave us more money during COVID than than they had promised us because they were in a position to do that,” Petroskey said. “They wanted to help out because they knew that some companies wouldn’t be able to be in that position.”
The chamber’s meetings became 100% virtual, which was hard, Farley said, since the group is filled with extroverts and larger personalities.
“We just leaned into it and allowed our employees as they wanted to engage in a variety of different activities to keep them close,” Farley said. “As soon as we felt like it was safe in October, we brought people back three days a week.”
From then on, the challenge was to find virtual opportunities to maintain the relationships and trust the team had taken so long to build.
“We really thought the way to get our companies through COVID was to be as close to them as possible, ear to the ground,” Petroskey said.
So they did. From June 2021 to September 2021, the chamber requested over $1 million in funding to start the “Take Care of Business” campaign, an initiative to get vaccines to individuals, especially people of color disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The campaign vaccinated over 660,000 people in Dallas.
In 2021, the chamber spoke out about Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on vaccine mandates. It said it supported businesses’ right to choose between requiring vaccinations for workers and regular testing.
Things also got tricky when travel was restricted and the chamber wanted to bring companies to the region, according to Mike Rosa, senior vice president of economic development.
“The ability for companies to make decisions and move forward now didn’t stop at all,” Rosa said.
The chamber also took action when the murder of Minneapolis man George Floyd drew attention to racial and social justice issues.
Fred Perpall and John Olajide, chairs of the Dallas Citizens Council and Dallas Regional Chamber, respectively, in 2020, saw a need for change. The two leveraged their powers to strengthen the Dallas business community with a series of initiatives. One effort immediately offered a lifeline to help small businesses navigate the federal stimulus package and get PPP loans through area banks.
Now those efforts have gone farther. Tosha Herron Bruff has been hired as senior vice president of inclusion and community engagement working with the chamber’s diversity council. She recognized a need to amplify support for underserved communities.
It starts with listening, she says.
“A lot of times, communities of color are told what to do, they aren’t asked what they want,” Herron Bruff said. “There are things that are done for them and not with them. We go into it looking at it very differently.”
Fueling a win
Cynt Marshall, the CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, said she knew the Dallas Regional Chamber would take home the prize.
“I love this chamber,” Marshall said. “I love everything they’re about. They step out on things that people normally sometimes wouldn’t think a chamber would step out on.”
Bob Pragada, current Dallas Regional Chamber chair, said that what sets the Dallas chamber apart is knowing what the community really needs.
“As a nationally recognized chamber, it’s a beacon of how to be a true advocate for business and an advocate for community,” Pragada said.
Petroskey says the chamber doesn’t do the work for awards, but this year’s honor is a nod to the efforts of his team and the greater community.
What makes a great chamber? The Association of the Chamber of Commerce Executives points to a couple of things.
Kelly, the president and CEO, said the association looks at three major pillars essential for being successful: community impact, courageous leadership and the business model.
Kelly believes that chambers are more valuable than they have ever been and says we’re in a “chamber renaissance.”
“Chambers are being called on more than ever to be leaders’ partners and even to weigh in on issues that they haven’t weighed in on historically,” Kelly said.
Chamber of the Year applicants are grouped into categories based on annual revenue, membership, area population and other factors. Applications are first reviewed by peer chamber executives, and the winners are selected from three finalists after an in-person interview.
The Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives wouldn’t reveal the judges.
After this win, the Dallas Regional Chamber will not be able to apply for the honor for three years.
But it will keep pushing for its priorities. Herron Bruff said the momentum can’t stop with the award.
“You can’t take your foot off the gas,” she said.
Dallas Regional Chamber
Headquarters: Ross Tower in downtown Dallas
CEO: Dale Petroskey
Founded: In 1909 as an economic development organization, and the chamber represents about 700 companies of every size and industry. It has about a 115-person board and a 30-member executive committee.
Number of employees: 55
Annual budget: $12 million for 2022
Annual dues: Start at $5,000 per company depending on size.
Notable headquarters relocations: Caterpillar Inc., AECOM, CBRE Group, Toyota Motor North America, Charles Schwab Corp., McKesson Corp., Topgolf Entertainment Group, Drive Shack, Six Flags Entertainment
SOURCE: Dallas Regional Chamber