Over the last 50 years, the development of the Frisco Chamber of Commerce has mirrored the explosive growth of the city it serves.
As Frisco has grown from a tiny town with a population of 1,845 in 1970 to around 190,000 in 2020, the chamber has come all the way from its first home in a caboose on the railroad tracks to being one of the top chambers in the country. It is among the 1.5% of chambers nationwide to achieve 5-star accreditation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber President and CEO Tony Felker said the organization has grown from a focus on ribbon-cuttings and business ambassadorship into something more.
“We need to be the thermostat in the business community,” Felker said of the chamber’s goal to control the temperature on issues important to Frisco businesses. “It’s everything from proactively looking at legislative affairs and proactively keeping Frisco growing to reactively being a problem-solver and trying to figure out what’s what.”
What the chamber does
Sam Roach has been with the chamber for 35 years, longer than any other member. He said that association has benefited him over the years. His Sam Roach Business Center offers office, warehouse and mini-storage space.
“The chamber’s been good for the community,” Roach said. “We’ve had a lot of good folks that gave their time and effort to try to make Frisco a better community.”
Ashley Miller is the director of community engagement for the National Breast Cancer Foundation Inc. and a chamber board member. She said she has seen the chamber work with her organization, one of the largest nonprofits in the nation, just as effectively as with startups, mid-size business owners and Fortune 50 companies.
Camilla Payne, vice president of marketing for NBCF, said the relationship with the chamber is "priceless."
“They’ve been such a good partner in helping us get the word out about our mission and what we do here in the community and beyond,” she said.
In addition to connecting members, the chamber offers resources that businesses are unable to find anywhere else.
“In most communities, the chamber serves as that hub of the wheel, that connector, that collaborator,” Felker said. “We don’t have the ability to levy laws or tax or anything like that, but if we can put our convening powers to use, we can bring together the parties that will be able to make those things happen.”
The chamber works hand in hand with Frisco on some projects, but it is a private nonprofit separate from the city. Its Leadership Frisco program helps participants get more involved. Over the past 22 years, it has graduated elected officials and board members throughout the city. Its Young Entrepreneurs Academy teaches students ages 11-18 about starting and running businesses and social movements.
Chamber board member and Legacy ER marketing manager Terri Paterson-McElhaney said her organization has been a member for nearly 12 years.
“The reality is the amount of support and networking opportunities that it has allowed us has given us exposure in the community that we probably wouldn’t have gotten as quickly,” Paterson-McElhaney said.
With so many different kinds of businesses relying on it, the chamber has had to adapt to help members solve “what keeps them up at night,” as Felker said he likes to ask.
The chamber’s reach also often extends out of state. It offered leadership exchange trips to Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2018 and to Nashville last year. Callyn Maxwell, communications outreach liaison for KidZania USA, learned about the chamber’s long arms when she was able to get an introduction to a chamber outside of Chicago for a meeting about the business’s second U.S. location.
“I think, really, anything that they can do to help, they find a way, and if they can’t, personally, then, they will ask someone else to help,” she said.
What accreditation means
The Frisco chamber received its 5-star accreditation in November by demonstrating excellence in planning and performance—specifically, “sound policies, effective organizational procedures, and positive impact,” as a U.S. Chamber press release stated.
The process started in 2014 when the chamber received 4-star accreditation in the first year it applied.
Felker credited chamber senior vice president Tami Alexander for leading the charge on that first application.
“Going through the process made us a better chamber, without a doubt,” Felker said.
As part of the process, the Frisco chamber established formal plans in case of an emergency, including setting up backup plans for its data and technology and confirming secondary locations where it could office temporarily.
“From there, it’s just a case of improving on it,” Felker said. “You’re always coming back and monitoring, evaluating, tweaking, changing, improving and challenging yourself.”
Helping oversee those improvements and challenges in 2020 is Christal Howard, Community Impact Newspaper’s Dallas-Fort Worth metro publisher, who was recently appointed chair of the chamber’s board of directors.
Miller, a chamber board member, said she believes the accreditation speaks to the level of care the chamber has for all its members.
“It’s still so recent, so I think that we’re going to see a lot of the impact of that come to fruition during the remainder of 2020,” she said.
The chamber will need to reapply in 2024, but Felker said he believes the organization should be able to maintain its 5-star status, especially if its staff remembers not to “take it for granted anytime soon.”