To most people who spend their lives traveling between home, work, grocery stores and three different schools, this week’s news from the Greater Heights Area Chamber of Commerce may not have touched your radar.
I’d like to tell you why you should care, right after I tell you a little history.
More than six years ago, former Chamber President Ken Stallman left his post to move north, which left an opening at what I believe to be one of the most important organizations in our community. One of the names considered for the position was Stallman’s right-hand-man, Jacob Millwee. The other person was a man who had become a dear friend to me named Terry Burge.
For those new to the community, Terry was the owner and publisher of this newspaper, The Leader, for more than four decades – 42 years, to be exact. When our company bought The Leader from Terry in 2012, he became an instant fan of our work to reinvigorate a community newspaper firmly entrenched in the neighborhoods it served.
Likewise, I was a big fan of Terry’s, mainly because I consider him a man of deep, unwavering character.
With whatever sway I had in the community at that time, I used it to strongly suggest Terry be hired as the next Greater Heights Area Chamber president. He had helped form the Chamber more than two decades prior, he knew everyone in the community, and he had four decades of experience understanding the support small-business members of the Chamber need.
It wasn’t that I was against Jacob; it’s that I was for Terry. And my support probably didn’t matter much, because Terry’s credentials were unequivocal.
Terry ultimately got the job, and he did wonderful work at The Chamber. About a year later, though, Terry called and told me he had decided to leave the post. He also said he had spent the past year working with Jacob to step into the president’s role, and that Jacob would do a wonderful job continuing the good work of the Chamber. I certainly couldn’t argue with the recommendation.
When Terry said Jacob Millwee would do a great job leading the Chamber, it was one of Terry’s greatest understatements. For the past five years, Jacob has led the Chamber into a stratosphere very few could have imagined.
For starters, membership of the Chamber has grown 64 percent during his time at the helm. I could end the accolades there, but I’ll proceed.
What I’ve admired most (from afar) about Jacob and his leadership is that he’s seemed to have a vision for the Chamber’s service to this very important area of Houston. He has shown decisiveness about programs beneficial to our area’s businesses, and he has treated his position as a servant to those who support the organization’s mission.
And just like his predecessor, Jacob has shown an unwavering character to do things the right way. He’s as honest a person as you’ll find, and the Chamber hasn’t hosted a function or event where Jacob hasn’t been fully invested.
Earlier this week, Jacob announced his resignation as Chamber president. In part, I assume he’s tired of the commute from Sugar Land to the Heights, and he’s been very clear that his decision has as much to do with being with his immediate family (not his chamber family) more. Jacob is going to teach physics at a school in Fort Bend County, and I have no doubt he’ll do a wonderful job.
Meanwhile, the Greater Heights Area Chamber of Commerce, and the board that governs its decisions, has some mighty big shoes to fill in the coming months, and I believe people in this community should care about the selection.
Over the past few years, I’ve often written about the void our community has in real leadership. I don’t begrudge the mayor of Houston or our city council representatives, because they have enormous weight and work on their shoulders. But if you took the Heights, Garden Oaks, Oak Forest, Timbergrove, Lazy Brook, Shepherd Park Plaza and Candlelight (all areas served by the Greater Heights Area Chamber of Commerce), that’s a rather large population with tons of small businesses lining our streets.
To be blunt, we don’t get a lot of representation at City Hall. Sure, our city council representatives speak up for us when we ask, but most times, this community – our area of Houston – has to solve problems on its own.
Other than the Chamber of Commerce and our neighborhood associations, we really don’t have much in the way of leadership. When our community wants to gather for an event, we rely on a handful of groups to make that happen.
Chief among those groups, and the one organization devoted to making sure our local businesses thrive, is our very own Chamber of Commerce. And if you’re someone who doesn’t own a business, or someone who lives here and works elsewhere, let me tell you why having a strong Chamber is important.
One of the things that makes our community so strong and such a wonderful place to live is because we have a group of small businesses that are local, that are strong, and that (largely) understand the value of customer service.
If we didn’t have those businesses – if we were a bunch of streets full of strip malls and national chains – the Heights, Garden Oaks, Oak Forest and all our other neighborhoods would be no different than every suburban center of this city.
We aren’t that, though, and the reason is because we have local ownership of local business. In order to maintain that independence and that uniqueness, our local businesses need support. And about the only place they get that support is through our Chamber.
Kudos to Jacob Millwee on a job extraordinarily done. To the board of the Chamber, we trust you’ll hire another phenomenal president.