Brandom Gengelbach is stepping down as president and CEO of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.
Now, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce is evaluating how to best serve the community through economic development and supporting its members, Rosa Navejar, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce board chair, said in a statement.
“We are studying how other cities support development of local business while also driving business attraction and retention,” Navejar said. “Many cities have chosen to separate economic development activities from the traditional chamber functions of supporting local businesses, workforce development, government advocacy, infrastructure and transportation.”
Gengelbach started working at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce in 2016 as executive vice president of economic development and was named CEO in August 2020.
His resignation was effective immediately. Gengelbach and board members declined to speak about the terms of his exit, including severance pay.
Gengelbach said he thinks the groundwork for the chamber has been established to be more competitive in economic development, and it’s time for someone new to lead the organization.
“This was a conversation between me and the volunteer leaders, the officers of the organization, and I think it was an opportunity for me to be thankful for the accomplishments we made as an organization and the changes that we instituted,” Gengelbach said, “and an opportunity for me to be thankful for that opportunity and just be able to chat with them about parting ways and moving forward.”
The Fort Worth Chamber will open a nationwide search to replace Gengelbach. Mike Berry, president of Hillwood, a Perot Company, will serve as the interim CEO and president.
The news comes as the chamber tries to step up its economic development efforts and attract businesses to Fort Worth. Fort Worth has been struggling to attract new corporations and lags behind other cities in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. The Fort Worth Chamber recently touted 72 economic development deals in the past five years, according to a January news release
The decision to part ways was not about performance, two members of the chamber’s executive board said.
The resignation was brought before the executive board, said Charlie Campbell, vice chair of the chamber’s executive board and senior vice president of finance and administration at Hillwood. The chamber’s executive board approves all major decisions and strategy, Campbell said, but the decision to leave was Gengelbach’s.
“I mean, he did a great job as a tireless cheerleader advocate for the Fort Worth community, which is a very complicated community that we all work in,” Campbell said. “And he did a great job at those things. As far as the specific reasons why he left …you’d probably have to talk to Brandom about those things.”
Navejar, the board chair, wrote in a statement that the executive board would evaluate how to best serve the business community. One option is to create two separate organizations for economic development and the chamber, Navejar wrote. Many cities have chosen to separate economic development from traditional chamber functions, she said.
“As a business community, it’s essential we do two things well: We must support our local businesses and ensure they have the talent and resources needed to thrive,” Navejar said in a statement, “and secondly, it’s essential we retain our hometown businesses and attract the right new companies to create new jobs for our residents here in Fort Worth and Tarrant County.”
Robert Sturns, economic development director for Fort Worth, said the city plans to continue its partnership with the chamber.
Fort Worth City Council member Michael Crain said the examination of the role of the chamber is good for Fort Worth.
“With any organization, when you try to be all things to all people or entities, it’s hard,” Crain said. “And so I think that it is a good thing that we would take this time now with this departure to step back and look at what the chamber is doing really, really well, and what it’s not.”
Crain said perhaps the city could take more of a role as a resource and service for small business ideas and entrepreneurs.
Fort Worth has been struggling to attract new corporations to the area and to raise funds for economic development. The city lags behind other cities in the Metroplex such as Arlington and Dallas for funds dedicated to economic development.
The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce launched a fundraising campaign in November and has raised $1.98 million for economic development.
When Gengelbach was director of economic development at the chamber in 2018, he introduced the Four Pillars concepts — four vice presidents to work with him in the areas of workforce development, small business, business attraction and advocacy. The restructuring included a budget increase for the chamber that proved difficult to maintain. Eventually, three of those four vice presidents left, leaving economic development as a focus area.
Other cities in Texas use different models with their chambers and economic development efforts. The Greater Houston Partnership, for example, was created from a merger in 1989 of the Greater Houston Chamber of Commerce, Houston Economic Development Council and Houston World Trade Association.
The Fort Worth Chamber has 23 employees and supports 1,300 member businesses and typically operates on a $5 million budget.
Susan Sheffield, past chair on the chamber executive board and chief financial officer at GM Financial, said the chamber is exploring different avenues for economic development and the role of the chamber. She did not say if that would result in a separate economic development corporation.
“This is a great time in our history to really position ourselves to get our fair share of businesses coming here and grow our community and continue to improve on it,” Sheffield said.
Dee Kelly Jr., former chair of the chamber and partner at Kelly Hart and Hallman, said all institutions, including the chamber, have to evolve.
“I think that Brandom has been involved in the evolution into a new dynamic organization that has been heavily invested in business recruitment and economic development,” Kelly said.
Disclosure: Hillwood is a financial supporter of the Fort Worth Report. Fort Worth Report board member Marianne M. Auld is managing partner Kelly Hart and Hallman.
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.
Business editor Bob Francis contributed to this report.
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