Today is the second story in this three-part series about the Denton Chamber of Commerce and its role in the Denton community. Last week, we looked at the Chamber’s beginning in Denton 108 years ago. We reviewed some of many projects led by the Chamber over the years, demonstrating the Chamber’s lasting impact in various facets of Denton life including business growth, promotion of Denton and quality of life enhancement.
This week, we’ll explore the Denton Chamber’s structure and why it is unique among Chambers of Commerce.
“This agreement made and entered into this 6th day of January, 1976, by and between the City of Denton, Texas, a Municipal Corporation, hereinafter called ‘City’, and the Denton Chamber of Commerce, a non-profit corporation chartered under the Laws of the State of Texas, hereinafter called ‘Chamber’,…”
This is the opening paragraph to a four-page-long, 41-year-old, uninterrupted contract.
“Whereas, City has recently passed an ordinance providing for the assessment and collection of a hotel occupancy tax in the City of Denton…
Whereas, the Chamber is well equipped to advertise and conduct solicitation programs to acquaint potential users with public meeting and convention facilities and to promote tourism and advertise the City of Denton…”
These first two whereases among several lead a document full of detailed legalese outlining the terms of a City of Denton contract with the Denton Chamber of Commerce to market Denton as a destination.
This 1976 contract was brokered to establish the Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) and was the first of two contracts eventually managed by the Chamber on behalf of the City. The second contract came 11 years later, in 1987, to establish the Denton Economic Development Partnership (EDP), a collaboration between the City and Chamber to grow Denton’s tax base by creating business opportunities and addressing the needs of a growing business community.
The Chamber staff consists of four people funded 100 percent by Denton Chamber membership dues: the president, director of finance, program director and program assistant. Their professional focus is supporting the more than 800 business members and executing the program of work determined annually by the Chamber’s board of directors.
After developing and opening the Discover Denton Welcome Center last year, the CVB is now the largest department under the Chamber umbrella with nine full-time and 10 part-time employees. Two full-timers and eight part-timers are dedicated to the Welcome Center, open seven days, 85 hours per week, to help visitors and newcomers navigate the city. The CVB and all of its employees are funded 100 percent by Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) to advertise and promote Denton as a convention, sport, business and leisure destination in accordance with the stringent state laws regulating how cities can expend this stream of revenue.
The CVB’s budget in 2017 is $1.28 million of a total $2.3 million in HOT collected by the City. It is important to note here that every single HOT dollar invested by the City into marketing through the Chamber is dedicated to that end, and is audited monthly by the City’s Hotel Tax Auditor. Except for a below-market rent of $1,200 per month for CVB offices and $600 for accounting services, the Chamber does not glean any money as a result of managing the contract.
The ED department under the Chamber umbrella works similarly. Their mission is marketing Denton to attract companies and new businesses to establish here. Of ED’s $312,961 current budget, the City contract managed by the Chamber accounts for $238,836 dedicated to two full-time employees and all operational expenses. An $11,000 slice of that is directed to house the Small Business Development Center, a partnership with North Central Texas College to provide free counseling to local small businesses and startups.
ED’s $74,125 remaining budget balance is private investment by local businesses to support targeted business growth, and is allocated in total to ED marketing and programming. Again, except for a below-market office rent, the Chamber does not glean a penny as a result of managing the contract.
A Chamber managing contracts on behalf of city government is commonplace. What makes our Chamber unique among Chambers is managing these contracts without financial benefit. Most Chambers assess management fees in addition to rent that typically include portions of Chamber staff salaries. The Denton Chamber has never done so.
One of the most misstated “facts” about the Chamber is its receipt of all this City money. The real fact is that the City gives no money at all to the Chamber. The Chamber is just an instrument to conduct part of the city’s business, an outside contractor if you will.
Why, then, did Chamber leadership in 1976 design its contract management as a service to the City rather than the more common approach, as a money-maker?
“Most of the world views local chambers as the ‘front doors to the community,’” Chamber president Chuck Carpenter said. “We have embraced this role since our creation in 1909, long before a formal partnership with the City. Managing the marketing contracts simply allows us to enhance our services on behalf of the whole community.”
The Chamber managing Denton’s two major marketing initiatives has a proven track record and makes great sense. Marketing is a fluid, fast-changing playing field. Wooing new business, meeting client expectations, taking advantage of remnant discounts and windfalls all require flexibility. This is perhaps the contracts’ greatest asset to the City beyond the professional expertise of the Chamber staff hired to meet and exceed the contracts obligations.
Next week, we’ll look at how the Denton Chamber’s unique partnership with the City impacts Denton today and peek behind the curtain at its potential in the future.