Chamber marking its silver anniversary
Since the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce was established in 1986, it's been focused on preserving the community's quality of life, organization leaders say.
In the face of the region's tremendous growth, that job remains as challenging - and as critical - as ever, immediate past chairman Reginald Lillie said.
With growth comes mobility challenges, along with the need to support and protect the institutions that provide education, health care and safety, he said.
"So, the chamber, which acts as an ad hoc City Hall, is the entity that addresses those issues," Lillie said.
The chamber will take a look at its challenges and victories over the years when it hosts its 25th anniversary celebration Thursday, Jan. 27, at the Sterling Country Club Ballroom at Houston National Golf Club, 16500 Houston National Blvd.
The chamber will install incoming board members, present its ambassador of the year award and also award a small, medium and large business of the year that night.
In the beginning
From the beginning, the chamber has aligned its boundaries with those of the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, which covers approximately 187 square miles.
Founding chamber chairman Alan Mayberry got the organization started with insurance agent Jerry Albrecht, who served as chamber chairman in 1997, and publisher Tony Ber, who served as president.
Area attorney David Capps wrote the organization's bylaws.
The organization was created to support and protect the area's small businesses, often by ensuring the surrounding environment was conducive to success.
Early in the organization's history, board members started building relationships with state and county leaders.
The Cy-Fair area already was feeling the effects of growth at that time, Albrecht said, and area roads were starting to get congested.
"The chamber was instrumental in getting Jones Road widened to a four-lane road and (in) widening FM 1960 from two lanes to four," Albrecht said. "Willowbrook Mall was just taking off. (Texas 249) was not even on the drawing board at that time in terms of expansion. It was 149."
In 1994, the chamber launched its Herd program, which was created to support Cy-Fair FFA students.
Before then, a small group from the chamber had been attending the Cy-Fair ISD livestock shows and buying student projects that didn't make the cut, Albrecht said.
"We'd buy that animal and donate it to a local food bank or back to the student."
At member John Fox's suggestion, the chamber made these efforts an official program, and Herd was born.
"It really did help those kids," Albrecht said. "They put a lot of money into these animals. When they have an animal they can't sell, it's heartbreaking to them."
Herd is gearing up now for the 2011 livestock show.
Under the leadership of former president Darcy Mingoia, the chamber began a campaign in the early 1990s to bring a community college campus to Cy-Fair.
"The chamber saw the need for a community college," Albrecht said. "The area was ripe for it.'
In 1996, Cy-Fair area residents voted for the first time on the option of joining the North Harris Montgomery Community College District.
The option was voted down, mostly over concerns about increased taxes.
In 2000, the chamber was able to get enough petition signatures to get the option back on the ballot. This time, the initiative received a wide margin of support.
"We did a better job this time explaining what a community college has to offer," Albrecht said.
Lone Star College-Cy-Fair, 9191 Barker-Cypress Road, had 12,198 students in spring 2008. Its satellite campus, the Fairbanks Center, had 2,775 students that year.
Ultimately, Albrecht said, the chamber didn't make the Cy-Fair area grow. It guided the area's growth in a positive direction.
"Cy-Fair is still changing, but once you get a blueprint, it's easier to grow and make those changes."
Lillie, who served as chamber chairman in 2008 and 2009, said the chamber began to focus in recent years not only on supporting local small business, but also helping Cy-Fair attract larger operations.
"If we can keep the community vibrant and attract the big companies, than everybody can thrive," said Lillie, who will retire from the board this year but remain active as a chamber member.
The chamber also has been working to build relationships with nearby communities, including Hempstead, Waller and Prairie View.
"We have to think like a regional organization," Lillie said. "Then we'll act like a regional organization and get the results of a good regional organization."
Going forward, the chamber's goals will mirror the goals of the community, said Terry Wheeler, a former chairman who will retire from the board this year.
"First, we need to address the congested highway system; we need to get that situation resolved," said Wheeler, who is CEO of Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center Hospital.
Chamber leaders are working with state and federal lawmakers to find creative funding solutions that would support a highway expansion.
The chamber also will continue working closely with the Cypress-Fairbanks school district and supporting its efforts, Wheeler said. The reputation of the school district plays a critical role in driving growth and making the community attractive to individuals and companies.
"Those two issues will be of tremendous importance to the community for years to come," Wheeler said.
The chamber, which has 600 members, has been fortunate to have dedicated leaders and volunteers, president Mary Evans said.
"Because of a rich blend of individuals who have been a part of the chamber over the past 25 years, we will continue to lead the way to impact the community in economic development, transportation, education and legislative matters," she said.
For more information, visit the website at www.cyfairchamber.com.
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