Thirty-three chairs of the board.
Seven city managers.
Sixty city council members.
Four county judges.
Along with probably hundreds of employees, members and stakeholders of the Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce, that’s how many people retiring president and CEO Michael Meek has served and interacted with since his tenure with that organization started in 1988.
He has worked in various capacities in the organization, assuming the CEO post in 1995.
As he says goodbye but not necessarily farewell this week after three decades at the organization tasked with strengthening the local economy, advocating for its members and the community and advancing community excellence, Meek told the Herald-Zeitung that he believed that a chamber of commerce is one of those unique non-profit organizations — there are no other organizations like it in the country, he said — that serves the intersection of business, government and residents.
“When you have those three areas intersecting, the possibilities are really unique, and then here, we’re more unique in that less than 10% of those organizations — chambers of commerce — still do tourism and economic development as part of their portfolio,” Meek said. “We’re one of those. I was just fortunate to be here and was always challenged because of all those intersections.”
Meek said there was never a shortage of things to do, and never a lack of challenges, goals, and opportunities.
“It’s been a good career for me here,” he said. “I had worked for 13 years before moving here. Over those first 13 years after college, I was with eight different companies. I had a pretty diverse background in marketing, real estate and management. There’s really no degree or preparation to be in this field of chamber of commerce work. I just have to fall into it, and I guess I was just lucky to have ended up in New Braunfels. It’s worked out well for my family and me, for sure.”
But the Chamber’s accomplishments are not a one-person show, he said.
The Chamber of Commerce maintains responsibility for recruitment via professional services agreements with the city of New Braunfels, Comal County and New Braunfels Economic Development Foundation. The Chamber also manages the affairs of the local Economic Development Corporation.
And those efforts take a lot of people.
“Everything that we do was always a team effort, not only within the staff and the board of directors but along with the city and all of the members,” Meek said. “Our only power of authority, when it comes to the chamber of commerce, is the power of persuasion. Along with that, you have professional services agreements with the city and others for economic development and tourism, then you have some specific duties that you have to carry out.”
Meek said he has always noticed about this Chamber dating back to the early 1960s, a focus on job creation. More than 10,000 jobs have been created with dozens of primary employers during Meek’s tenure.
“That’s been a big focus that the Chamber is front and center on,” he said. “We’re the recruiting and marketing arm for the community when it comes to jobs, and that’s a major focus of the city. We always take that very seriously. Our community has always understood, especially the elected officials, that without a good economy, it’s really hard. It’s a lot more difficult to have a quality of life, to be charitable and provide services to citizens if you don’t have a thriving economy. That’s the cornerstone, and the Chamber finds itself as being in a very responsible position to make sure that the economy is diverse and sustainable. That’s what took a lot of my time.”
Meek said a thriving city economy includes “the kinds of jobs that make a product or service but sell it outside of the trade area, not just amongst the townspeople.”
“We call those primary employers,” he said. “That’s the only way you bring in new money. If you don’t have the primary employer, you’re not going to have a very strong secondary employment sector.
“The secondary employers are retailers — they’re basically serving what’s here and the money just circulates in town, and of course, it’s very important because it keeps money circulating longer. But you’ve got to have new money coming in because eventually, that money rotates out of here. The other way that you bring in new money is with tourism, and New Braunfels certainly knows how to do that. We’re the tourism marketing arm for the community, and we’ve been really lucky through the years to have some many locally based attractions that are iconic and well-known by Texans.”
During his time in New Braunfels, Meek served as a catalyst for bringing post-secondary education to the community, overseeing a major expansion and remodeling of the Civic Center as well as a remodeling of the Chamber offices, founding the Communities in Schools organization and creating the Leadership New Braunfels program. In addition, the Herald-Zeitung named Meek their Citizen of the Year in 2002 for his efforts in creating the Central Texas Technology Center.
“When I moved here, we were the only community within 150 miles that didn’t have something past high school for people to either have training or education at,” he said. “That’s what created the Central Texas Technology Center back in 2004. That was the goal of the city in the 2000 comprehensive plan. The city and the school districts tasked the Chamber with making that happen. We took that very seriously, and we did make that happen, based on a lot of partnerships. That’s operated by the Alamo Colleges out at the airport. We even did an expansion back in 2016, following the 2013 bond issue. I’m proud of that.
“I’m also proud that we were the only organization that spawned Communities in Schools here. A lot of people don’t realize that, but that started as a Chamber committee, part of our Business Education Partnership Committee back in the mid-90s. That’s what the Chamber does a lot of times — we’re the perfect incubator oftentimes to get certain things off the ground, but then we send them off because they need to operate independently on their own. Another example from the 1960s is Wurstfest. That was a Chamber committee. That was a Chamber function until 1986. When I came in, Wurstfest had only been on its own, administratively, for two years. A lot of things start here, and then they move on and become so big that they need their own staff.”
The Chamber membership has more than doubled in size in his tenure and receives many honors statewide and nationally for its programs.
Meek has also collected some accolades.
The Texas Department of Transportation has named him a “Roadhand,” their most prestigious award.
In January, the Chamber surprised Meek when it announced him the winner of the Besserung Award, often referred to as the New Braunfels outstanding citizen award, as community and business leaders gathered during the Chamber’s 102nd annual banquet and awards ceremony at the New Braunfels Civic/Convention Center.
In addition to his duties here at home, Meek has also served as a past state chairman of the Texas Economic Development Council and state chairman of the Texas Chamber of Commerce Executives. He has also served as the secretary-treasurer of the Comal County Industrial Development Authority, Braunfels Foundation Trust, and staffed the New Braunfels Industrial Development Corporation.
But Meek said he’s not going to take his awards, accolades and memories with him and hang out at the golf course or weed the front yard.
“I’m certainly not ready to play golf every day,” he said. “I’d like to be a part-time interim for other chambers or other economic development organizations in Texas. I have set up a consulting firm to do that. I just don’t want to be tied down to an office five days a week, 24-7. With this job, it’s not just five days a week. With technology, you’re always working, and you’re always on. So I’m looking forward to some days just doing what I want to do around the house, in the yard or on the golf course, but I still want to keep my hand in the game. I think I’ve got some experience to offer other communities. There’s a niche out there for that, and I’m going to give that a whirl.”