On June 1, Bobby Lieb, the former Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce’s vice president and director of community and economic development, stepped into his new role as chamber president. Lieb replaced Barbara Thomason who left to pursue her private business after serving 14 years.
Lieb comes from a diverse professional background that includes owning a retail store, working as executive director for the Durango Chamber of Commerce and serving as county commissioner in La Plata County, both in Colorado.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What are your goals for the community as the new chamber president?
Improving per capita wealth, improving people’s standard of living and improving the quality of life—those are the main goals I have for the community.
I would like this area to be recognized as one of the best places to live in metro Houston. When people talk about, “Where should I live?,” I would like the Cypress Creek community to be named in that conversation. And that means you have to have good jobs around here. You have to have also a [good]quality of life. You have to have great schools—all those things. That would be my main goal.
Do you plan to implement any changes in how the chamber operates and its strategic direction?
Yes, I am going to make changes and am already implementing changes to chamber operations. We are structuring the organization so that I can continue to work on economic development and at the same time oversee the entire chamber operations.
We will restructure internally so there will be someone who is responsible for the day-to-day chamber side of the house, and I’ll be responsible for the day-to-day economic development side of the house, in addition to overseeing the organization.
Will the chamber continue to be a driving force in shaping public policy, and are there specific public policy areas you would like the chamber to focus on?
Yes—for one, flood mitigation. Until there is a time—which is a long time off—that there is a level of comfort and satisfaction with what we have been able to achieve on Cypress Creek to reduce some of the flooding hazards, I can see that being a standing strategic initiative going forward.
The community is taking it seriously, and the chamber needs to be very active in that. We have resisted the temptation and requests to delve into specific projects. We feel that is the job of the Harris County Flood Control District and other coalitions like the Cypress Creek Flood Control Coalition—they get into that detail.
Our whole emphasis is about generating the resources—the dollars—and then directing as much [of those]resources as necessary and equitable to mitigate flooding in Northwest Harris County. If there’s another election, you can almost be assured the chamber will be actively involved.
Advocacy should be a core tenet of chambers, because that’s what our members expect of us. Outside of flood mitigation, I cannot tell you what those will be. But I can see some public policy advocacy addressing the challenges we have as an unincorporated area as well as crime.
How do you plan to improve the economic health of the region, particularly in areas that are struggling economically?
One idea, which has been attempted twice and failed twice before, is the formation of a municipal management district overlaid on top of [FM 1960]. Now, the people and the property owners and the businesses have to want it, because it is a taxing district and it is raising money to make improvements to the corridor.
The benefit of a management district is that you now have one entity whose sole focus is FM 1960. The chamber’s got a very large service area, so it cannot be that entity. It can facilitate the creation of that, and when it’s done that, the chamber’s done its job.
A board has to form as a legislative act by the state, because municipal management districts are political subdivisions of the state.
After the district is formed, there’s an election, and all the property owners within it vote to approve the funding, which is property and ad valorem taxes. So, there will be a tax rate that would be added on top of their existing taxes.
The Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce hosts a variety of events open to the public.
Northgate Country Club
17110 Northgate Forest Drive, Houston.
Aug. 15: “Tunnels: A flooding solution.” 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. $40 (nonmembers), $25 (members).
Sept. 9: Bogies & Brushes: Judge J. Kent Adams Chairman’s Cup Golf Tournament. Noon-7 p.m. $75-$5,000