If it seems like you’re hearing a lot more about the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce these days than you have in a long time, it’s not your imagination. The Chamber has a new president, Bob Stimson, and, in his first few weeks on the job, he’s working to set a land-speed record for networking, organizing and kick-starting community and economic development issues. And brace yourself if you bump into him, because he plans on taking all of us along for the ride — you might find yourself tapped to man or head a committee.
If Stimson’s name sounds familiar, it may be because he’s a former City Council member. Or it may be because he was, until recently, one of the partners of Oak Cliff real-estate development and property-management company Square Foot. Both are signs, Stimson jokes, that, when it comes to Oak Cliff, “I have some sort of learning disability or genetic disorder that keeps me coming back for more.” Stimson, who describes himself in a series of slashes — “recovering accountant/politician/real estate developer” — also laughs about being so “addicted” to Oak Cliff that he’s probably a candidate for “three different public-service 12-step programs.”
Genetic disorder or no, Stimson — a longtime Chamber member and volunteer — learned that a search was in the works for a new president and executive director about the time that he and his wife, Donna Cotter, were ending their ties with Square Foot and looking for fresh opportunities. “When I heard the news, I just thought it was a neat chance to do what I love to do,” he explains. “This gives me the opportunity to get involved in all the economic issues in Oak Cliff — and there are a bunch of them.”
Upon taking over the post in mid-February, Stimson immediately began dusting off the Chamber’s old committee structure, calling upon the volunteer system he’s honed after so many years of community service and, generally, “starting a bunch of positive stuff,” he explains. Among his first — and, he believes, foremost — initiatives: the Chamber focus on public safety, and a concerted effort to support and better Oak Cliff’s schools.
“Addressing public safety issues and crime will be critical to Oak Cliff’s long-term success in the development arena,” Stimson asserts. “As the Chamber, we want to take a bird’s-eye look at all of Oak Cliff to try and determine if we’re getting the resources we need and deserve to make things better for all our citizens.” On the education front, he’s also re-established the Education Committee, which will look at practical ways the Chamber can promote quality schools, pre-K-12. “As the parent of two children, education is a real priority with me — but, more important, it’s a real priority to potential developers and employers.”
As part of Stimson’s focus on education, he’s working now to bring back the Chamber’s Golden Oak awards, a lapsed scholarship program set up a decade ago to recognize outstanding Oak Cliff students. “People loved that program, and I think it’s important,” he explains, “but this time, we’re also going to look at raising funds to provide grant opportunities for Oak Cliff’s schools, public and private.”
Shop Oak Cliff
One of his “pet” projects these days is kicking off a “Shop Oak Cliff” program to promote small-business participation in the Chamber. The program, still in the development stage, will be designed to foster member-to-member discount and barter-trade programs, helping smaller business get more value out of their Chamber business membersip and encouraging all Chamber members to keep their business in the neighborhood. “We’re still working on the finishing touches, but we’ll be embarking on a ‘Shop Oak Cliff’ advertising program as yet another way of providing value to our base,” he says. “We’re hoping that we can find a way to share the love here in Oak Cliff, merchant to merchant, member to member.”
Stimson clearly relishes his new post, which he describes as “similar to being a City Councilmember, because you’re dealing with a bunch of broad issues,” he explains. “This time, though, I can speak my mind without dealing so much with the politics of it all. There’s just a certain amount of freedom that I didn’t have on the council.” He’s also surprised to find himself working longer hours than he did on the Council. “That’s really the biggest shock — that there’s just so much to do,” he says. “I’m up early every day, I’m home late, I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked. There’s just not enough hours to get it all done.”
Longtime Chamber member and real-estate developer Joe Whitney says he’s “thrilled” that Stimson agreed to head the Chamber. “So many great things are happening here in Oak Cliff, and it’s fantastic to see a guy with so much drive and vision step up to the plate,” Whitney explains. “This is a golden opportunity for everybody — Stimson, the Chamber and Oak Cliff.”