The Business Community Gets Tough

The departure of Dave Cooley from the presidency of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce seems to be far more than just another face change downtown. It appears to be one of the final acts in the emergence of an entirely new style of Dallas leadership, one that is becoming extremely aggressive. Cooley came to Dallas in 1973 when there was something of a void in the city’s leadership ranks, sort of a pause between the fading Old Guard and a new generation of leaders not quite ready to swing into the saddle. It was Cooley who lifted the Dallas Chamber out of its long-standing role of merely hustling conventions and tourism and pushed it into becoming the launching pad for a number of community development projects, such as the Dallas Alliance.

In the last year or so, the Dallas business community has suddenly become excited about getting out and fighting for its point-of-view, through such organizations as the Dallas Citizens Council, the Central Business District Association (CBDA) and the North Texas Commission. The Citizens Council hired Dallas city attorney Alex Bickley as its executive vice president, the CBDA brought in Tulsa-based urban designer Jim Cloar and the North Texas Commission enticed Jack O’Callaghan away from Xerox, where he was vice president.

With the rejuvenation of these organizations, new chamber board chairman Dave Fox led a group of businessmen who thought the Dallas Chamber should no longer sit at the head of the business establishment’s table, but merely serve among a handful of organizations sitting around the table. Fox confirms that when he recently assumed the chamber’s chairmanship he asked around and found that many people believed the chamber was trying to do too much.

Fox’s move to completely change the chamber’s style is indicative of the aggressiveness now being shown by several other business organizations which have strengthened themselves in the last year. They have carved up the leadership pie, taking much initiative away from the chamber of commerce. Here’s the way Dallas leadership seems headed.

The Dallas Citizens Council. With Alex Bickley as its new executive vice president, the Citizens Council is moving to a new aggressive posture. Bickley says he sees two items topping the Citizens Council agenda. First is “Ensuring the financial responsibility of the city, county and school district.” Bickley is riding herd on all three bodies and he is a persistent, knowledgeable observer, not easily ignored, as the Dallas County Commissioners now know. “We need to work on persuading the city, county and school district to work together,” he adds, noting the recent squabble between the city and the county over whether the city council will support the county’s proposed bond issue.

CBDA. One year ago this organization wasn’t doing much of anything. On February 1 the CBDA held its annual luncheon in the Dallas Hilton, drawing 1,300 persons, a strong indication that the CBDA is showing some muscle. President Jim Cloar says the CBDA is now looking at a number of new ideas and intends to become much more aggressive in pursuing them. “I think we’ll be trying to influence decisions which affect downtown, we’ll be taking on our own projects and taking some public stands on issues. There’s a lot going on downtown,” he says, “such as the new City Hall, Reunion, Thanks-Giving Square and some rumored hotels. There’s a lot at stake here and the business community realizes it.”

The North Texas Commission. New president Jack O’Callaghan says the commission’s role really hasn’t changed much, but “We’ve got some new leadership that’s becoming impatient. They’re determined to get things done, things which haven’t happened in the last few years.” The commission’s two main goals are securing new commerce and industry for the 11-county “Metroplex” area and getting some international air routes for D-FW Airport, a task which remains unfinished.


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