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McDowell Shares Vision For The Future Of The Lubbock Chamber Of Commerce

Kay McDowell

Kay McDowell brings years of public relations experience and a passion for civic-mindedness to new role

The Lubbock Chamber of Commerce will start the new year with a new CEO. Kay McDowell is taking the reins of the influential organization. She recently visited the Texas Tech Public Media studio to talk about her vision for the chamber.

An interview with outgoing CEO Eddie McBride is also available online.

This transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Sarah Self-Walbrick: Introduce yourself to us and to our listeners.

Kay McDowell: I have had a 20 plus year career in the field of public relations and marketing, and really the majority of that time I spent in PR agencies. So I am used to a real fast-paced kind of life. The last 11 years, I worked for Mitchell communications, a Dentsu agency. As an executive vice president, I led teams that worked for some of America's best-known and loved brands. Some of them include Mattel, the Procter & Gamble portfolio brands.

But most importantly, I'm a mom and a wife. My husband is the president of Lubbock Christian University and I have three sons.

What attracted you to this job at the chamber?

It's interesting because I loved my job at the agency, and it was a portable job. So when we relocated here from Nashville, I brought the job with me. I got involved with the new branding work with the Lubbock chamber. We are leading, as you probably know, a branding campaign for the city of Lubbock. As they got engaged with that work, I really got excited about what was happening in Lubbock. I got excited about the future of Lubbock. Scott and I talked about it, and I thought, “you know, that could be really a fun way to get really dug into this city and really invest in our city and maybe give back a little bit.”

What would you say is the role of a chamber of commerce in a community?

We exist to strengthen, promote and serve the Lubbock business community. At this point, you're probably thinking, well, what does that really mean? That's our mission that we say, but our staff really works hard to represent the interests of our more than 1,600 members.

We host all manner of events that are designed for new networking, leadership, development, professional development. But we also really work on what Lubbock is challenged with, what challenges are they facing? And we think a lot about you know, right now, our workforce challenge. We think about our talent, retention opportunity, and then also encourage our growth while we maintain the core of our city. So not only do we equip and strengthen, but we also take on those opportunities in those issues that are important to really keeping Lubbock a great place to do business.

Businesses everywhere, especially smaller ones, have really struggled the past two, going on three, years. What are some specific challenges that you’re seeing here in Lubbock?

It is the workforce situation. That’s nationwide, everybody's struggling with that. But, you know, a lot of our small businesses, it is tough. They're really working short-staffed.

We have a project called the talent pipeline management project. That's where we, as a team, we gather the universities in town, we gather that the best thought leaders in town, and really try to tackle a particular issue in the talent pipeline management arena. Right now, we're really looking at the nursing shortage because it's a big problem. It is a huge problem.

We really are looking at ways that we can impact that.

What are some other opportunities for Lubbock businesses?

As a newcomer to our community, one thing that I've really noticed is civic pride. Lubbockites are certainly proud of their town, not to say they're not, but they are a little bit deferential. Having come from another area of the country where everybody's like, “Oh, you would actually move from this town?” They are so full of civic pride. They’re like, “there's no negative thing happening in our city.” But I do think there's a happy medium.

I just think flipping the script a little bit on how we talk about our community and how we feel about our community. In some of our research with our branding campaign, it is just, this town is amazing. You know? It's something to really be proud of.

What are some goals you hope to accomplish at the chamber? 

First of all, I inherited an extremely healthy, thriving chamber. We have a long legacy and heritage of jumping in this community, of course, thanks to Eddie McBride’s 22 years of work here. We just have such a great foundation to build on.

But my goal is really for us to start to think about the future of work. That's a conversation everybody's talking about right now, you know, what does that mean? How do we become an entity, a city, where we can retain and attract the very best talent, because we're innovative thinkers, we're thinking beyond. We really started that during COVID, quite frankly. I like to say during COVID, we accomplished the things that nobody thought could be accomplished, they couldn't do. What else can we accomplish, that we didn't know that we could do, Post-COVID?

In the past, we’ve seen the chamber get involved with political efforts. Is there anything specific on that front that you want the organization to be involved with?

We are devoted to advocacy. We know our members are busy running their businesses. So we have a laser-focus on legislative issues that are important to our members. You can continue to expect to see this chamber super engaged and involved in watching what issues arise and jumping in to help tackle those issues, so we can continue to be a best place in the state to do business.

Eddie mentioned endorsing candidates. Would you be comfortable talking about that some?

Sure. We have started a candidates endorsement PAC (political action committee). That is a new initiative. It's our CB PAC - champions for business PAC. That's an opportunity, especially as we get into the big election season. We'll be looking at all the different candidates and talking with them and really trying to figure out who is really pro-business and who has that pro-business philosophy.

What can citizens, just overall, expect during your tenure as CEO of the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce?

I am passionate about the city I live in. I'm excited that we get to have an opportunity to really go deep and really know about our community and really help think about what's next for our community.

I think you can really see a laser-focus on our member communications and messaging, or branding, of ourselves. Like I mentioned, we're a strong brand, but there's an opportunity to kind of refine our look and feel a little bit. So you can expect to see that PR side of me get into play.

Have a news tip? Email Sarah Self-Walbrick at saselfwa@ttu.edu. Follow her reporting on Twitter @SarahFromTTUPM.

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