The United Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce has a new leader. John LaRue, who spent 25 years at the Port of Corpus Christi, has joined the chamber.
Rachel Denny Clow/Caller-Times, Wochit
The United Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce’s future didn’t seem strong a few years ago.
“After the merger, the chamber went through some difficult times,” chamber CEO/president John LaRue said last week during his first State of the Chamber event. “Sometimes it was tough for the chamber to make payroll.”
The united chamber formed in September 2016 when the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce merged with the Corpus Christi Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
LaRue started leading the chamber roughly two months ago. He’s the organizations’ fifth leader in as many years.
He previously was the executive director of the Port of Corpus Christi. Throughout his 25 years with the port, he worked closely with both chambers and was a strong supporter of them merging.
Before the merge, many businesses were members of both chambers, which would often compete.
The old Corpus Christi Chamber focused on being a voice for local businesses on government issues. The Hispanic chamber’s goal was to help small businesses start and grow.
Fast forward to 2019, the united chamber has embraced both goals. About 80 percent of its members have 20 employees or less.
The chamber has more than 1,500 members with an average of 20 joining a month. That’s more than the separate chambers had combined.
LaRue, 72, spoke with the Caller-Times and unveiled his plans for the chamber.
Q: Why did you want to lead the chamber?
A: Do I want to do nothing, a typical retirement? The more I thought about that, I didn’t really want to do that. I thought this could be an opportunity at the chamber to take some of the skills I already have and to do something that is quite a bit different than I was doing.
Q: What are some of your goals?
A: I want to maintain a focus on small businesses — to make sure we don’t just become a chamber that deals with large entities that are here … We have to keep in our mind that part of our mission and part of our commitment … is to pay attention to the small businessman and businesswoman, especially the ones that were members of the Hispanic chamber.
Q: What is the chamber’s mission statement?
A: The chamber is here to represent the business community in a number of different areas. We do that in education, workforce. We do it in government affairs. We do it with small businesses in providing them with basic services they need to be able to communicate with different levels of government.
Q: How do you want to address that some business owners who have left the chamber say they didn’t get enough out of their membership?
A: I am looking at going to some of those members and finding out … why they left. When they say they weren’t getting what they wanted — what did they want? What was it we were not fulfilling for them? … I also want to meet with members who are staying — all levels — and find out the same.
Q: Do you see growth in the chamber’s future?
A: The chamber has gone through some difficult times the last 30 years with ups and downs in the economy and city government. Now it seems we’re on the right track from the point of view of new businesses coming in … We have a lot of new industry coming into town that is not just oil and gas.
“… That’s where we can play a role in trying to get those small businesses prepared to be able to do something for those larger business.
Kathryn Cargo follows business openings and developments while reporting on impacts of the city government’s decisions. Help support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Caller-Times.
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