Matthew Ferraro joined the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce as its president and CEO April 2019. Ferraro is a Katy area resident that formerly served as vice president of the Fort Bend Chamber of …
Matthew Ferraro joined the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce as its president and CEO April 2019. Ferraro is a Katy area resident that formerly served as vice president of the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce. He received his bachelor’s degree in Recreation, Park and Tourism Management from Texas A&M University. His chamber of commerce background also includes participation in the US Chamber of Commerce’s Institute of Organizational Management.
Katy Times posed the following questions to Ferraro, who began his time with the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce after the exit of former president, Ann Hodge. During the interim between Hodge’s and Ferraro’s administrations with the chamber, rumors of the chamber’s
How many members does the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce currently have and what are your methods and goals for increasing membership in 2020?
We currently sit at about 500 members and are growing quite rapidly. Every Chamber has their own methods of attracting new members. I believe in organic growth based on finding the right prospect that fits within our mission. In my years as a chamber executive [I’ve] come across two types of members, transactional and aspirational. Transactional members are focused on the immediate [return on investment] and the more tangible services that chambers offer [such as]. ribbon cuttings, email blasts, being an event host. … Aspirational members see the bigger picture. Yes – they may want the same things that transactional members desire, but they also believe in the mission of, and the reasons why your Chamber exists. They understand that we provide opportunities to advocate, connect, and grow their businesses and they take advantage of them.
There are chambers in and around our region and across the county that set up “membership drives” which allows them to add a significant amount of new members in a really short time frame. This process typically entails hiring an outside facilitator to gather a group of volunteers and call upon businesses within their respective areas to sell them a membership. Although it’s effective to increase membership numbers, often times there is less of a personal connection or relationship which leads to lower retention rates. To me, that process makes it feel like your membership becomes a numbers game.
I prefer organic growth by establishing strong relationships with our prospects while trying to show immediate value with the tools we have to help. Yes, I want to increase our membership numbers, however I don’t look at our members as numbers. They are people, businesses, entrepreneurs, and dreamers that have a goal to grow and become a valuable asset of our community. I want us to be a part of their success stories based on the relationships, resources, programs, and initiatives that we provide.
What do you see as the Chamber’s biggest challenge since taking the reins of the organization and what are you doing to overcome that challenge?
The unknown perception. There were a lot of questions surrounding our Chamber during the leadership transition. The Katy area community is very established and well-respected. I came in as sort of an unknown, so I’m focused on getting to know the community and hoping the community gets to know me. I would like them to know that their chamber is in good hands and has a plan for future growth and success.
For those in the community that don’t know me, I’ve spent my entire career in the chamber world being mentored by one of the best in the business at the Fort Bend Chamber. We were consistently recognized as a top 3% chamber in the country based on accreditation standards set by the US Chamber. In 2017 I received my [Institute for Organization Management] certification which is a four-year professional development program through the US Chamber. I served as the chair of the scholarship committee for [Texas Chamber of Commerce Executives] in 2019 and will continue to do so in 2020. As of Jan. 24, I was elected to serve as vice president of [Gulf Coast Chamber Executives]. I’m currently pursuing my [Certified Chamber Executive certification,] which is the highest certification possible by a chamber executive. Being so involved in the chamber community and making professional development a priority has really given me the tools and resources to become an effective leader for our chamber and community.
We are off to a great start but there is much more work to be done. We have some exciting programs and initiatives on the horizon that will be great for our chamber and community. With our team’s experience and passion for what we do, I believe the Katy Area Chamber has the potential to reach accreditation standards sooner rather than later.
What do you feel were the Chamber’s greatest successes of 2019 and how do you plan to leverage those successes?
Last year was amazing. I feel like so much happened in such a short time. One of the biggest wins for the chamber was bringing in our new team. I’m very grateful for the opportunity our board has given me to get our chamber moving in the right direction. We were fortunate to bring on an incredible support system with Ashley DeWispelaere and Rick Ellis. Ashley manages all of our events and programs and has done an outstanding job keeping us busy. Rick serves as our vice president and focuses on membership and retention. His relationships and knowledge within the community are second to none. We wouldn’t be where we are without them. They are an amazing team that allow us to truly help our members get engaged and connected.
According to our records, new members added reached an all-time high last year, which is great. Even better, member satisfaction and retention is higher. As I mentioned earlier, the relationship building is the most important aspect of a membership. Members are also seeing the value we are providing and are utilizing our resources to help them achieve their goals.
The chamber’s annual revenue grew by roughly 30% last year. The most exciting part is that we get to reinvest those gains back into the Chamber to provide even more opportunities, programs, and resources for our members to utilize.
We also restructured our programming and deliverable content last year and for 2020. Since we’ve put those in place, we are in the process of developing new content for 2021 and beyond with even more programs and initiatives that involve our members and community leaders.
What is one of the benefits the chamber offers that you feel members don’t utilize enough?
Businesses tend to join and not utilize their membership to its fullest extent. We will be providing quarterly membership meetings to educate our members with ways to “Maximize their Membership”. We’ve also enhanced our ambassador program which is more focused on relationship and member support.
To go a bit deeper into the question, there are so many benefits that you get from just utilizing the database appropriately. The MIC (Members Information Center) is where our members can go for referrals, create job postings, offer member to member deals, help drive their own website’s SEO, register for events, and update company and employee information, and much more. We updated our website last year to be very user and mobile friendly so we are just one click away.
I also think our “Business After Hours” events are underutilized. We understand that there are other responsibilities and commitments outside of normal work hours, however, if members are looking to get involved and build relationships, I urge them to attend our evening events. They are hosted by a Chamber member and are free to attend. Food and beverages are typically provided by the host member. It’s a great way to get your feet wet with the Chamber, our team, and community.
The biggest benefit I think some members forget to utilize is the Chamber team. We have four full-time paid staff. Many think the Chamber is a volunteer organization, and although it’s run by a volunteer Board of Directors, we employ a professional staff. Anyone on our team can help connect or refer members to whichever service you’re looking for.
What is the benefit of having a chamber of commerce in the community for the average Katy area resident?
Chambers of commerce are major resources and contributors to their local communities and residents. I like to think of us as the glue that holds everything together. We develop strong relationships with our cities and surrounding counties, as well as other business associations. This allows us to be a central resource for our residents to get connected to the businesses and educated with our programs and speakers.
Our residents are our local business owners and community leaders. They are the ones investing in our chamber. With a strong business community comes a strong residential community. It is up to us to show the continued value to help them reach their goals. We refer our residents directly to our members because our members are investing in us for a prosperous community. We act as a resource for our residents. When they have questions, we find answers. If they need help, we support them to the best of our abilities.
When your predecessor left, members expressed concerns about transparency in the chamber’s finances and administration. What are you doing to ensure financial and operational transparency in order to shore up the chamber’s relationships with its members?
We have an outstanding group of board members that continuously go above and beyond their required duties. There was a lot of structure that was needed for our chamber and our board had to work overtime to make sure things were in order. I’m grateful that they were able to put a solid foundation in place prior to me coming to the chamber.
Our board and executive team stepped up when the chamber needed them the most. Not a lot of people would spend as many hours as they did to start laying a solid foundation for the future of our chamber. I would say a number of people wrote our chamber off as something they didn’t see value in due to stagnant programing and many questions/rumors that may have gone unanswered.
My goal is to become an accredited chamber with the US Chamber of Commerce. Through the process and to keep accreditation, we’ll have to go through regular financial audits but more importantly, through accreditation, we are required to have financial policies and procedures in place to ensure that our chamber is in good standing and utilizing our finances to the best means for our members and community. We are hoping that we are ready to apply for accreditation, which is a very intensive process, in the next 2-3 years.
What opportunities do you see in Katy for the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce to grow and help businesses be successful?
We are fortunate to be located in an area that has immense growth potential. With new businesses popping up nearly every day, we have an incredible opportunity to be a resource for them and grow our membership.
Last year, we developed program content that highlights key areas of interest for our business community. Those [areas] are governmental affairs, education and workforce development, infrastructure and mobility and healthcare. We will continue to build content off of these pillars in 2020. However, there are a number of different programs that we have planned to launch in the coming years. This will allow our deliverable content to be unique and current with the needs of our community.
We are also set to launch our Leadership Katy program in August of this year. It’s a program designed to build leaders in the community but also be a resource to give back to the community. The program will allow individuals to learn about their community and develop key relationships that will help drive business opportunities. Upon graduation from the program, each class will be responsible for completing a community service project voted on by the class based on the needs of our area nonprofits.
The opportunities are endless for us to continue to help our business community. I feel like we’ve made great progress in doing that over the last few months. The most exciting part is that we are just getting started.
Editor’s note: This piece has been edited for clarity and length to fit in the available space.