Highlands Chamber undergoing Revival

By David Taylor
Managing Editor

For three years, the Highlands Chamber of Commerce endured an unplanned closure. A world-wide pandemic sidelined the previously active organization and then their beloved director, Jessica Woods, suffered a devastating stroke following the death of her mother. The cascade of events left the chamber reeling until last week.

“It was just a confluence of circumstances that brought the chamber to a standstill,” said incoming president of the chamber, Jim Wadzinski.

Anxious to get back to business and resurrect the chamber, current president Rand Casey called for a meeting last week and to his surprise, 30-plus members were present at the first in person meeting in quite a while.

“You can help us out by bringing new members into the chamber,” he challenged those present.

Casey invited former chamber president Jim Wadzinski to speak to those present on the importance of chambers to the community at large. Wadzinski has agreed to return as president next year to help lead the rebuilding of the chamber.

“The Highlands Chamber is not just a chamber of commerce in the classic sense being an organization that brings businesses together for events and networking opportunities,” he began. “But as an unincorporated community, you have no polital representation that is specifically geared toward the needs, wants, and desires of Highlands,” he reminded the members.

He thanked current and previous commissioners and political leaders for their unwavering support, but also pointed out they needed to hear from a unified group.

“During my tenure, we had a resident come to us with a complaint about several street corners that were under lit and was inviting crime to the area,” he said.

Wadzinski said they called leadership at the county which was Jack Mormon at the time and arranged a meeting.

“We were asking for the replacement of about 14 lights,” he told the crowd, but the commissioner’s office came back with a different number.

After they conducted a survey, they came back to the chamber.

“They told us, ‘You don’t need 14 streetlights,” Wadzinski said thinking to himself, “Oh God, here we go,” expecting a fight to get them.

The rep continued, “You need 172!” They were replaced at the request of the chamber.

“Have you seen the work that was done on FM 2100 and Main Street in Highlands?” he asked. “That too, was a project we were involved in for five to six years.”

“Those are just two examples of what a chamber can do for a community when the community has needs. But it’s especially important, as I said, in an unincorporated community because this is the group. This is the organization that can go to the local politicians to the state level and say we need we support this,” he said.

With the addition of SH 99, the completion of Main Street and FM 2100 through Crosby and under construction through Huffman to SH 99, Wadzinski pointed out that the area is more interconnected now than ever before.

“The future of Highlands is tied to Baytown, to Channelview, to Crosby, and to Dayton,” he said. With growth exploding on the east side, he said it was important for Highlands to have a seat at the table.

“A Chamber of Commerce is an organization of businesses operating as a 501c6 organization and as a coalition of businesspeople and concerned citizens in the area, we do get the attention of politicians,” he explained.

“What are the benefits of a chamber?” he asked. Well, the first benefit is the ability to network with fellow businessmen that will feed all our businesses,” he said.

In a study done by the Schapiro Group and commissioned by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, one of the findings was when consumers know that a small business is a member of the chamber of commerce, they are 49 percent more likely to think favorably of it and 80 percent more likely to purchase goods or services from the company in the future.

“You also gain referrals for business with chamber connections,” he said, “and there are all kinds of marketing outlets through the chamber.”

The Christmas Tree Lighting will return in a different location, the chamber directory will return, and Wadzinski also promised to resurrect the Highlands Jamboree at some point.

“Here’s my plea to everyone today. Number one, thank you for being here. Number two, thank you for your membership. If you haven’t renewed your membership yet, please do. And number three, help us get new members. Right now, what we need more than anything else is operating cash. Consider sponsoring the gala, or a sponsor at the golf tournament,” he asked.

To reach out to the chamber to join or make a tax-deductible donation for Christmas, contact them at 281-426-7227.