The Gonzales Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture has been promoting and supporting the greater Gonzales area since 1923.
For almost 100 years, this vital organization has been involved in promoting community growth, business and membership improvement.
But as times have changed, so has the chamber. The chamber jokingly calls itself, “the Google of Gonzales because everyone calls and asks us for information on just about anything and everything under the sun for this area.” For good reason, too.
It has been an incredible journey.
Founded in 1923, the Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture was a fledgling organization looking for membership and trying to promote area business concerns. The office was housed in the Randle-Rather Building until the late Seventies, when an effort was made to move the chamber office to the Old Jail.
There had been talk in town of tearing down the Old Jail, but local resident Genevieve Valentine would not hear of it. She led an effort to save the Old Jail, and proposed the chamber move its offices from the Randle-Rather Building to the Old Jail in an effort to help save the historic landmark.
The effort work, and chamber director at the time Gail Schauer, made the transition work. Over the next 30 to 35 years, the chamber was under the direction of Schauer, Wayne Ellison and Barbara Hand. Hand ran the chamber for 31 years before current director Daisy Scheske Freeman took over in July 2013.
“When I first came back to Gonzales to assume the position of chamber director, the chamber had somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 members,” Freeman said. “My number one goal was to focus on the Come and Take It Celebration, and that led me down a lot of different paths.”
Since Freeman has come aboard, the chamber has expanded its presence in the community and throughout the state of Texas.
“I started going to seminars and networking with other chambers,” Freeman said. “After talking to other people, we recognized a number of areas where we could provide more services to our members. We implemented a strong social media platform, started an online community calendar and put together a bi-weekly newsletter.
“This was extremely beneficial to our membership and to the community as a whole. I think as a result of this and the participation of a strong chamber board, we have grown membership to almost 400 members in just five years.
“That’s pretty good for a community of our size.”
Freeman says the chamber serves two major purposes for business and agriculture interests in the area.
“First, we are here to help promote, market and assist area business and community needs to our membership. On the other side of the coin, by having a strong membership base, we are able to provide more out-of-the box services which also serves the needs of our members and the community.
“For instance, we work with the Texas Film Commission, the I-10 Corridor, GVRA, the hospital, the schools and others to bring business and promote the area. When the Texas Film Commission came to Gonzales we helped them buy products from local mom-and-pop businesses and got them to stay in our hotels. When the Texas Young Farmers came to town last year, we served as the mechanism to drive local business activity.
“We are here to promote our individual members needs, but also to go beyond the local realm to bring people here to benefit our members as well.”
Freeman has been very active in the marketing and promotion arm of the chamber. She currently serves as vice-chair of the TCCE Excellence in Media Award committee for media and marketing.
“We are becoming well-known throughout Texas as an innovator in chamber operations, and people are calling and coming from all over Texas to see what is going on in our town,” Freeman said. “We are winning some big awards, and I think it helps our visibility as we gain positive notoriety.”
Freeman also believes the people who live and work in the area are a vital asset which helps make the chamber more successful.
“There are hard-working, friendly people who live here,” she said. “People here are very hospitable, we have a quaint community with a great downtown square, there are lots of moms-and-pops businesses so we don’t have a reputation of being a chain-store community, and we are located in a perfect location of the state—only an hour away from Austin, San Antonio and Victoria.
“We have so much to offer.”
Freeman and her colleague Liz Reiley-DuBose are not resting on their laurels however. They are continuing to promote the website that is averaging 9,000 hits a month and are planning on moving into a new building in the next year or so.
“We will have much more space in our new building, so we can accommodate the tours and visitors we get here,” Freeman said. “Right now, we can only get about seven people in the office at one time, and in our new building we will have enough space to accommodate much larger groups with more ample parking.
“Plus, the new building will have off-site rooms for businesses to host meetings, to conduct interviews, to sell more merchandise—it will be better for a visitor’s experience that’s for sure.”
The Chamber is hosting a brick sale to help raise money for the new building and its operation, as it is a 501 (c) (6) non-profit organization that is funded by memberships and its own fundraising. It is not a taxing authority. There is a flyer in this week’s Gonzales Inquirer that provides details on the brick sales.
MAIN: Daisy Scheske Freeman (left) and Liz Reiley-DuBose (right) are two pieces in a Gonzales Chamber of Commerce operation that helps promote, market and assist area business and community needs to our membership.
Photo by Terry Fitzwater/Gonzales Inquirer
BRICK: The Gonzales Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture will be moving into this building in the next year.