Chambers Facing Challenges – Tales of AdaptabilityTuesday, December 9, 2014
Chris Mead is senior vice president of the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. He is also the author of The Magicians of Main Street: America and its Chambers of Commerce, 1768-1945. (And with the holidays coming up, what gift could be more perfect for your chamber staff or chairperson?)
As today’s guest blogger, Chris shares a few stories from his vast knowledge of chamber history.
Apathy . . . what chamber doesn’t face it every now and then? And how important is it to overcome it?
The chamber of commerce in Charleston, S.C., faced this problem in the middle of 1790. Several members resigned and in July, there was a motion made to dissolve the chamber. Fortunately, this motioned was postponed, and in September the motion was withdrawn and the chamber brought on a number of new members.
This revival was timely. On March 30, 1791, the chamber approved a resolution to host President George Washington on his visit to the city. The successful gala event took place on May 7. Thus right after almost succumbing to apathy, the chamber members hosted the father of their country.
At other times in the nation’s history, chambers faltered, and some naturally disappeared from the scene. Nothing is immortal. But no major chambers vanished during the Great Depression. Tactics for collecting dues then included suing nonpaying members, sending pretty girls to collect late dues, and sitting recalcitrant members at the head table at events next to powerful board members.
In the Second World War – when some chamber executives worried that their institutions would be among the “expendables” while the nation looked for every spare resource – chambers kept on going. For example, in early 1941 the Honolulu Chamber had organized a blood bank and carefully took the names of all the donors in case additional blood would be needed. On December 7, 1941, that blood was needed very much and saved many lives. Later in the war, that same chamber helped in recruiting, and organized a rousing sendoff for, the “Go for Broke” 442nd Combat Team of Japanese-Americans, which went on to become the most decorated unit in U.S. military history.
Chambers of commerce are amazingly flexible institutions, and have proven so since the New York Chamber was founded in 1768. They will continue to face challenges, from apathy to dire economic straits to war to the Internet. No one should take their survival for granted, nor should anyone be complacent about their future. But based on their record of survival and adaptability thus far. . . I wouldn’t bet against them. Would you?
Buy The Book
If you enjoyed today’s guest blog by Chris Mead, you’ll love his book. The Magicians of Main Street: America and its Chambers of Commerce, 1768-1945 is a must-read for anyone working in the chamber industry—and the perfect holiday gift for chamber executives! The book is now available on Amazon.