Chambers of Commerce: The Basics
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A chamber of commerce is an organization of businesses seeking to further their collective interests, while advancing their community, region, state or nation. Business owners in towns, cities and other territories voluntarily form these local societies/networks to advocate on behalf of the community at large, economic prosperity and business interests. Chambers have existed in the U.S. for more than two centuries, with many having been established before the jurisdictions they represent. A business-led civic and economic advancement entity operating in a specific space may call itself any number of things – board of trade, business council, etc. – but for the purposes of this primer, they are all chambers of commerce.
Chamber missions vary, but they all tend to focus to some degree on five primary goals: Building communities (regions/states/nations) to which residents, visitors and investors are attracted; promoting those communities; striving to ensure future prosperity via a pro-business climate; representing the unified voice of the employer community; and Reducing transactional friction through well-functioning networks. Chambers have other features in common. Most are led by private-sector employers, self-funded, organized around boards/committees of volunteers and independent. They share a common ambition for sustained prosperity of their community/region, built on thriving employers. Most are ardent proponents of the free-market system, resisting attempts to overly burden private sector enterprise and investment.
Local businesses are voluntary-paying members of a chamber (nonprofits, quasi-public and even public sector employers also sometimes pay dues to belong). The membership, acting collectively, elects a board of directors and/or executive council to set policy for, and guide the workings of, the chamber. The board or executive committee then hires a chief executive (various titles), plus an appropriate and affordable number of staff to run the organization.
While most chambers work closely with government, they are not part of government although many consider the process of appropriately influencing elected/appointed officials to be one of their most important functions.
Currently, there are about 13,000 chambers registered in the official World Chambers Network registry. There are roughly 3,000 chambers of commerce in the U.S. with at least one full-time staff person and thousands more established as strictly volunteer entities.