What exactly is a chamber of commerce?

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The term “chamber of commerce” is one of the oldest and most well-recognized brands in the world, but there is significant public misunderstanding of its meaning. There is an old adage in the chamber world: “If you’ve seen one chamber, you’ve seen one.” This is true as all chambers have different mission and focus areas; there simply is not one cut-and-dried example of what a chamber of commerce is. Just as every community is different, every chamber is different.

Those who find themselves frustrated with a desire to apply universal truths to various chamber of commerce models point to the Chinese parable of the seven blind men touching different parts of an elephant and coming away describing it differently (“It’s a snake . . . no it’s a tree . . . no it’s a brush on a rope . . .”). In all cases, the whole of a chamber of commerce is greater than the sum of its parts, programs, people and participants.

At its core, 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 regions voluntarily form these local societies/networks to advocate on behalf of the community at large, economic prosperity and business interests. A bit of history: Chambers have existed in the US 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 are 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.

Locally, we’re fortunate to have numerous Chamber of Commerce groups representing our community. Some (Vail Chamber & Business Association, Eagle Chamber, Gypsum Chamber) focus their efforts on one community; Vail Valley Partnership works on a regional level, dedicated to the economic vitality of the entire Vail Valley.

With a membership of 800+ organizations that spans the Vail Valley and beyond and which represents 80% of the local workforce, Vail Valley Partnership is dedicated to ensuring local business success and fostering regional economic vitality by offering local business tools & resources, promoting the Vail Valley to destination guests, and initiating economic development efforts. We support local businesses. We unite key stakeholders. We lead collaborative efforts throughout the community.

Regardless of how you define a Chamber, I’m thankful for these various groups throughout the county because together we are stronger. It is a great benefit to our communities to have different groups working on aligned efforts for the benefit of creating a strong business environment.

Chris Romer is president & CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at VailValleyPartnership.com. Content for this column was pulled from the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE)