There are many misconceptions about what a chamber of commerce is and what its people do.
Chambers have existed in the U.S. for more than two centuries, with many having been established before the jurisdictions they represent. Most communities have a chamber of commerce, and if they don’t, they should have one.
According to the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, there are roughly 4,000 chambers in the U.S. with at least one full-time employee. A chamber of commerce is a membership-based organization, comprised of businesses and organizations joining forces to be the voice of the community, while offering programs and benefits for their members. Local chambers are often – but not always – paying members of their state and national chambers of commerce. This connection is one of voluntary membership and does not extend to control or governance.
Chambers of commerce in the U.S. operate almost exclusively as non-profit entities known as 501(c)(6) corporations. Unlike charities, these 501(c)(6) non-profits have the authority under state and federal tax rules to represent their members in public policy debates. They may lobby and take positions on actual or proposed legislation, subject to local, state and federal laws.
However, the Houston Area Chamber of Commerce by-laws state that the organization shall remain bipartisan. When the chamber was established, the founding fathers felt it should be neutral when it came to matters involving tax increases, political parties or bond issues.
The goal of any chamber is to help to further the interests of small businesses in a local area. The activities can range from hosting events, job fairs, monthly luncheons or charitable works for the betterment of the community. The community level chamber of commerce helps to keep small businesses in the local area alive and a viable option to community members.
The Houston Area Chamber of Commerce is a self-funded organization made up of businesses, civic groups, churches and individuals. The chamber is run by a board of 11 peers and has one full-time employee and several volunteers who have one goal: The prosperity of Houston and the surrounding community.
Throughout the year, the chamber sponsors many activities and events that give the community various choices for entertainment and enjoyment they wouldn’t otherwise have. The Old Settlers Reunion, circus, Monster Trucks, Hawk Nelson concert, BMX/DMX show and the demolition derby are just a few of the past events the local chamber has promoted. Every time we have an event, people spend money here, and that creates revenue for the city. We also hold several events that allow our local businesses to highlight themselves, like the spring and Christmas bazaars, Independence Day parade, fireworks show, The Taste of Christmas and the Christmas parade.
The chamber office is housed in the Houston Visitors Center, and we routinely hand out information, answer questions and send out relocation packets about Houston and the surrounding area. The chamber office also is equipped with displays for flyers, business cards and brochures.
The chamber also oversees the community building, Murfin Building, arena, baseball field, and cook shack at the county fairgrounds. The community building is constantly rented by organizations and groups for all sorts of occasions.
The chamber website has our calendar of events and a catalog of our members and the services they offer. If you have not done so, find our page on Facebook and like it to stay up to date on all our upcoming events. There you will find the date and time the event will be held.
Starting Monday, Feb. 10, we will be highlighting a different business every two weeks on Facebook. The chamber also tries to document everything we do via newspaper ads in the Houston Herald, radio advertisement and Facebook advertisement. We do before and after newspaper articles of each event, and some are very elaborate and include numerous photos.
Monthly luncheons are held at noon on the first Wednesday of every month. The meal and presentation are provided to members free of charge by the hosting chamber member. The host has an opportunity to speak on a topic relating to their business, organization or an issue that the hosting business has experience with. During the luncheon, we also allow time for special announcements from chamber members and give chamber members the opportunity to speak briefly about their business. Attending chamber members are encouraged to bring business cards, flyers or brochures to share with other members.
The annual membership banquet gives chamber members the opportunity to come together and recognize important people in our community. This is an excellent time for members to network with each other and the public. Each year the banquet is assigned a theme. This year’s theme will be “Gone With The Wind.” The banquet will be held at 6:30 p.m. March 7, and tickets are available at the chamber office for $15 apiece. Businesses are encouraged to participate by decorating a table or dressing in costume for this year’s theme.
Ribbon cuttings and grand openings are an excellent way to announce your business or organization’s new membership, relocation or special anniversary. These events are featured in our local newspaper, as well as our website and Facebook page.
The chamber receives inquiries each day requesting information regarding businesses that provide goods and services throughout the Houston area. Referrals of member businesses takes precedence over non-member referrals.
“Constant Contact” is a service the chamber provides for businesses to get the word out about upcoming events, special sales, etc., at no cost to you.
One new feature the chamber can offer its members is the MEWA insurance plan. To be eligible for this plan, you need to be a member in good standing and have between two and 49 employees. You can call the chamber if you would like more information on the plan.
In conclusion, a strong chamber of commerce is vital in the preservation of small-town businesses. Every member, donation and volunteer hour are not only needed, but are greatly appreciated. The Chamber board of directors and myself want to say thank you to our 125 members and numerous volunteers. We will continue to work for you and the betterment of the community.
Angie Quinlan is executive director of the Houston Area Chamber of Commerce. She can be reached by phone at 417-967-2220 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.