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The Value of History

By Jim Mikula, President/CEO

History has always fascinated me. My grandmother worked for the state’s department of education when I was a kid, and during the summer after 3rd grade, she brought home some biographies of past presidents for me. Reading about the lives of people like Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt made me feel that life could be an adventure. Learning to enjoy reading continues to be a cherished gift from her.

Last week, I came across information about the history of organizations we now call the Chambers of Commerce. The term “Chamber of Commerce” dates back to end of the 17th century in Marseille, France when the city council established an organization to support businesses. One of the earliest chambers in the USA is in Charleston South Carolina that was founded in 1773—celebrating 250 years in 2023.

Early chambers were engaged in the organization of markets, made rules for trade, and often operated trading floors. Chambers evolved into community organizations supporting businesses rather than organizing or regulating trade as they realized that a vital community requires the development of a prosperous business community. I’m guessing that the founders of the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce in 1920 had come to the same conclusion. In addition, I expect they deduced that a collective voice is more powerful than individual voices.

The further evolution of chambers has led to expertise in the field of community development. This requires an understanding of the history of the community, its current challenges, and future issues. This why the President of the Chamber is a member (non-voting) of the

Economic Development Commission and the Convention & Visitor Bureau. This allows for a voice of the business community at these two important organizations. Further, our Chamber has a voice with City Council and staff through an honest and respectful relationship.

Strong communities are just that: a collective of individuals, alliances, organizations, institutions and businesses that unite in their common concerns and aspirations for peace and prosperity. Our community has all the raw material, the capacity and the means to continue our amazing success. It will, however, take all of us – individually and collectively – to create the future we want and deserve.

Reading and reflecting on the history about chambers of commerce has been helpful to me, as our board has its annual strategic planning meeting on January 18. An historical perspective can create new thinking plus appreciate what has been accomplished. The Chamber’s plan will certainly be focused on addressing our business community’s current needs, but it will have an eye toward anticipating needs of the Fredericksburg of tomorrow.

As we head into 2024 and take on the challenges ahead, I say—Let’s Make History!

Historical source—Texas Chamber of Commerce Handbook for Executives

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