After four wonderful years leading World Trade Center Utah, I have accepted a new role as president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance. Before embarking on this new opportunity, I set out to learn about the chamber’s history, services, partners and programs. While I have been an executive board member of the chamber for many years, there was plenty I learned for the first time, which I’d like to share with the business community it serves.
The Salt Lake Chamber has been passionately involved in matters both economic and civic for over 130 years. Originally known as the Commercial Club, it was established to build bridges throughout the community and promote economic development. Although the Commercial Club was founded in 1902, Utah history includes an earlier Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce formed in 1887 that was created to revive trade, create industries, and attract tourism and relocation to the capital city.
Aware that civic improvements were vital to Utah’s economic success, the Commercial Club was heavily involved in many notable projects throughout its history. In 1914, the club successfully lobbied for the paving of State Street as well as multiple sanitation improvements. When the Commercial Club became the Salt Lake Chamber in 1922, it also had a hand in obtaining a first-rate zoo in the middle of the Great Depression, putting Bonneville Salt Flats on the map and then later helping to attract an NBA team to their new home.
While it’s easy to tout the chamber’s larger accomplishments, it is also important to remember that it exists to serve the state’s large and small businesses.
“Although the Salt Lake Chamber is capital city by name, it is statewide by mission,” says Heidi Walker, chief operating officer at the chamber. As a champion of business throughout Utah, the chamber has members in all 29 counties and represents the broad interests of the state’s various industries.
Members of the chamber benefit from educational and networking events, access to other business leaders and various opportunities to give back. In addition to these services, members receive something more difficult to come by—a loud and powerful collective voice that speaks on behalf of their best interest.
One of the ways this voice manifests itself is in the form of a publication titled the “Top 10 Legislative Priorities,” which is given directly to every legislator and is distributed to over 1,100 attendees at the Utah Economic Outlook and Public Policy Summit.
The 2018 Top 10 Legislative Priorities consists of priorities such as economic development, transportation and quality of life. Priorities are decided upon during a retreat in which 90-plus board members discuss the future of Utah’s economy by looking ahead five, 10 and 15 years. The board identifies megatrends and then takes a deep dive on best ways to tackle approaching issues and opportunities. To ensure these priorities are acted upon, each of the 10 priorities includes multiple legislative actions and specific instructions to address them.
The result from this year’s legislative session was a 90 percent success rate for all chamber priority bills. Among these successful priority bills are the development of an inland port and the merging of Utah’s metro-statistical areas to enhance our attractiveness as a region.
“The Salt Lake Chamber has become ingrained in the legislative process,” says Kimberly Flores, director of PR & communication for the chamber. “Lawmakers look forward to receiving our publication before the session starts so they know the business community’s priorities for the year.”
The chamber has 23 partner organizations and programs you have likely heard of and definitely benefited from. Its main strategic partner, the Downtown Alliance, is dedicated to building a dynamic and diverse community that is the regional center for culture, commerce and entertainment.
“In the ’70s and ’80s, people worked downtown, but couldn’t wait to get back to the suburbs,” says Jason Mathis, executive director of the Downtown Alliance. “Now that is reversed. You find that people with tech jobs in Lehi want to live downtown.”
In addition to providing support and public policy advocacy to local business, the Downtown Alliance has created and grown community programs and initiatives such as the Farmers Market, Downtown Rising, Last Hurrah SLC and others. It also supports various events including the Days of ‘47 Parade and the Utah Pride Festival.
Some of the chamber’s branded programs include the Women’s Business Center of Utah, which empowers women through resources and support, and the Utah Transportation Coalition, which aims to provide Utah with a 21st-century transportation system.
During its 130th anniversary celebration, the Salt Lake Chamber recovered a 1909 time capsule from the Commercial Club Building. Inside were two speeches that reflected the Commercial Club’s original mission statement. What is remarkable about the mission from that time is how closely it resembles the mission of today: to stand as the voice of business, support members’ success and champion community prosperity.
While the chamber will continue to hold true to this mission, it recognizes that its evolution and future will be guided by the business community and board members that make it so strong.