Their defining movie minute was in Peter Benchley’s classic Jaws: “I don’t want you to close the beaches, 4th of July is make or break for the merchants.” On TV, Floyd the Barber in Mayberry RFD was their self-appointed president, calling meetings while snipping and shaving Barney and Gomer.
The are cast by the electronic media as the epitome of greed or as permanent pressed polyester clad glad-handers. But then, too often they don’t tell people what they are.
In their forum the corporate magnate works with the union president to bring jobs to the community. The smallest business is as important as the largest employer and in that process conflict becomes cooperation.
All over Pennsylvania they are as different as they are strong. In the Poconos they host holiday parties for needy families at the Salvation Army. In Valley Forge they rally to move and preserve a 300 year-old historic Inn. In Wilkes Barre they teach kids to read, in the Central Susquehanna Valley they honor kids who achieve good grades in school.
Who are they? Larry Vaughn, of shark ridden Amity Beach and Floyd the Barber were presidents of their local Chamber of Commerce. While Larry may have gone overboard, Floyd always worried that things, other than Barney’s hair, were right, just right in Mayberry.
That what the 250,000 members of Pennsylvania’s 240 Chambers of Commerce do. They worry, and they work to make things right. The Chamber of Commerce is the touchstone of the community. It’s the combination of elements led by business, institutions and government that provides the forum to solve problems and get things done. Often perceived as government agencies, few get taxpayer dollars. By and large Chamber members put their own money on the line and sweat to get it back.
Shame on you if you didn’t know who they were. If the highways you ride on got fixed recently the Chamber of Commerce probably paved the political path that got the government working. If the small business you work for offers you health insurance, chances are the Chamber Of Commerce helped your employer get it for you. If your company is expanding in Pennsylvania, giving you more job security, well thank your Chamber of Commerce.
But worrying about getting things done and getting them paid for are two different matters. Merger mania, especially in the banking and utility industries hasn’t helped Chambers. Consolidated businesses means fewer members and mega-corporations mean more distant decision making. Independent business owners in this highly competitive electronic age know that when they volunteer to give a couple of hours to a Chamber project they are giving up the 25th and 26th hours of their day.
Nationally only about 40% of businesses belong to a Chamber of Commerce. That’s a sorry number. When the businesses that can’t-afford-the-dues, has-national-interests or doesn’t-have-the-time use their rash of excuses and later end up in trouble, the first place they usually call is the Chamber of Commerce. And after all of that there is still a pretty good chance the Chamber will still help them.
Don’t wait. October is Chamber of Commerce month in Pennsylvania. If you are in business call your local Chamber of Commerce. If you don’t and some day you get in trouble and then call and nobody answers, well shame on you.