Savannah Chamber of Commerce
It would be easy to say that, when a group of merchants gathered in Savannah on Dec. 13, 1806 to form a chamber of commerce, they had no idea what their city would become. But the Savannah Chamber of Commerce has always been pretty far-sighted, so it's entirely possible that if the same group viewed the city and the organization today, its members wouldn't be surprised.
As the Savannah chamber celebrates its 200th anniversary - with a gala held the same day as its founding - President Bill Hubbard looks at the past and the future, and likes what he sees. "We're proud of our community today and the role we've played in getting us here," he says.
The chamber is, of course, focused on promoting business - one of the group's first moves in 1806 was to create a system to track commerce at the city's port, which helped establish the facility as a top shipping location on the East Coast. It also helped bring the United Way to Savannah, along with Hunter Army Base, Savannah Technical College and Armstrong Atlantic State, and even the Savannah Music Festival.
"Businesses and chambers of commerce are expected to be involved in promoting profit-making enterprises," Hubbard says. "But one of the things we love, and it shows in our history, is that we've played a role in other areas. And we're continuing to work on issues like reducing poverty and making sure everyone receives a balanced education. We're proud of being right there with our shirt sleeves rolled up, working on these issues."
It's a busy agenda, but there's still time for celebration. The black-tie gala on the 13th will draw upwards of 700 people, maybe as many as 1,000, to toast the chamber - the oldest professional organization in Georgia and one of the oldest chambers in the nation.
When it was launched, the chamber boasted 85 members; today, more than 2,200 businesses claim membership.
And whether or not the founders envisioned Savannah's reputation as a hot, hip city, they certainly laid the groundwork. As Hubbard says, "We've gone from being a well-kept secret to being a well-kept community that's progressing at a rapid rate. We've merged new ideas and people with different experiences with our respect for tradition." In the chamber's case, that's a tradition worth celebrating.