The Chamber of Commerce: Not Just for Businesses

by Beth Pratt, for Compass & Clock

Most people recognize chambers of commerce for promoting member businesses or hosting networking events. Chambers are perhaps less well known for their work on behalf of municipalities and individuals. In fact, many chambers support their communities with projects like these:

  • Sponsoring scholarships for high school seniors and internships for students considering careers in business, hospitality, or civil service.
  • Offering open presentations and classes on a variety of local topics.
  • Serving as the registration hub for marathons, fun runs, or biking events. Chambers of commerce often sell event-specific promotional items, as well as general regional merchandise such as hats or t-shirts.
  • Partnering with city governments to organize festivals and public programs like music in the park or pickleball competitions. Chambers often produce a monthly calendar to highlight these events.
  • Providing newcomers with lists of local restaurants, churches, and parks.

In addition to the community work highlighted above, the chambers of commerce in Washington state often operate visitor information centers on behalf of tourism bureaus. These welcome centers are stocked with brochures featuring nearby lodging, recreational activities, and historical sites. While the centers are managed by chambers of commerce, daily operations are staffed by knowledgeable volunteers who answer tourists’ questions about the region.

Volunteers can also be paired by chambers of commerce with local organizations like emergency-management groups or libraries. And chambers sometimes associate volunteer members with their ambassador groups, which participate in ribbon cuttings, business openings or anniversaries, and kickoffs for events and festivals.

For area newcomers, these kinds of volunteer positions provide a way to meet people, become familiar with businesses, and learn about the culture of their new town. In fact, there are often newcomer clubs attached to chambers of commerce.

For established residents, first-time entrepreneurs, or retirees, the chamber of commerce can provide a way to interact with other community members while having a direct line of communication to local leaders in business and government. It’s also a good way to support neighbors and friends in their enterprises, schools, and nonprofit organizations.

Most chambers of commerce offer individual memberships as well as business memberships. Dues are used for a variety of events, information channels, and projects throughout the community.

Beth Pratt is executive director of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce. Compass & Clock is an organization that provides information for living in middle age, retirement, and senior years.