For some people, the best thing the Chamber does is work with the Legislature. For others, it’s working in the schools. Some want it to train future leaders and some want it to serve the needs of the leaders already in place. Many want to socialize and develop networks of contacts. Others want to be deeply involved in civic improvement programs and to be kept informed on critical issues. Most of them want the Chamber to be there when it’s time to recognize people for their great work.
Or more likely, all of the above, and then some.
It takes a lot of care and attention to meet the needs of its member firms. Over the years, a number of Chamber programs emerged, some of which became models for other cities. In fact, the program list is long and it changes often with the times.
Business After Hours
Typical is the Business After Hours (BAH) program, which started out small in 1978, said Fred Ball, then the executive secretary. The idea was to have a Chamber member provide food and drinks and show the community their facilities and products. It was one of the first projects that Deborah Bayle worked on after she joined the Chamber staff and before she became its vice president and chief operating officer. “It was over Halloween. Instead of a caterer, people brought food from home,” she said. Although the program grew slowly, with only thirty or so people coming out, it grew to draw three hundred or more–and sometimes six hundred. “Other chambers around the country emulated the Salt Lake Chamber and it has become a staple of programs across the country,” said Ball.
Learn about upcoming Business After Hours: HERE.
Utah Business Week
In 1980, B.Z. (Bud) Kastler, president of Mountain Fuel Supply, heard of an interesting program sponsored by the state of Washington that brought top high school students together to learn about American business. Dale Zabriskie of Mountain Fuel flew up that same week to check it out. Zabriskie came back saying that Utah Business Week would be a slam-dunk in Utah, but they’d need the Chamber to be involved. “Deborah Bayle and I sat down and put it together. I’ll never forget going into Kastler and saying, ‘We can do it, but we’ll need $30,000.’ Kastler said ‘We’ll give you $10,000,’ then he turned around and called UP&L, who gave $10,000, and he got another $10,000 from the phone company. ‘There’s the money,’ he said.”
Utah Business Week got underway that summer at Utah State University, which was delighted to have the students captive for a week. The Chamber took over the funding and operation the next year and Zabriskie was its volunteer chairman for ten years. “It’s an ideal opportunity for those of us in business to help high school students and teachers understand and appreciate our economic system,” said Zabriskie in 1988. Ball estimated that thousands of Utah students benefited from the program. The Salt Lake Chamber was the first local chamber to introduce the program, and it’s now used in some thirty-five states, said Bayle.
Leadership Utah started in 1985. An intensive educational program, it identified young, up-and-coming leaders who would commit to spending one day a month for ten months learning about the community. In 1988 their subjects included state government and taxation, arts, law enforcement and crime, tourism, economic development, Utah cultures, transportation, and volunteerism. But it’s more than discussions. Attendees get out and meet with community leaders–maybe visiting the prison one week and Welfare Square the next. They get a chance to talk with the leaders involved in community affairs. “Leadership Utah was an immediate success,” said Ball.
Learn more about Leadership Utah Opportunities: HERE.
Business to Business Expo
The Business to Business Expo grew out of the Business After Hours program. “People would ask if they could have a table to display their products,” recalls Bayle, “so we had the idea to do a trade show. The first one, in fact, was called the Business After Hours Trade Show.” Opened to the public in 1989 after two years of being limited to Chamber members, the show now has some 350 exhibitors and draws fourteen thousand business attendees each year. Chamber members do most of the organizing and coordinating of the festivities.
The Chamber’s plate has many other programs on it. Its Presidents Ambassadors keep in contact with members, it sponsors a Salt Lake Military Salute recognizing reservists from various military installations, it offers Breakfast Club briefings and leadership retreats. It has a full-time lobbyist with the Legislature and it helps members involved with international trade.
It works closely with the Transportation Management Association and the Women’s Business Center, which are located within the Chamber’s offices. And it recently began its own political action committee, called Chamber PAC, which raises funds independently of the Chamber’s regular programs for causes and candidates it favors.
Multi-Ethnic Business Committee
In an effort to broaden its reach, the Chamber created the Multi-Ethnic Business Committee in 1997. Among its goals, the committee seeks to promote an economic climate that helps businesses owned by minorities grow, fosters new and existing resources for minority-owned businesses and provides educational opportunities for those business owners. The committee also educates lawmakers and public officials about legislation that may help or harm minority-owned businesses.
“Often times minorities feel locked out, so to speak, from the business community. To do business, businesses need to feel comfortable with each other.
Through the years the Chamber saw many of the programs it started spin off into full-fledged state or local organizations. It’s a long list, but one of the more recent spin-offs was the Economic Development Corp. of Utah (EDCU) in 1987. The Chamber involved itself from the beginning with promoting jobs in Utah, and was especially focused on this during the Great Depression and World War II. For many years it was almost alone in the arena, but as the state grew, more organizations entered the field, until every chamber and municipality in the valley had its own effort. Finally, Salt Lake County’s public and private economic development agencies created the Economic Development Corp. of Utah to represent them all together. Its first president was D. N. “Nick” Rose, who was also chairman of the Chamber’s board of governors.
(Although the spin-off was praised in the press, it was a huge challenge for the Chamber, recalled Deborah Bayle Nielsen. “That was a hard time for us. When that effort, which had been so much a part of the Chamber for so long, was spun off, we had to reestablish ourselves in the community. A lot of companies that had been with us for the benefits of economic development left the Chamber.”)
Many of the entities that originated in one way or another at the Chamber still share their common ground. Groups that sit in as ex-officio members of the Chamber’s board of governors include members of the EDCU, the Downtown Alliance and the Utah Transit Authority.
But there are always the Salt Shakers. Most people encounter the Chamber through this amiable group of white-coated ambassadors, who show up at ribbon cuttings and grand openings in support of their fellow business associates, take goodwill trips to other cities and states, greet visiting dignitaries and generally try to represent the community with good humor and enthusiasm.
One of the Chamber’s oldest continuing programs, the Salt Shakers got their new white blazers sporting Chamber of Commerce emblems in 1968 when Maxwell E. Rich, then executive secretary, spun them off the Wholesale Trade Committee and sent them out as a special goodwill group. But they are a continuation of a long tradition at the Chamber, which was sponsoring goodwill tours throughout the region in its very early years when paved roads were a novelty.
In that same spirit, the Chamber has another cherished tradition of honoring individuals and firms in the community. It might be welcoming a favorite son–like former Salt Lake Mayor, then Utah Senator Jake Garn when he returned from space–or perhaps paying tribute to the Utah Jazz. It created the Small Business of the Year award in 1987 as part of the Business to Business Expo (giving it to Guardian Title Co. of Utah). In 1997 that became the Giant Step Small Business Award with three new awards: Entrepreneurial Success, Community Service, and Home-based Business. In 2001 a Minority Small Business Award joined the program. (A list of recipients is in the appendix.)
A Giant in Our City
The Chamber’s premiere honor began in 1970. Fred Ball remembers being asked by General Rich to serve on a committee to honor Eric Aaberg, who was retiring as chief executive of Mountain Bell. “The committee proposed to the board of governors that a new award be established to be called the ‘Giant in our City’ Award,” Ball said. Aaberg became the first person to receive the honor, which is given occasionally to a member of the business community who displays exceptional service to the community. (A list of the honorees is included in the appendix.)
Appropriately, the last big event of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games occurred on April 24, 2002, when the Chamber gave this signal recognition to Mitt Romney, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. The Chamber had been there at the beginning of the Olympics, and it was there at the end, offering its congratulations.
Learn more about Giant in our City: HERE.
Sources: Salt Lake Chamber annual report, 2000-2001. Salt Lake Chamber web site, www.saltlakechamber.org. Salt Shakers scrapbook and Fred Ball manuscript in Salt Lake Chamber, 175 East 400 South, Salt Lake City. Interview with Deborah Bayle Nielsen, 10 June 2002, and with Dale Zabriskie, 20 June 2002. Salt Lake Tribune 29 November 1968. Deseret News 15 August 1987, 5 June 1988, 8 November 1988, 15 March 1989, 29 July 1989.