After Fred Ball retired as president of the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce in 1995, the role of leadership fell to a succession of people before the board hired a professional chamber executive, Larry Mankin, in late 1998.
When Ball left, Deborah Bayle became acting chief officer. With the Chamber for twenty years, she had been its chief operating officer and initiated a number of new programs. On February 14, 1996, Stan Parrish became president and chief executive officer. He had been Republican Party state chairman.
Parrish stayed in the job a little over two years, during which the Chamber saw some major organizational changes. In 1997, the Chamber formed the Transportation Management Association and recruited Jess Agraz to lead it. It provided help for businesses to get through the four and a half years it would take to rebuild I-15 through the valley. Twenty Chamber members gave $5,000 apiece to fund the organization, which operates out of the Chamber offices. During the construction, Parrish and Mayor DeeDee Corridini lobbied hard to clear up the land near the Union Pacific and Rio Grande Depots that ultimately became the new Gateway center.
Also under Parrish’s leadership the Women’s Business Center began in 1997, and it too received national attention and became a model for other centers.
In July of 1998, Parrish resigned, citing “personal and professional difficulties.” Mark Stromberg, who had just completed his year as chairman of the Chamber, became its acting president and a nationwide search began for a new executive. Some forty people applied for the job.
That search ended in December in Kalamazoo County, Michigan, where Larry G. Mankin was president of its chamber. He had twenty years of experience in chamber management, starting in Kearney, Nebraska, and he accepted responsibilities for larger chambers over the years. In Salt Lake City, he took over an organization of about seventeen hundred members, a $2 million budget, and a staff of twenty-four (slightly smaller than the chamber he left).
The search committee, headed by Bill Nelson of Intermountain Health Care, liked his enthusiasm and his record of growing the membership of the chamber. That was something Salt Lake needed, he said.
And for nearly three years the Chamber’s membership did grow, reaching two thousand at one time, but after the horrific events of September 11, 2001, the country generally fell into a slump, and not-for-profit organizations across the board suffered. The Chamber’s membership slipped to eighteen hundred in mid 2002, but “our base is strong and it will continue to be strong,” Mankin said. In 2002 the Chamber was seeing much of its growth from small businesses, with 86 percent of its members having fewer than fifty employees.
The Chamber also went through a rebranding process to rebuild its image. It adopted a new name, “The Salt Lake Chamber” and a new slogan, “It’s everybody’s business.” The slogan signified the Chamber’s goal of representing all Utah businesses, not just those in Salt Lake City, in effect taking it back to its roots.
Mankin also noted that within thirty minutes of his office, twenty-two chambers of commerce were operating. The Chamber reached out to them, creating an “Affiliation Task Force” whose goal was to create relationships with other chambers and work on issues together.
Mankin became chairman of the State Chamber of Commerce, an organization that had been dormant for a long time. A measure of that cooperation came when the Chamber joined with three other chambers to show their support for the controversial Legacy Highway in Davis County. Joining in were the Davis, Salt Lake, Ogden/Weber, and Provo/Orem chambers. “You can’t put all your eggs in one basket,” Mankin said. “You just can’t build one system and expect that to be the answer.”
To bolster its role as the spokesman for business, the Chamber in 2002 hired a full-time lobbyist to work with the Legislature, and it created a political action committee to deal with local issues and local and state conditions. The goal was to raise $30,000 yearly and make contributions to candidates, focusing mostly on the Legislature, but also on mayoral and local community races. That’s something that earlier Chamber officials avoided, and that faced some opposition before it was adopted.
Clearly, times had changed, and not just in this area. “Twenty years ago I could go to three people and get something done,” Mankin said. “We don’t have that luxury now. The anti groups are articulate, smart, well-funded and passionate about their causes. It’s much harder to build a pro-coalition than it was before. And that’s nationwide, not just here.”
In addition, the growth of ethnic communities changed the makeup and work of the Chamber, which refocused its programming to provide greater assistance to small and minority-owned businesses.
The Chamber began to mirror the different colors that Salt Lake City looked like. Utah’s Hispanic population grew from about 5 percent of its total in 1990 to 7.1 percent in 2000–or about 142,000 people. In 2002, for example, two Hispanic chambers of commerce were operating in Salt Lake valley. “That’s great, but when I talk with them I try to explain that we have other issues to deal with. It’s far more important to reach the overall business community,” said Mankin. Part of the Chamber’s new role is to connect those groups with the still largely white makeup of the business community.
And with more voices being heard, from ethnic to special interest groups, the result is that the Chamber simply finds different ways to get things done.
Looking ahead, the Chamber will likely become more involved in promoting international business development. While the government has its role, Mankin believes that business developers need a private sector group to deal with international businesses. Many prefer doing business with the private sector, he believes.
What about the Chamber’s original goal, set down in 1902 by the Commercial Club, of providing common ground for the sometimes contentious elements of the community?
“At the end of 100 years, we’re still doing the same things,” he replies. “There’s still a need to bring the LDS and non-LDS together. We do a lot of work to bring small business and large businesses together. And we have the ethnic communities now, so we try to bring them into the fold.”
Sources: Larry G. Mankin conversation and printed material, 24 June 2002. Deseret News, 6 February 1997, 9 April 1997, 15 December, 1998, 16 December 1998, 14 February 1999, 23 July 2000, 20 September 2001, 26 January 2002