[The committee’s] job is helping minority business find out what they need to do to earn business in the mainstream of this community. We want to bring [ethnic businesses] into the Chamber and pass them along into the Chamber. We want them to be functioning members in the Chamber,” Robert Buchanan, Multi-Ethnic Business Committee chair, said.
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.
Salt Shakers at the FHP ceremony in WVC.
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
Patricia Richards congratulates Spencer Eccles after he received the Giant in our City award.
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.