There are few Chambers of Commerce in the United States that are older than the Salt Lake Chamber. With a history that dates back to 1887, the Salt Lake Chamber is older than the state itself. Many are surprised to learn the chamber was established before Utah was even granted statehood.
To honor the Chamber’s role in Utah’s economic and business success, Gov. Gary Herbert has declared April 23-29 as Salt Lake Chamber Week.
In its 130-year history, the Salt Lake Chamber has been very influential in not only shaping Utah’s business landscape, but also the landscape itself.
“Common Ground: 100 Years of the Salt Lake Chamber” tells of how “almost without exception, every major event and accomplishment in Salt Lake for the last 100 years has felt the influence of the Chamber. Whether it was the development of freeway routes, location of hospitals, distribution of welfare, building of the airport, securing the Utah Jazz, promotion of winter sports, or creating a business-friendly environment, it has been the Salt Lake Chamber leading the charge.”
A great capital city doesn’t just materialize overnight, and certainly not a city that is now the cornerstone of one of the best economies in the nation. It is born out of the wisdom, vision and courage of hundreds of men and women, business leaders, clergymen, lawmakers and organizations like the Salt Lake Chamber.
The Salt Lake Chamber’s history is the history of Utah.
In 1888, enterprising businessmen set out on a 9,000-mile journey to show off Salt Lake City. They loaded up a Union Pacific railroad car with paintings of Utah landscapes, pamphlets and local minerals, and traveled for three months between 60 Eastern cities. The exhibit generated considerable press coverage and helped lure thousands of new residents to Utah in the 1880s and 1890s.
What would a capital city be without a grand capitol building? In 1909, members of the Chamber, now known as the Salt Lake Commercial Club, were among the primary supporters of building a new state capitol building. It took some time to gather support, but ground was broken on the Utah Capitol in 1912.
Even through the Depression, the Salt Lake Chamber was resourceful in finding ways to keep Utahns employed and the economy afloat; the Chamber created “make-work” committees to find jobs for the growing army of unemployed. One of the projects was the construction of the Hogle Zoo. While Salt Lake City donated the animals, the Chamber supported the Zoological Society’s $25,000 bonding program.
Getting people to work has remained a focus for the Salt Lake Chamber. In 2011, the Chamber launched the Utah Jobs Agenda with a 10-point plan to create 150,000 news jobs over the next five years. The Chamber’s effort made job creation the primary focus for the business community, and the governor took notice. In 2012, Gov. Herbert joined the business community in the push to accelerate Utah’s job growth by calling for the creation of 100,000 private-sector jobs in 1,000 days. Both Gov. Herbert and the Chamber met their goals in 2015 — more than a year ahead of schedule.
The Salt Lake Chamber has always been an integral collaborator in helping create jobs, an educated workforce, a robust downtown, an informed Legislature, a modern transportation system and a thriving economy, but the importance and relevance of the Chamber has really grown over the last 15 years.
In that time we’ve seen successful initiatives such as Downtown Rising; the Utah Science, Technology, and Research (USTAR) project; transportation funding through Proposition 3; a leading voice in immigration reform with the Utah Compact; education enhancements with Prosperity 2020; liquor law modernization and non-compete agreement preservation. These achievements, as well as other successes, have really solidified the Chamber as Utah’s undisputed business leader.
In this brief snapshot of the Salt Lake Chamber’s history, let one thing be clear — these successes cannot be claimed by the organization alone, but instead, let it show what’s possible when the business community comes together for the betterment of the Beehive State.