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Two Momentous Breakfasts Fifty Years Apart
Spring 2014

By Andrea Bennett House

Spring 2014

You know the story of JFK in Dallas, but you may not know about JFK in Fort Worth.

Images of John F. Kennedy’s last day typically begin with the President and his wife Jacqueline deplaning Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas, ostensibly after a two-hour flight from Washington, D.C. But it was actually only a 14-minute hop to Dallas from Carswell AFB in Fort Worth, where the President began his day speaking to an audience of more than 2,000 at a breakfast organized by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. It would be President Kennedy’s final public speech.

The Kennedys spent their last night together in Fort Worth’s Hotel Texas, where Suite 850 was specially decorated with sculpture and paintings loaned from the finest private collections in Fort Worth.

Morning dawned rainy and chilly in Fort Worth that day in 1963, but it didn’t matter. Camelot was in Cowtown. A few weeks earlier, the chamber had been contacted by Kennedy’s advance team and asked to host the event, one of several in major Texas cities.

Kennedy, accompanied by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Texas Governor John Connally and Congressman Jim Wright, gave extemporaneous remarks to a crowd of thousands in the rain before heading to breakfast at the Hotel Texas. Later, Jacqueline Kennedy was greeted with thunderous adulation from attendees charmed by the charismatic young First Lady as she entered the ballroom and made her way to the head table in a striking pink wool suit with matching pillbox hat, led by Secret Service Agent Clint Hill.

But Fort Worth’s warm welcome would be eclipsed by tragedy a few hours later.

An Intersection of History

In 2012, anticipating worldwide observances of the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, Marilyn Gilbert, the Fort Worth Chamber’s EVP of marketing, began her preparations for the chamber’s annual High Impact Breakfast for 2013, which would take place on Nov. 22. She booked former Secret Service Agent Clint Hill, now 82, as a speaker for the event a year in advance. Hill, assigned to protect the First Lady, is the agent photographed climbing onto the trunk of the mortally wounded president’s limousine as it sped to Parkland Hospital, pushing Jackie back into the rear seat and trying to shield her.

The Fort Worth Chamber was proud of its part in this rare presidential visit, but had downplayed its historic role for decades in the aftermath of the assassination. In 2012, the JFK Tribute—an open-air, illuminated exhibit with an eight-foot bronze sculpture of Kennedy—had been dedicated in downtown Fort Worth just across from the historic Hilton Fort Worth Hotel (formerly the Hotel Texas).

Gilbert wanted to commemorate the historic visit as the community continued to search for ways to understand and remember the 50th anniversary.

“Fort Worth’s role was sealed when President Kennedy spoke his last public words at the chamber breakfast,” she said. “There was a huge crush of people in the streets around the hotel hoping to see him, shake his hand, be near him. When he went out into the crowd to embrace them, that was special. That was Fort Worth’s intimate moment with President Kennedy.”

In booking Hill for the commemorative breakfast, Gilbert knew he would provide a “unique, behind-the-scenes” perspective of a well-known story in Fort Worth. To ensure exclusivity, Gilbert included in Hill’s contract a clause stipulating he would not book another speaking engagement in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for 60 days prior to the anniversary breakfast, although we knew he would be called upon for other brief visual appearances near the anniversary date.

Event Planning and Design

The 2013 event was booked at the historic Hilton, in the same ballroom as the original breakfast. The chamber would also honor former Speaker of the U.S. House Jim Wright with its High Impact Legacy Award during this event.

The Texas Boys Choir, which entertained at the original breakfast, was booked to sing some of the same selections prior to the breakfast as attendees registered, and then performed a moving rendition of the National Anthem at the beginning of the program. Colors were presented by the Junior Cadet Corps of J.P. Elder Middle School, one of the Chamber’s adopted public schools.

The original breakfast seated 2,000 because the Hotel Texas ballroom was much larger in 1963. Now, with round tables, a smaller ballroom and floor space needed for 12-foot projection screens, lighting, and an A/V control booth, the Hilton could accommodate only 650.

The chamber could have held the event at the Fort Worth Convention Center and accommodated thousands. But the historic nature of the event made the hotel venue non-negotiable.

The chamber, not wanting to have to disappoint the public by turning them away from the breakfast, delayed publicity and marketed it internally to the membership first. Sponsorship sales for members began in the spring of 2013. In August, email invitations were sent to the membership with upper tier members having a first chance at table sales.

As we were thinking of how to adequately honor Speaker Wright with a photo presentation, local filmmaker Parker Vandergriff contacted us and volunteered to produce a video tribute to Wright. Vandergriff, whose grandfather was a Tarrant County Judge, possessed the talent and the contacts with high-profile politicians such as Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, U.S. Ambassador Tom Scheiffer, Vice President Walter Mondale and Congresswoman Kay Granger. He produced a stirring video tribute that prompted a standing ovation as the 91-year-old Wright made his way to the stage, 50 years to the day after his beaming introduction of President Kennedy in Fort Worth.

Presenting sponsor Pinnacle Bank purchased more than 700 freshly minted Kennedy half-dollar coins, which were placed at each attendee’s setting. Media sponsor Fort Worth Texas magazine carried an article mentioning both breakfasts and provided copies of the magazine and a DVD with news footage of the JFK Fort Worth visit for each attendee. Congressman Wright provided a transcript of Kennedy’s 1963 breakfast speech. Car collector Farris Rookstool also brought the 1963 Lincoln Continental convertible that carried the President and First Lady from the breakfast to Carswell AFB for their trip to Dallas; it was parked at the entrance of the Hilton Hotel.

The chamber also arranged for Half Price Books to provide copies of Hill’s new book, while he and co-author Lisa McCubbin remained afterward to sign for attendees.

Print Program and Design

An event of this historic significance deserved a commemorative program with professional design. The chamber reached out to long-time member The Balcom Agency for assistance.

Knowing our budget constraints and wanting to be part of history, Balcom agreed to a combination trade/cash proposal. The program they produced was a square 8.5” x 8.5” keepsake with black-and-white photos from the original breakfast. The two-color logo intertwined the letters JFK and FW, graphically illustrating the theme, “An Intersection of History.” The font used was a popular graphic design font used during the ‘60s. A timeline spread reminded readers of how the 1963 event unfolded in Fort Worth.


Because we had delayed publicity and details about the 2013 event, the misperception arose that the Chamber was “recreating” the 1963 breakfast. We were even asked if we would have JFK and Jackie impersonators.

In July, my counterpart at the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau and I discussed a number of JFK-related exhibits and events going on in Fort Worth. No one organization was coordinating the publicity for these. We pulled together a meeting of community partners—museums, theatres, the city, Downtown Fort Worth, Inc.—to share plans and discuss messaging and tone of the various community observances.

The group agreed that our goal was not to try to celebrate what was certain to be a somber remembrance, nor create a redundant observance in light of Dallas’s city-wide plans. Talk of broadcasting the chamber breakfast via closed circuit TV in the street and in surrounding restaurants gave way to an understated dawn wreath-laying by Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Clint Hill at the JFK Tribute, prior to the breakfast, with no remarks by either.

However, we did want the public to know about the many 50th anniversary-related events happening in the Fort Worth area. The CVB surveyed its partners about events, and the chamber relayed information to the CVB to coordinate a comprehensive webpage and news release of Fort Worth “JFK activities.” The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza coordinated a list of all the Dallas activities and we submitted ours to them as well.

Media and Public Relations

Before any media plan was drawn up, a Star-Telegram columnist was contacted by National Geographic TV in April 2013 through Texas Gov. John Connally’s former press aide, Julian Read. National Geographic was looking for people who were either in the street crowd or at the chamber breakfast Nov. 22, 1963.

The chamber linked to National Geographic’s Facebook JFK page, placed advertisements in the local business journal, ran a blurb in our newsletter and began collecting dozens of names and stories, which we forwarded to the producer. He interviewed numerous Fort Worthians who had been in the crowd or at the chamber breakfast. The documentary aired Nov. 8, and the chamber’s role was made known to millions of viewers. As there were a number of retired community leaders, people who participated in the National Geographic special, and other non-members for which we did not have email addresses, we began collecting snail mail addresses for a limited number of print invitations.

The chamber did not need nor want publicity to drive registration for the breakfast; we knew it would be a sellout. We continued to focus on media coverage surrounding the event itself.

Our goal was to place Agent Hill on as many local, regional and national morning talk shows as possible, with the location headlines reading Fort Worth, and Fort Worth images in the background. As part of our collaboration, the CVB provided their list of national and some international media contacts. The general news release about the breakfast and JFK activities in Fort Worth went out locally and to the CVB’s list in September.

In October, we learned that Agent Hill was releasing a new book, Five Days in November, days before the breakfast event. Hill’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, had already begun scheduling national interviews in November for the book release. In fact, they had scheduled the first interview as an exclusive with NBC’s Today Show.

This development required us to readjust our expectations as to the media we could obtain for Hill and for Fort Worth, as he was already being exposed and booked nationally through his publisher. We decided to move ahead with our own media plans, with Hill being interviewed that morning in front of the JFK Tribute, which serves as a stunning visual for media opportunities.

Hill had only one hour for media interviews, from 6:30-7:30 a.m. on the morning of our breakfast. His contract did not allow live streaming of his presentation at the breakfast.

Due to our relationship and prior meetings with city representatives, the City of Fort Worth Public Events Department waived their extensive permitting process to block off one block of Main Street in front of the JFK Tribute for the chamber’s media interviews and in anticipation of increased pedestrian traffic around the tribute that day. Fort Worth police officers were dispatched to keep crowds away during the wreath-laying and during Agent Hill’s interviews.

Although I had coordinated interviews for local media for years on location, doing so for a national broadcast with a studio on either coast was not in my recent realm of experience. We reached out to a former TV news producer and asked if he would run the show. This was not in the budget, but we knew we needed him on site to coordinate national media.

With Dallas as the main subject, we knew media would want to have their cameras positioned there early in the morning, although their event began closer to noon. We also knew many would want to interview Hill. How would we decide who gets an interview at what time slot? Our producer had the answer.

We had a “lottery” in which we called for the interested TV/radio stations to put in their bid; we then randomly drew for the time slots. The time slots were in 5-minute increments, with 3 minutes interview time, and 2 minutes to call the next network or affiliate and establish audio and video feeds.

Also, telephone lines would need to be run down the street to the media tent switchboard for us to dial in to the stations. You don’t want to risk a cell phone dropping the call during a once-in-a-lifetime PR opportunity. We reached out to an executive board member at long-time investor AT&T, and the phone lines were installed the night before the breakfast.

After diligent cold calling and emailing New York media contacts, we were succeeding at scheduling interviews with MSNBC’s Morning Joe, CNN, and Fox & Friends—until they asked for our satellite coordinates. We didn’t have satellite coordinates. We had planned to use a live van or two from the local TV affiliates for feeds to the East Coast.

When the national morning shows learned this, they withdrew from the line-up, because the local producers could not guarantee that their live van would stay onsite for the entire hour should breaking news occur. One week before the event we needed a satellite truck!

A chamber member referred me to a satellite truck rental company. Price tag for truck, labor and satellite time: $2,800. After calling the national shows back, at this point, I only had certain time slots remaining. The only national show where the time slot would now work was CNN New Day.

Weather Issues

There’s a saying in Texas: “If you don’t like the weather, stick around for a few hours. It will change.” What had been forecast as a mild day was now expected to be a winter blast. Rain and cold seemed a certainty, but we had no idea what time it would blow through. To ensure the cameras, phones, A/V equipment and Agent Hill were kept dry, the chamber decided to rent a 20x20x10 tent for $500 rather than move our interviews inside the hotel, where the satellite truck and live vans might not have been able to establish a good signal.

On the morning of the event, the vans and satellite truck began arriving at 3:30 a.m. The A/V company, our producer, cameraman and volunteers on the media team arrived around that time for set-up and test runs. I had provided the satellite coordinates for the wreath-laying to the national and international media distribution list, for use as a bumper live or taped for later broadcasts. I pitched it as, “We hope your viewers will begin their observances of this historic anniversary in Fort Worth, where President Kennedy’s last day began optimistically 50 years ago.”

Hill and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price were joined in the wreath-laying—carried by satellite worldwide—by Congressman Roger Williams, who shook Kennedy’s hand as a boy at the 1963 breakfast. Hill then stepped under the tent and was interviewed live with five DFW network affiliate morning shows, CNN, and YNN of Austin, before entering the hotel ballroom for the chamber breakfast, as he did on that rainy morning long ago.

The Breakfast

Breakfast guests included many who were there in 1963, as well as business leaders, lifelong Fort Worthians, history buffs and a doctor who had come from Padova, Italy to attend. With Mr. Hill, their emotions ran the gamut as they viewed familiar black-and-white images, heard the angelic voices of the Texas Boys Choir, honored Congressman Wright’s storied career and contributions to our city, and then hung on every word of Hill’s recollections.

Even after unexpected expenses and a reduction in the number of tickets due to the venue, we exceeded the event budget with $21,000 in revenue, primarily from sponsorships. From a media standpoint, combined local and national broadcasts featuring Fort Worth, the Fort Worth Chamber, and/or Clint Hill in Fort Worth for Nov. 22-23 reached 5.2 million viewers, with market media value estimated at $421,000.

That figure does not include international coverage and the many print publications that carried mention of our 2013 breakfast, including the Associated Press and the Times UK as well as several features in our regional dailies. During the year, we received dozens of Google alerts from blogs, websites and print publications referencing the Fort Worth Chamber 1963 breakfast.

The overarching challenge? In a large regional media market, we were tasked with handling the delicate balance of commemorating Fort Worth’s exuberant moment in time with Kennedy while respecting Dallas’s plans to observe a long-overdue day of healing. We believe the chamber accomplished that.

“The satisfaction of producing an event that created such positive media coverage and strengthened brand equity for the chamber overcame any disappointments about weather or media goals we didn’t reach,” Gilbert said. “The moral of the story? All the best planning can be wrecked by unexpected circumstances, but long-nurtured community partnerships prevail. The flow of the program, the JFK coins, the video, the youth involvement, the care that was taken with every detail—that is what our community and our investors will remember.”

Even members of the skeptical media were complimentary, as Star-Telegram Bud Kennedy columnist wrote: “When you throw a breakfast only once every 50 years, you ought to do it right. Fort Worth did it right Friday, remembering Jackie and President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 stopover with a nod to history, a sense of reverence and a burst of pride.”

Andra Bennett House, APR, is senior director of communications at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. She can be reached at 817-338-3333 or

Spring 2014

By Carmen Hickerson

Spring 2014

Effective Policy Work Increasingly Requires Building Coalitions

A well-worn adage describes collaboration as an unnatural act between unwilling parties. If you’ve ever tried to come to consensus on an issue with the Sierra Club, Tea Party or AFL-CIO, you’re probably nodding knowingly.

There’s inherent difficulty in getting independent groups with different perspectives and motivations to band together, but what about alliances between chambers and similar business associations?

To an outsider looking at our memberships, core principles, and the composition of our boards, chamber coalitions might seem totally natural, even easy. But they’re not easy. Chambers and other business associations have often rallied behind the U.S. Chamber on federal policy issues, but as an industry, our ability to present a united front at the local, regional or state level is episodic at best.

During my decade leading public policy for Greater Louisville Inc. (GLI) we recognized the value of a coalition approach. We partnered with the local chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, the African American Business Alliance and the Hispanic Latino Business Council to lobby on issues ranging from a prevailing wage ordinance, which would have created disadvantages for small and minority businesses bidding on city projects, to opposing a project labor agreement on the construction of a downtown arena. Working together on policy issues strengthened our relationships and made it easier to work together on other ventures, including a business-focused Mayoral Candidates Forum.

Our experience with chamber and business partners at the state level also proved to be worthwhile. In 2010, realizing that chambers of commerce from urban areas across the state shared similar policy goals at the state level, GLI organized a Metro Chambers Coalition. It brought together the policy staffs from Louisville, Lexington, Northern Kentucky, Paducah, Owensboro, Bowling Green and Ashland, along with the Kentucky Chamber, to discuss a common agenda. While not every chamber agreed on every issue, we were able to work collectively on some important business-related legislation, including worker’s compensation reform, improving educational standards and an angel investment tax incentive program.

The kind of cooperative relationship chambers enjoy in Kentucky is emerging as a trend in other parts of the country.

Evolving into an Alliance

Coalitions can be forced by necessity or they can emerge over time. What started more than eight years ago as a get-together among neighboring chamber executives in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex has evolved into the 80-member North Texas Chamber of Commerce Executives Association. Until last year, this peer network was primarily a forum for sharing best practices. That’s when a pending vote on vital infrastructure transformed the group into a policy coalition.

At issue was a ballot measure that would move $2 billion from the state’s rainy day fund to be invested in critical water projects. The referendum was strongly supported by a majority of the Texas legislature and championed by Speaker of the House Joe Straus. However, 16 legislators voted against the measure, including 10 from the North Texas region, who felt that the private sector, not the state, should fund water infrastructure projects.

Water is a critical issue for businesses and communities of all sizes across the region. “This was not an urban, suburban or rural issue, it was a business issue with region-wide implications.” says Jay Barksdale, senior V.P. of government relations for the Dallas Regional Chamber.

With the launch of a public referendum campaign planned for early summer, chamber leaders knew they needed to do something to quiet the critics, and they knew no one voice could carry the day. “We wanted elected officials who were opposed to the proposal to hear from their constituents about how important these water projects are to our part of the state,” says Barksdale. “Even if we didn’t convince them to support it, we at least wanted to counteract the negative messages.”

The North Texas Chamber Executives held a meeting where information and materials about the ballot initiative were provided. A representative from the advocacy group leading the public campaign was on hand to answer questions and rally support. Attendees were encouraged to return to their communities and use email, local media and social channels to raise awareness and spur engagement about the issue.

In late September, the Dallas Chamber hosted a luncheon with Speaker Straus. Prior to lunch, the Speaker met with the regional legislative delegation, local elected officials and representatives from the North Texas Chamber Executives. Following the meeting, they held a joint press conference endorsing the referendum. “It was important to present a united front,” said Barksdale. “There was significant media coverage of the press conference, and we demonstrated the business community in North Texas was solidly behind the water project initiative.”

The referendum passed in November by a comfortable margin. As a result, the legislature is planning a similar proposal in the upcoming session to move rainy day funds into a special fund for transportation projects. The coalition built around the water vote plans to use its collective voice again to back the transportation program.

The MOU Approach to Coalition

Building a successful coalition involves a series of steps. If step one is defining compatible interests, steps two and three are about the resources, financial and political, and skill sets each prospective partner will bring to the coalition. Four chambers in the high growth Middle Tennessee region have found that clearly defining questions about resources and roles up front is a good foundation for collaboration.

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce created a regional partnership focused on public policy with the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, the Robertson County Chamber of Commerce, and the Hendersonville Area Chamber of Commerce to form Middle Tennessee Business Voice.

Partner chambers participate in an annual policy survey that helps shape a common legislative agenda for the region’s business community. The coalition uses an online tool administered by the Nashville Area Chamber to track state legislative issues and facilitate communication with elected officials. The Nashville Area Chamber’s advocacy staff also works during the session under the Middle Tennessee Business Voice banner to advance the regional agenda. Each chamber’s members are considered advocacy members of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, which represents the interests of more than 5,000 Middle Tennessee businesses in the Tennessee General Assembly through its lobbying, research and staff resources.

In exchange, the partner chambers share the cost of advocacy work, increasing the membership value of all four chambers, creating efficiencies across organizations, and strengthening the collective influence of Middle Tennessee businesses on state policy issues. Outside the area of legislative advocacy, each organization retains its own membership and benefits. In addition, each organization continues to have complete control over its own legislative positions.

Adam Lister, Nashville Area Chamber director of public policy, gave this example of the coalition’s impact: In 2012, the partnership worked to pass “impact-to-commerce” legislation that directs the legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee to provide an impact-to-commerce analysis for legislation referred to the House and Senate commerce committees. This ensures bills are studied not only for their impact on government but also for their impact on commerce or jobs.

The Nashville Area Chamber initiated this legislation with its advocacy partners as a way to put more information into the hands of state decision makers. In addition, chamber members will have a better idea about how a bill might impact their bottom lines before the General Assembly takes final action. Previously, each legislative proposal was studied for its impact on government, but no consideration was given to its impact on Tennessee’s economy. That changed on Jan. 1, 2014 when the law took effect. 

“The advocacy relationship enables our members to have a stronger voice in the Tennessee General Assembly,” said Rutherford County Chamber President Paul Latture. “This partnership is an additional benefit that will help keep our members informed and will let them know when their voice needs to be heard.”

Is a Coalition Right for Your Chamber?

The benefits of coalition building go beyond increased power in your public policy efforts. Other key advantages include:

  • Better understanding of the issues. Involvement in a coalition means there are more people discussing your issues and more people advocating for your side.
  • Heightened public profile. By broadening the range of groups involved in an issue, the activities of a coalition are likely to receive more media attention than those of any individual organization.
  • More available resources. Not only are financial resources increased in a coalition, but so are the contacts, connections, and relationships established by other groups.
  • The emergence of new leadership. As organizations work together they provide visibility, mentorship and experience for the leaders in their individual groups.

Choosing to lead or join a coalition is both a rational and an emotional decision. Rationally, you must consider whether your effectiveness and ability to attain your goals will be enhanced or harmed by participation in a coalition. Emotionally, you must be willing to invest the time it takes to understand your partners, otherwise cooperating is bound to feel like more trouble than it’s worth.

As the political climate becomes more polarized and our communities become more fragmented, the ability to create and manage an effective coalition is an increasingly essential skill for any chamber executive. When goals are compatible and interests are aligned, forming a coalition can be productive and beneficial.

Without a doubt, coalition building and keeping the collaboration working effectively can be a lot of work. But the gains can be well worth the effort. As Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

Carmen Hickerson is community advancement advisor for ACCE. She previously served for more than a decade as V.P. of public affairs and communications for Greater Louisville, Inc.

Expression of Cooperation
Spring 2014

Spring 2014

ACCE's Early Years and Early Leaders

2014 Convention: Where it All Began

ACCE’s Centennial Celebration will culminate at the 100th Annual Convention in Cincinnati, Aug. 12-15, 2014. Mark your calendar now and make plans to be at this once in a century event. Here are some important dates:

July 14: Early Bird Registration Deadline

July 21: Hotel Reservation Deadline

August 12: Centennial Convention Opening Reception

August 13: Awards Gala Evening

August 14: Centennial Celebration Extravaganza

August 15: 100th ACCE Annual Meeting

More program details are available online at

Chambers of commerce were not new in the early 1900s; some had existed for more than a century. But fundamental changes were coming that would transform life in the U.S. and along with it the way chambers viewed themselves and how they operated:

  • An automobile went coast-to-coast over very few paved roads in 52 days in 1903, an incredible feat that was topped by the Wright brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk the same year.
  • The industrial age (U.S. Steel founded in 1901; Ford Motor Co. founded 1903) brought lower prices to the masses and the seeds of consumerism—and concerns about child labor.
  • Upton Sinclair published The Jungle in 1906, the same year President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act.
  • The Victrola (1901) and motion pictures (1903) appeared, and radio would soon rival newspapers as a mass medium.
  • John Dewey and Maria Montessori made names for themselves and for progressive public education.

Progress through Unity

Amid this climate of rapid change, chambers that had been operating independently in the U.S. began to associate with one another more frequently. Chamber executives believed the way to progress was through unity, and they wanted to share standards, techniques and best practices to accomplish more for their communities.

At a 1906 meeting in Binghamton, N.Y., 25 executives from chambers in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania formed the Inter-State Association of Commercial Executives, the first established association of chamber professionals on record. It later became the American Association of Commercial Executives. A similar group, the Central Association of Commercial Secretaries, was formed in Cincinnati in 1909.

These two organizations were the foundation of the National Association of Commercial Organization Secretaries (NACOS), which would ultimately become the American Chamber of Commerce Executives. Back then, chambers of commerce were referred to as “commercial organizations” and chamber executives generally had the title of “secretary.”

Founding Father

In 1913 S. Cristy Mead of the New York City Association of Merchants was authorized by his colleagues at the American Association of Commercial Executives to confer with the Central Association about consolidating the two bodies. A year later an agreement was finalized at a meeting in Cincinnati and the National Association of Commercial Organization Secretaries (NACOS) was born. Mead was elected first president of the newly formed national organization, the equivalent of today’s board chairman. One year later, at the first convention of NACOS in St. Louis, there were 203 members from 156 communities in 39 states and three Canadian provinces; 46% of the members served in towns of less than 50,000. By 1930 membership topped 1,000.

In his opening remarks at the 1915 St. Louis Convention, S. Cristy Mead underscored the important role chambers of commerce must play in community development, saying:

“The modern commercial organization, whether large or small, is the expression of cooperation and coordination on the part of individual businesses in the accomplishment of results beneficial to the community. The operation of such an organization calls into play an influence of peculiar potency, pregnant with great possibilities for the future development of the community.”

The important role chambers can and should play in community growth and development – public policy, infrastructure expansion, business attraction – were the first words uttered at the first convention. Mead, who also was involved in the formation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Institute for Organizational Management, established a focus we maintain a century later.

The Move to D.C.

May, 2, 1934, the NACOS Board recommended that permanent association headquarters be established in Washington, D.C. Up to that point, the association’s offices moved each year with the new president to his home town office. NACOS’ Washington office space was donated by the U.S. Chamber. NACOS’ senior professional staffer at the time was Norma McKellops. Her title was Assistant Secretary-Treasurer. McKellops served in that role for fifteen years, stepping down in October of 1943. She was succeeded by Elizabeth Glenn, a Fort Worth native and Institute graduate who edited the Washington Board of Trade’s Bulletin publication for the prior eleven years.

What’s in a Name?

The February 1928 issue of NACOS News, the association’s monthly newsletter, announced that a committee was considering a name change for the association. Members were asked if they liked the association’s name and its acronym, and if they had suggestions for a new name. Apparently most members liked NACOS, because it wasn’t until 20 years later, August of 1948, after a year’s study, that the NACOS Board approved changing the association’s name to American Chamber of Commerce Executives. (In 1944 there was an attempt to change the name from NACOS to ACCE, but it failed.)

The change was overwhelmingly approved by the membership at the 1948 convention in Philadelphia. In January of 1949 NACOS News still carried the old name and masthead with the added notation “Published by American Chamber of Commerce Executives.” The April 1949 issue sported a new name: “The American Chamber of Commerce Executive,” with “Executive” dominating the masthead such that the newsletter name appeared to be “Executive.” A page 2 story announced that the name change was taking place on the 28th anniversary of NACOS News.

Staying Connected

Throughout the early years, the monthly NACOS News and the annual convention kept the chamber industry connected. Like today, most of the news items and conventions sessions were about successful chamber-led initiatives that expanded opportunity for businesses and the community. Many reflect challenges of the day, others are remarkably similar to ideas we share today. Here are a few interesting headlines and convention notes from your predecessors:

Swindlers Nabbed

The Allentown, Pa., Chamber caught “a group of stock swindlers of notorious record who also were being sought in New York in connection with a $5,000,000 swindle.” — NACOS News, Feb. 1927


The Tyler, Texas Chamber conducted a rat extermination campaign, enlisting “school children throughout the county into a formidable army of pied pipers which ceased work only after 100,000 rats and salamanders had been killed. Keeping repaired the dykes of business demands of a commercial organization that it fight with equal ferocity vermin in any of its forms.” — NACOS News, March 1928

The Columbus, Ohio Chamber announced a campaign to eliminate the city’s rat population, estimated at “600,000, twice the number of human inhabitants,” with a “specially prepared poison being used by a crew of five exterminators.”

Enhancing Radio Reception

The Albion, Mich. Chamber conducted “Better Radio Reception Week” in late March of 1927. All local radio owners were furnished surveys about their radio reception that week to determine where in the city interference was prominent, followed by the use of a “highly sensitive radio to trace the causes of interference—leaky transformers and the like.”

1927 Room Rates

Columbus, Ohio was the site of the 1927 NACOS convention. Room rates at the Deshler-Wallick Hotel ranged from $2 for a single room without bath ($2.50 to $5 for a single with bath) to $6.50 to $12 for a double room with bath (twin beds). The opening reception featured “an organ recital and a program by a string choir.”

“Why Do Your Members Resign?”

By Robert B. Beach, Chicago Chamber

From a presentation at the 1919 NACOS convention in Indianapolis.

“Why do your members resign? Did you ever catalog the reasons?

    1. Because they get nothing out of it.
    2. Because they cannot attend meetings.
    3. Because they haven’t time to be active.
    4. Because they are not interested.
    5. Because they have a grievance.
    6. Because they object to action taken.
    7. Because they cannot afford it.

Put all these reasons together and they reduce to one that contains them all: ‘I am out of touch with the chamber and the chamber is out of touch with me.’”

1925 Convention Promotion

NACOS promoted the 1925 convention in Kansas City by publishing a letter from Kansas City Chamber Secretary John Guild describing the venue. Guild wrote that “We are happy over the fact that we can have the entire Kansas City Athletic Club, a twenty-three story building right in the heart of the city. The headquarters for NACOS will be in the Chamber of Commerce quarters on the third floor of this magnificent new building. The club has sleeping rooms sufficient for all members of our Association with the possible exception of a few with their wives who may want to be in a hotel, but even that can be arranged for if they want to be in this building.” Guild described rooms for breakout sessions and larger rooms such as “the Roof garden, a beautiful room with an ideal setting … twenty-three stories above the street with nothing to interfere with or detract from our meetings.” He also noted that the club contained “the largest swimming pool in the west.” — NACOS News, March 1925

Chambers for Deeper Learning
Spring 2014

By Jessie Azrilian

Spring 2014

Businesses are joining the push for more challenging education standards.

As 46 States and the District of Columbia begin to implement more rigorous K-12 assessments based on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), chamber leaders are stepping up their support—and often playing defense.

CCSS, or common core, is an education initiative detailing what K-12 students should know in English and math at the end of each grade. The initiative is sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. It seeks to establish consistent education standards across the U.S. to ensure that all students graduating from high school are ready to succeed in college and the workforce.

Common core is not a curriculum; decisions about curriculum are left to states and localities. Several concerns are fueling controversy about common core, including students’ lower test scores, perceived implications for teachers, budgetary concerns about implementation, and political backlash in response to support from the Obama Administration. But leading business voices remain strongly supportive, including the U.S. Chamber and the Business Roundtable.

A recent survey of 140 chamber executives in ACCE’s Education Attainment Division revealed that 44 percent have a policy position supporting more rigorous K-12 academic standards and assessments. Another 22 percent said they did not have a policy supporting new K-12 standards but would like to adopt one. Among those who have not taken a position, 47 percent said they did not have the resources needed to focus on this issue even if they were supportive.

While contradictory information and controversy swirls around discussions of higher academic standards and new assessments based on CCSS, only two percent of chambers cited a lack of consensus among members as a reason for not engaging.

Chamber work on this issue is vital because of the lack of awareness and understanding of CCSS. A recent public survey by Achieve, an education advocacy organization, found that 63 percent of respondents know very little or nothing about CCSS. Of those who had heard of common core, 40 percent had an unfavorable impression and 37 percent had a favorable impression. But when the principles of CCSS were explained in more detail, favorability improved to 69 percent, with only 23 percent retaining their unfavorable impressions.

A recent public opinion poll by the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce revealed that outside of educators and military leaders, the business community represents the most credible voice to advocate for higher K-12 standards and assessments.

Chambers actively promoting improved standards and deeper learning to prepare students for college and career have made stakeholder engagement and education a top priority. ACCE’s recent survey of 140 chambers found that 88 percent said they were working with key stakeholders such as state education agencies, local school districts, and teachers; 78 percent are communicating to their members about CCSS or higher academic standards based on common core; 63 percent are holding events focused on CCSS and 58 percent are speaking to policy makers about CCSS or higher academic standards and assessments.

Here are some examples of chambers’ activities in advancing more rigorous K-12 academic standards and assessments:

  • The Kentucky Chamber has developed online communications tools for employers and implemented a strong ground game/tactical plan. Chamber President Dave Adkisson, and Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday traveled the state on a public information campaign aimed at business groups and other education stakeholders.
  • Several chambers in Tennessee, including Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis and Chattanooga have joined the “Expect More/Achieve More” Coalition (, with local business, community and education partners to build support and awareness for achieving higher academic standards through Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards.
  • Although Texas has not adopted CCSS, local chambers are advancing their own college- and career-ready agendas for the future workforce. The El Paso Chamber is a founding member of the El Paso Collaborative for Academic Excellence. One priority for the collaborative is to eliminate remedial courses and encourage all students to enroll in the state’s rigorous 24-unit college prep program known as the Recommended High School Program.
  • The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce in Alabama opposes efforts to repeal common core by lobbying the state legislature through letter-writing campaigns from the “Big Four” Metro Chambers in Alabama and by organizing business and military leaders to lobby their state representatives. The chamber also developed an informational flyer for teachers and parents throughout the region.
  • In Wisconsin, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce has brought college and career readiness to the forefront of its education policy agenda. Chamber President Tim Sheehy co-authored an op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel supporting common core and urging employers to take the lead in seeking improved educational standards.

Jessie Azrilian is manager of ACCE’s Education Attainment Division.

Spring 2014

By Katherine House

Spring 2014

From community-wide local festivals to a caucus room on Capitol Hill, chambers are creative promoters and producers of profitable events.

This article is adapted from ACCE’s white paper on chamber revenue models, which is sponsored by Insperity and produced with support from the Western Association of Chamber Executives. Download the white paper from

Mountain View, Calif., has a population of about 75,000, but on the weekend following Labor Day, more than 150,000 flock to this Silicon Valley town to take in unique arts and crafts displays, exhibits by local businesses, lively entertainment, and, of course, wine. The town’s Art & Wine Festival, the first major fund raiser for the Chamber of Commerce Mountain View, celebrated its 42nd anniversary in 2013.

Leftover beer and wine glasses from the first festival helped propel organizers into arranging the second annual event. These days, chamber leaders don’t need to be convinced: the numbers speak for themselves. In 2013, the festival brought in approximately $440,000 in gross revenue. Even after accounting for staff time, the chamber netted about $220,000, according to Oscar Garcia, president. The proceeds are used for staff salaries, as well as a variety of programs, including a scholarship fund and the Young Professionals group, he says.

The event does more than raise money for the chamber. It increases the revenue of local businesses that weekend, sometimes by as much as 22 percent, Garcia says. And, the event provides exposure to community organizations. More than 30 non-profits receive free display space, which can lead to increased financial and volunteer support. One such group profits directly from the event: it raises thousands of dollars by overseeing parking lots and collecting parking fees.

Organizing a business networking event is all in a day’s work for most chamber executives, but some chambers also orchestrate community-wide festivals that become signature events for the organization, and for the community. These events can engender goodwill for the chamber, but may also exact a toll on staff morale. They have the potential to generate significant income, but may sap chamber reserves. They can delight tourists, but exasperate locals. And while they may lead to a front page article in the local newspaper, they also can put the chamber’s everyday work on the back burner. Such is the tightrope that chamber executives walk when overseeing parades, food festivals and other large-scale events.

Managing Challenges

Certainly the employees of the Mountain View chamber have figured out the formula for a successful festival, but managing a popular community event comes with its share of challenges. One of the biggest, says Garcia, is recruiting, training and managing a large volunteer staff, which means dealing with last-minute no-shows. In addition, the staff hires an outside events firm to help, adding an extra dimension to the communication picture. Staying abreast of ever-changing regulations and apprising vendors of changes is another critical and time-consuming component. And, it takes a concerted effort to get sponsors and vendors to commit early enough to keep planning running smoothly.

Not every community festival run by a chamber is the brainchild of chamber leaders. Sometimes chambers take over an event started by another organization. In Florida, the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce took a role in the city’s annual Bike Week for a different reason: to keep motorcyclists from taking over the city. Bikers had been converging on Daytona Beach at a certain time each year since 1937, with a break during World War II, says George Mirabel. He was president of the chamber for nearly 20 years until his retirement in early 2007. He also served as interim president for much of 2013.

When Mirabel took the job as chamber president in 1987, he asked business leaders about their role in Bike Week. We leave town, they said, to escape the mayhem. He asked what the chamber did to welcome bikers. “Nothing,” they said. He asked about restroom facilities for the 100,000-plus bikers who attended. There weren’t any. “People stayed away from Bike Week,” he says. “It was a frightening experience, and certainly not a place to take children.”

Mirabel saw that the event had economic value to the community, and he asked city officials if the chamber could get involved. They agreed. He called Harley-Davidson and secured the first sponsorship. The chamber put up banners welcoming motorcyclists to town and rented portable restrooms. It formed a festival task force, seeking input from the community about how to help orchestrate the event. The chamber wanted “to control something in disrepair and disrepute and all the other dis-es that go along with that,” he says.

Along the way, the chamber worked hard to gain community acceptance for the event by asking residents of various neighborhoods to sit on the task force, along with representatives of the city, the county and the local police and sheriff’s departments. “We knew from the beginning if [the task force] was dominated by the business community, it probably wouldn’t work,” he says.

The chamber educated motorcyclists about their behavior, including the need to cut down on the noise produced. (This effort was facilitated by the results of a chamber-funded noise study.) The public relations blitz included signs about expected behavior, a letter from the mayor, public service announcements and a 48-page “Ride Safely” guide. To help gain community support, the chamber funded economic impact studies showing how vital the event was to the local economy.

Today, the character of the event is vastly different, which Mirabel attributes in part to the rising age and income levels of visiting bikers. Now, no one thinks about discontinuing the event. “If it weren’t for Bike Week, a lot of businesses would be out of business,” he says. The 10-day festival draws half a million people to town, with an estimated economic impact of $1.1 billion. Bike Week also has had a positive economic impact on the chamber’s bottom line, although that was not initially the case. In fact, Mirabel and his associates were so successful that city leaders wanted to take over the event. To prevent that from happening, the chamber now provides 50 percent of the event’s net proceeds to the city.

When Chambers Take Over

In other communities, chambers may end up overseeing an event when another organization can’t. That’s what happened in southwestern Ohio. The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber puts on a huge Oktoberfest celebration in the fall, as well as the Taste of Cincinnati USA in the spring; neither event originated with the chamber.

Oktoberfest Zinzinnati was founded in 1976 by a local brewery and some German social groups, says Patrick Sheeran, the chamber’s vice president of programs and Downtown Council. As the event grew larger, the Downtown Council eventually took it over; it also ran the “Taste” event. Both came under the chamber’s auspices when the Downtown Council was absorbed by the chamber in the 1980s. “We’re of the opinion that the community really owns the events, and we’re the stewards of them,” Sheeran explains.

Oktoberfest Zinzinnati is the largest Oktoberfest in the United States and the second largest one in the world, says Sheeran. Typically, the two-day Oktoberfest and three-day “Taste” draw 500,000 people each, according to police estimates. In 2013, the chamber expanded Oktoberfest to a third night. The longer event, aided by spectacular weather, a Bengals home football game and a popular grand marshal (George Takei, Star Trek’s Helmsman Sulu), drew an estimated 600,000 people, says Sheeran, breaking attendance and revenue records.

How much money do the events generate? Combined, they gross more than $2 million, according to chamber executives. Sheeran characterized net revenue as “significant.” Proceeds “take a burden off dues revenue,” he says, allowing the chamber to help fund other mission-related work that does not fund itself.

Revenue comes from sponsorships, beverage sales and fees collected from participating vendors. (The chamber collects a flat fee from food vendors but is responsible for beverage sales.) The beauty of a festival, says Sheeran, is that significant revenue can be derived from consumers, as well as businesses outside the chamber’s primary service market. “We are not going back to the same folks who are funding government affairs,” he says.

There are other indirect benefits of running successful festivals, say executives in Cincinnati. They help “build vibrancy in the region,” says former Chamber President & CEO Ellen van der Horst, making the area a more desirable place to live. In turn, an enhanced quality of place assists the chamber’s ability to recruit employees and employers to the region. “It really is our community at our finest moment,” says Sheeran of the events. They are “multicultural and multigenerational” and “a wonderful thing to see and experience.”

By virtue of working with certain city departments during festival planning, the chamber forges “deeper relationships” with city hall, says Sheeran. The staff expertise accrued in event planning has opened other doors, too. The chamber occasionally offers consulting services to others who want to put on festivals. Ten years ago, chamber employees helped organize and plan meetings associated with the United States/Central American Free Trade Agreement negotiations, something that would have been impossible without his team’s festival experience, says Sheeran.

Not All Events Are Profitable

Like the Cincinnati chamber, Florida’s Destin Area Chamber of Commerce took over a large-scale event from another group. Thirty-five years ago, the Destin Charter Boat Association started the Destin Seafood Festival to raise funds and bring visitors to town in the fall. The association ran it for two years; after that, the chamber took over.

Through the years, the festival proved popular with tourists and locals, but it was taxing for the chamber’s small staff. The annual affair was, “at very best, break-even,” says Shane Moody, CCE, FCCP, president and CEO. “The stress on the staff wasn’t worth it.” On top of that, “It dominated our lives for three months,” he says, “weakening other chamber programs and services.” Moody, who has headed the chamber since 2004, knew he needed to make a change.

But there were two obstacles. Given how important the festival was to the Gulf Coast beach town, he wanted to find another organization that would continue the tradition. And, he says, he needed a board chairman who realized that the festival was not the best use of the chamber’s resources. The two came together in 2011. Luckily, the Destin Charter Boat Association agreed to take the festival back under its wing.

Weighing the Costs

There was no such happy ending for Oregon’s “Taste of Beaverton.” The three-day food festival run by the Beaverton Chamber of Commerce ended its 16-year run in 2004. At the time, its total budget was about $400,000, but the chamber was lucky to net $10,000 to $20,000 considering staff time, says Lorraine Clarno, president of the chamber.

In 2004, the festival was a “total rainout,” she says, and it lost $100,000. Although the chamber had investigated weather insurance, it did not purchase any because “you can’t afford weather insurance in Oregon,” Clarno says. In addition, the cost of event insurance, which the chamber did buy, rose sharply after 9/11.

Increased competition and high fixed costs also contributed to the financial woes. Sponsors insisted the chamber hire big-name music acts but wanted admission prices kept below $10, Clarno says. On top of that, the number of festivals being held had increased since the event was founded in 1989. Given Oregon’s temperamental weather, festival organizers scheduled events within a six-week window, resulting in multiple events vying for attendees every weekend.

The Beaverton Chamber was fortunate. It had built up adequate reserves to cover the loss, but it took many years to restore them, she says. When Clarno announced that the chamber could no longer take on the financial risk of running the festival, she invited other non-profit organizations to consider doing so. A handful of leaders from non-profit groups visited the chamber’s offices and reviewed documents and financial data about the festival. None of them wanted to take on the risk, and the festival has never been revived.

“The Guy Who Killed Elmfest”

It wasn’t the weather, but the economy, that led to a tough decision for John Quigley, president and CEO of the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce & Industry in suburban Chicago. More than five years after he cancelled the town’s popular festival, he still jokes that his tombstone will read, “The Guy Who Killed Elmfest.”

The event was started in 1983 by the chamber and the downtown business organization. The long-standing tradition generated a front-page story in the local newspaper beforehand, as well as coverage afterwards. Quigley says the event came with high fixed costs, including tents, electricity, security and garbage clean-up. In 2008, three of the largest sponsors said they would not be able to help out. At the same time, the city notified the chamber that it might have to pay for police and fire expenses, which had been donated.

Quigley already knew that running the festival wasn’t very lucrative. He had convinced his board to adopt cost accounting a few years earlier. Because of this, he says, it was easier to justify eliminating the event. With staff freed up from the responsibility of overseeing Elmfest, the chamber brought ad sales in-house for its member directory and street map, eliminating the commission paid to an outside sales rep.

Some townspeople were “shocked and stunned,” he says, when Elmfest was canceled. Five years later, some people still harp about the absence of the downtown festival. Does Quigley miss it? “Yes, it was a great party and a great marketing tool throughout the Chicagoland area,” he says, “but I also don’t miss having to do it.”

Bursting Your Balloon

Dave Woolson, president and CEO of the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce in Washington State, is in the unenviable position of trying to determine the future of the chamber’s annual Balloon Stampede. The festival, featuring hot air balloon ascensions, an art fair, live music and a kids’ coloring contest, was founded by the chamber in 1974.

At the time, Walla Walla depended on a regional services economy. Putting on a big community event proved a great way to draw people to town, explains Woolson. Since then, the economy and character of the region have evolved. Today, the area “has emerged as a world-class wine destination,” he says. The presence of nearly 150 local wineries has “led to a cuisine scene and a more robust arts and entertainment scene.” In other words, people travel to the town even when there isn’t a balloon festival.

Woolson has witnessed changes in the community firsthand. A Walla Walla native, he left town the day after high school with no plans to return. He became an entertainment lawyer and worked for major Hollywood studios, but was wooed back to take over the chamber. After overseeing the past three Balloon Stampedes, he knows all too well the toll the event takes on staff and volunteers. “Everyone is pretty well run through,” he says, and the chamber closes for a few days after the event to allow everyone to recover. Although the event brings in income, Woolson says he is “quite confident” that the organization is “breaking even or underwater” when staff time is taken into consideration.

“It’s a great signature event,” Woolson says of the Stampede, but he and his board are asking tough questions. Is it mission-centric? (That answer has changed over the years, he says.) Is it the best use of staff time? Is there a way to scale back the festival? Perhaps the event could be spun off into its own organization. Maybe another organization would like to take it over or run it as a joint venture.

While some chambers may have gotten themselves into the event business by necessity, it’s “a mistake,” Woolson believes, to constantly look toward the “next pancake breakfast” for revenue to do the chamber’s core work with members. Why not “skip a step and build value and relationships for members?” he asks. If an event “doesn’t do that directly, we need to take a hard look at kissing it good-bye.”

All of the other events put on by the chamber focus on the business community, Woolson says. He and his staff would like to focus more time and effort on its Business Summit, which was held for the first time in 2013. “We want it [the Stampede] to continue,” he says. “We want it to have a soft landing. But do we want to be a good balloon event organizer or do we want to be a good chamber? I’m not certain that we could be both.”

Katherine House is a business writer based in Iowa City, Iowa.

Inclusion Makes Economic Sense
Spring 2014

By Doug Minter

Spring 2014

Why your chamber needs a diversity strategy.

Chambers are membership organizations. We are driven to serve the needs of our current business members and to recruit new members. Our priorities, programs and delivery methods will undoubtedly change, but success for any chamber is tied directly to the retention and growth of its membership.

It would be ridiculous for an organization built on membership growth to exclude the fastest growing segments of the population. But some chambers that operate without a diversity and inclusion strategy are doing exactly that.

Don’t be unintentionally exclusive

It’s well known in diversity and inclusion (or D&I) circles, but it applies perfectly to chambers of commerce: If your chamber has not created a system and culture of intentional inclusion, you’re ignoring a broad and growing base of potential and future members.

The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2043 nonwhites (currently 38% percent of the population) will become the majority. Diversity among the millennial generation (those born 1977-1995) has already reached the so-called tipping point. Diversity Inc. magazine notes that the “workforce of the present and future is populated by [an] increasing number of people of color, even more than we’re traditionally educated to expect and embrace.”

The tide of demographic change is irreversible. Will your organization harness it or be swept away? Chambers are not at risk of getting ahead of their members on this issue. Leadership is needed to keep up. In fact, opportunities abound for expanding your connections with existing members though D&I programs.

Most Fortune 500 firms, and a growing number of mid-size firms, have woven inclusion into their missions and policies. Connections with their supplier diversity programs or workforce diversity initiatives are potential doors to new, deeper relationships for chambers. Many of your banking sector members have Community Reinvestment Act dollars that are tied to inclusion. This money must be spent in the community, and chambers have an opportunity to help banking members create programs that result in ROI. Chambers all over the country lament their weakening links to the biggest firms. Chamber involvement in programs like these can help the large firms while helping you!

The corporate community has embraced D&I because of the economics of the changing marketplace, and because of the impact it has on their business operations. A Gallup workplace study found that diversity and inclusion engagement creates better performance, and more adaptability to external forces. Harvard researcher John Kutter, says that firms either have “adaptive” cultures or “unadaptive” cultures. His studies show that companies with adaptive cultures have 756% improved net returns compared to companies with non-adaptive cultures. Adaptive cultures are those that are attentive to their stakeholders and customers, and they take risks to “meet their legitimate needs.” Unadaptive cultures are risk averse and do not act quickly to take advantage of the ever-changing business environment. Unadaptive cultures see diversity merely as goals and numbers. An adaptive culture talks about inclusiveness and programming. At the end of the day, diversity is about counting heads and inclusion is about making the heads count! In a new America with dramatically changed demographics, will your chamber be adaptive? Can you afford not to be?

It’s not a black and white issue

D&I involves more than race or ethnic background. It includes proactively addressing the needs of the younger generation, veterans, the LGBT community, and the disabled. The buying power of LGBT Americans ($450 billion) surpasses that of all minority groups except African-Americans ($535 billion). Persons with disabilities represent a larger population segment than any single ethnic, racial or culture demographic group in the U. S.

At a meeting of Alabama chambers, Ed Fields, co-founder and CEO of Projects Unlimited, Inc., a Birmingham-based association and event management firm, said “Done correctly, high quality diversity and inclusion programs will not only return value to your current members, these programs also create new sources of revenue for your association by virtue of being positioned to reach new audiences.” He defined diversity and inclusion programming as “strategies that seek to bring people and businesses that exist on the margins of your association closer to the center.”

Increased value for current members and opportunities to reach a new and rapidly growing audience make economic sense. A diversity and inclusion strategy is not about doing the “right thing.” It’s about connecting to your future members, and doing well while doing good.

Help from ACCE

Recognizing that the future of our organizations depends on how effectively we address this issue, ACCE established the Diversity and Inclusion Division in 2011. A handful of leaders back then has grown into a robust network of individuals charged with leading D&I efforts in their chambers and communities. It’s the place for chamber professionals to network with peers, connect with industry leaders, share information and learn best practices about diversity, inclusion and minority business development. It also provides a forum to discuss next generation ideas and initiatives for ACCE and the chamber profession at large.

If your chamber is making real strides toward a board, staff and membership that are more reflective of your community, congratulations. If not, there are now resources, case studies and personal support to get you started. Either way, I invite you to join the D&I Division on its next conference call to share your success or your challenges. Better yet, join us in Cincinnati this August for ACCE’s Centennial Convention where economic inclusion will be on the agenda.

If your organization has not developed a diversity strategy, I encourage you to explore the diversity pages on ACCE’s website. Start with the resources on the D&I Division web page, and be sure to check out the roster there. You’ll find you’re in good company. Call some colleagues and ask about their work in this important and challenging arena. The D&I journey is different for every chamber, but the math is the same. Inclusion makes economic sense.

Doug Minter is business development manager at the Knoxville Chamber, a Chamber of the Year winner in 2011. He provides counseling and connections for small business members, and staffs the chamber’s Diversity Champions Resource Group. He also serves as vice chair of ACCE’s Diversity and Inclusion Division.

From the Chair
Spring 2014

By Betty Nokes

Spring 2014

Paper Echoes

While I adore technology and I’m often captivated by the newest apps, gadgets, or cutting edge ideas that make business operate faster and smarter, I must confess: I love paper and how it connects me to the past. My family chuckles that I’m a collector of people and paper.

Last month, my son was working on a senior project and decided he wanted to build a “workshop area” in the garage, which is a favorite storage site of mine. This was motivation for me to dive into some of the wonderful archives of my chamber life to see what I’d been storing and transporting over the years. I was confident that I’d be able to part with some of my collection because I’d find digital versions online via ACCE’s HERO service (Help Expertise and Resources Online), or Wikipedia, Google and the like.

I glanced through important things like my institute manuals (yes, I was part of the six-year program) and copies of presentations from every industry conference I’ve attended. I was able to reduce the size of the stack, but there were a few treasures I had to keep because I knew I’d never find them anywhere else.

One was an outline of what chambers need to know when computerizing the office! I wasn’t sure if I was more startled at how quickly the world has been transformed to computer dependence, or if today’s phones are more technologically advanced than our first office computers. So, yes, I tucked this paper away with a few others that had strong connections to chamber leaders from our past. It’s their inspiration that makes me so passionate about our industry.

Ironically enough, around the same time Mick Fleming, ACCE’s fearless leader, was rummaging through ACCE’s archives getting ready for our association’s centennial celebration this summer. ACCE was founded in Cincinnati in 1914, and we’ll return to Cincinnati for our Centennial Celebration Convention.

Mick discovered gems dating back to our earliest years, including this comment made by ACCE’s first president, S. Cristy Mead of the New York City Chamber, at the inaugural convention: “Modern” chambers, Mead said, are marked by “co-operation and co-ordination of effort [by chamber members] for greater efficiency in the accomplishment of results beneficial to the community.” It’s stunning to see how one of our founders expressed the fundamental concept of chamber work so perfectly and how it still applies today.

There are many more fabulous nuggets about our history which will be shared at our annual convention in Cincinnati, Aug. 12-15.

Two values still apply today just as they did when our association was born:

  • Sharing ideas and best practices so that each of us can be more effective at harnessing business energy to build vibrant communities where people want to live, work and play.
  • Looking to the future while honoring the best of the past.

Please join me in Cincinnati to honor the rich history of local chamber work, and to anticipate what lies ahead for our chambers and our communities. I hope you’ll be a part of the conclusion of our first century and the beginning of our second!

Betty Nokes
President and CEO
Bellevue (WA) Chamber of Commerce
ACCE Board Chair, 2013-14

Mick on Networks
Spring 2014

By Mick Fleming

Spring 2014

Networking is not a chamber by-product. It is the product.

When asked to justify the chamber’s reason for being (and invoicing), most execs mention “networking” or “connections” within the first 10 seconds. Even for large chambers with grand missions, connectivity among influential community/business decision makers is a critical part of the membership pitch.

On the other hand, “networking” is also the term used by those who say “no thanks” to chamber involvement. “It’s just a networking group,” says an output-focused plant manager or overloaded entrepreneur. “I don’t need that kind of thing.”

The label might be out of favor, but how does connectivity among humans ever become obsolete? Every business person, (actually everyone, period) needs and craves networks. The question is, do they need yours?

The key may be to recognize that the chamber is the network.

Collective action, mutual responsibility for the future, participatory problem solving, group buying power, coalition building, person-to-person support, transactional friction reduction, efficient information exchange, sense of belonging, fame-by-association, shared lexicon, economic mobility and, yes, greater happiness – I’ve seen all of these things in chambers across the country.

If the words “networking” and “partying” are used interchangeably in your office, you may not be properly serving the network that is your chamber. Too much focus on fun may miss what members want most from the chamber’s network development.

Respondents to member satisfaction surveys who say they appreciate chamber networking (and most chamber members DO say that) may be fondly recalling different things such as a profitable connection with just one person at a business breakfast, or the target-rich environment at the 19th hole after your golf tournament. An industrial safety manager serving on one of your committees may value confidential peer support from other companies or the extended network of lawyers or lab techs so critical to his/her work. The connections made in your boardroom can relieve the loneliness of the C-level suite at a major corporation.

How about your members under 40 whose network connections are computer-based? If they think of your events at all, they may consider them obligatory retro gatherings where their boss has paid for drinks. Ambitious chamber leaders are working hard to help this new breed of professionals connect in ways that matter to them, rather than begging/bribing them to attend traditional chamber gigs.

Darcy Rezak, an expert in business networks and former head of the Vancouver Board of Trade, insists that getting 50 people together over a glass of bad chardonnay is not nearly as powerful for building networks as bringing 10 people together for a purpose. Purposeful networking – taking part in reaching a shared goal – can build lasting relationships and social capital. These networks will pay dividends to your community and chamber for decades, even if the participants don’t form social bonds, or buy each other’s products.

One chamber exec told me that he’d like his network to resemble a Kevin Bacon utopia, in which “2” is the normal degree of separation between everybody and everybody else. Close connections can transform a community and an economy.

So, what do you do to create more effective and valuable networks? Start with changes in attitude. Be deliberate about network development. It’s not a by-product of a good party. It can be a demonstrable, measurable member value. Orient your chamber toward reducing “degrees of separation” among business and community leaders. When making your “luv ya” calls to large members, try to pass on the name of a helpful connection, rather than just seeking recruits for a committee.

None of us should assume that cocktail party guests bumping into each other will discover networking gold. That’s why at ACCE, which is entering its second century, we’re constantly refining networking opportunities you can use to advance your chamber and your career. Check the “Networks” link at to learn about the peer groups, mentoring, gatherings and personal connectivity that we make available to every ACCE member.


Mick Fleming is president of ACCE.

Spring 2014

By Sarah Myers

Spring 2014

Help, Expertise & Resources Online

Your HERO team updates and creates Chamberpedia pages, does custom research, administers and compiles surveys, and oversees ACCE’s growing Samples Library. Here are some of the issues we’ve worked on during the first few months of 2014.

QUESTION: I need an example of a dashboard. What do I include and how do I format this report?

ANSWER: A dashboard is a visual interface that provides at-a-glance views into key metrics of your operation.

The publication, “The Nonprofit Dashboard: Using Metrics to Drive Mission Success” says, “Like the instrument panel on the dashboard of a car, a dashboard report presents a quick, comprehensive overview of an organization’s status and overall direction, giving more meaning to the information the board receives.”

On ACCE’s Annual Reports and Financial Reports Chamberpedia page, you’ll find resources on creating dashboards as well as several examples of actual dashboard reports from chambers. Many chambers use dashboards for financial year-to-date monthly statistics of revenue and expense, membership statistics, website metrics, event evaluations, e-newsletter stats, and Facebook and LinkedIn statistics. These dashboards let chamber staff and boards understand the overall pulse of the organization with year-to-date and monthly figures. Tools such as Excel and Google Analytics can be used to generate dashboard reports.

QUESTION: How can I explain Common Core to my members?

ANSWER: ACCE’s Jessie Azrilian, manager of education initiatives, refers members to resources found within the Education and Workforce Development Chamberpedia section, in the K-12 Education page under College-and-Career Readiness. Resources include presentations and materials developed by chamber leaders to engage education and business stakeholders on the need for higher and more rigorous K-12 standards, business-friendly fact sheets, and customizable one-pagers for chambers to use as their own, also see the common core story.

QUESTION: What are chambers doing to impact higher education attainment in their communities?

Leverage ACCE’s powerful peer-to-peer network. On the Higher Education page of the Education and Workforce Development Chamberpedia section, you’ll find a link to a webinar, “Goal 2025: Mobilize at the Regional, National, and Local Level to Increase Higher Education Attainment,” featuring Haley Glover from Lumina Foundation and Nancy Eisenbrandt, chief workforce development officer with the Nashville Area Chamber. You also can reach out to the Education Attainment Division (EAD) for education and workforce development speaker recommendations and content experts for your chamber’s next regional business meeting? Email Jessie Azrilian.

As for the advantages, Jessie Azrilian says that trends in corporate social responsibility reflect a more conscious consumer; customers want to support businesses that support their communities. “Revenue Engine: Education and Workforce Development,” a presentation from ACCE’s 2012 Annual Convention, addresses questions regarding ROI for chambers and their communities when investing in education. This presentation is available from the Chamber Education Initiatives and Resources Chamberpedia page.

QUESTION: What’s the difference between ACCE’s Salary Survey and the Operations Survey?

ANSWER: ACCE’s Annual Operations Survey provides chambers with data to use for establishing comparisons and benchmarks with similar chambers of commerce. The Operations Surveyincludes wide-ranging data on organizational structure and function, governance, staffing, membership, and finances. This data also is used to pre-qualify chambers interested in applying for Chamber of The Year. To provide accurate comparisons based on chamber size, the data is compiled based on total annual revenue. Operations Survey data is collected annually between February-March and is open to all ACCE members. This year’s survey results will be available in the spring, when the HERO team will be available to prepare customized presentations for purchase. These custom reports are useful for board meetings, annual retreats, and strategic planning. View the Operations Survey page.

ACCE’s Salary (Compensation and Benefits) Survey has two components. 1)
Salary Survey data collection is open to all CEO-member participants (or their designates) who access the results via data spreadsheets at any time. 2) In December 2013, ACCE released the results of the 2013 Salary Survey through a new, comprehensive publication, along with a condensed version available with CEO-related statistics only. The data for the publication were collected between Jan. 1 – Oct. 31, 2013. ACCE’s Salary and Benefits Survey Publication offers the most accurate and reliable compensation information for the chamber industry, including data for 16 positions at chambers of commerce, from the CEO to support staff. Nearly 400 chambers of commerce in the U.S. and Canada participated. Results have been aggregated to maintain anonymity, and are grouped into five total revenue categories to help you find the most accurate comparisons for your chamber. Please view the Salary Survey page to access the ongoing survey with spreadsheets to download, or purchase the new Publication.

The HERO team welcomes your questions and content contributions for the Samples Library and Chamberpedia pages. Email for more info!

Sarah Myers is Co-director of Information and Research at ACCE.

From the Chair
Winter 2014
By Betty Nokes

Winter 2013

Camere di Commercio: Cuore e Anima della Comunità*

I just returned from Italy. It was nearly half a world away from home, but I felt very much at home. Different country and different modes of operating for businesses and chambers, but I was amazed at how alike we all are.

At the heart of every chamber of commerce is advancement of free enterprise and the promotion of our region as a great place to live, work and visit. After a week in Italy’s Piedmont region with a group of adventuresome chamber leaders, I know these core purposes drive not only North American chambers, but chambers across the globe.

Whenever ACCE assembles a group of chamber executives, the conversations quickly shift to shared ideas and insights that can be applied at home. In that spirit, I’ll share some insights I took away from this phenomenal trip to Italy.

Partners are crucial. Fabulous sponsors and hosts can make the difference in any chamber program. ACCE is lucky to have Central Holidays as its official travel partner. Last year, Central Holidays helped several chambers avoid disaster with their travel programs. I don’t know how they can top the amazing experience they put together for ACCE in November.

Your story is vital. Prior to this trip, what I knew about Turin I learned during TV coverage of the winter Olympics. None of the cities we visited has the name recognition enjoyed by the usual Italian travel destinations. But after touring these unique cities and towns, and meeting their chamber executives and business leaders, I was captivated by the quality of their work, their traditions and their style. Every community has a great story to tell, and chamber leaders can be the best messengers.

Competition is global. This truth became real for me when staff from the Turin chamber shared details about their cluster-based economic growth strategy. Many of their focus areas—aerospace, IT/Technology, clean energy—are also key to economic growth for my community in the Puget Sound region. The Turin chamber is doing impressive economic development that we should benchmark against.

Personal attention is cherished. Of all the wonderful communities we visited, Biella, nestled in the foothills of the Alps, won my heart. Biella probably drew the short straw since they won the privilege of entertaining us over the weekend. But we never felt like a burden because of the warm welcome we received from Biella Chamber President Andrea Fortola. Twice he missed dinner at home to deepen personal connections with each member of our group. None of us will ever forget Andrea or Biella. The people you go out of your way to welcome will never forget you.

Access is a chamber’s most important product. In Biella, Andrea and his chamber lined up an impressive array of executive meetings for us—on a Sunday, no less. We met with Laura Zegna, granddaughter of fashion icon Ermenegildo Zegna, for a private tour of the corporate museum and an exquisite lunch at the family estate. Franco Thedy, the 5th generation owner of Menabrea brewing company, opened the doors of his brewery which still operates on the site where it was established in 1846. That night we dined at Palazzo Lamarmora as guests of the Marquis, whose family has owned the castle for more than eight centuries. You might not have a royal palace in your community, but you have exceptional access and you can open important doors.

Besides the fabulous food, camaraderie and beautiful scenery, this trip was a stark reminder that chambers of commerce are the heart and soul of a community. CEOs and leaders of local businesses, working through chambers, can broaden their relationships and leverage their clout to promote the best interests of our communities. Una carriera da camera è la migliore!**

*Chambers of Commerce: Heart and Soul of the Community
** A chamber career is the best!

Betty Nokes
President and CEO Bellevue (WA) Chamber of Commerce
ACCE Board Chair, 2013-14

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