It was the lead story in the Aug. 26, 1921, issue of the Spokane Valley Herald, on the same front page with an encouraging report about local agriculture and news of Valley pioneer and businessman W.B. Dishman selling his home at a public auction.
Nearly 100 people had gathered at the Orchard Avenue Community Hall on Aug. 23 for the inaugural meeting of the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce, an organization, the Herald noted that “was well on the road to success.” According to the report, “attendance was encouraging and the program was very enthusiastic” as nine greater Spokane Valley communities sent representatives to the summit.
Along with a keynote speech by George Phillips, president of the previously established Spokane Chamber of Commerce, the agenda included a piano recital and musical selections from area vocalists. In his presentation, Phillips implored the new entity to concentrate on a diverse list of priorities, including publicity, industrial development, marketing and transportation. Attendees from Dishman, Greenacres, Vera, Pasadena Park, Opportunity, Otis Orchards, Millwood and Orchard Avenue also discussed the importance of the chamber taking the lead on the completion of a new thoroughfare called Trent Road.
Nine decades ago this month, the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce held its first meeting at the Orchard Avenue Community Hall. A pictorial timeline in the current SVCC office on Sprague Avenue chronicles the early days of the chamber as well as highlights from the area’s commercial sector since 1921. Photo by: Craig Howard
Nine decades later, the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce still gathers regularly to promote local business, network and ponder over the issues of the day – although the frequency of piano music may have declined slightly since the 1920s.
While this month marks the 90th anniversary of the chamber’s first official meeting, a celebration was held earlier this year to commemorate the group’s “founder’s day” of May 25, 1921. Now over 850 members strong, the modern-day chamber continues to be a vital catalyst for area commerce, according to Board President Damon Smith.
“We bring valuable training opportunities, development programs and network generation,” said Smith, who was installed as board president last July. “I know for our business, the chamber has been invaluable.”
Before moving to Spokane 14 years ago, Smith lived in Sunnyside, near Yakima. There, he served as president of a chamber with around 30 members. Now an employee of DCI Engineers, a company with half-a-dozen offices in four states, Smith notes that his employer belongs to a chamber of commerce in each community that it calls home.
In the greater Spokane Valley area, Smith describes “the umbrella” provided by the chamber for commercial ventures ranging from corporate giants like Avista to small, locally owned businesses that have been part of the fabric of the Valley for decades. The chamber encompasses the cities of Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake and Millwood as well as unincorporated areas of Spokane County. While half of the chamber’s current membership consists of companies located in the city of Spokane Valley, the group also welcomes those that conduct business in the area – around 30 percent of chamber representatives have offices in downtown Spokane.
“We like to say, ‘We’re the home of business in the community,’” said chamber president and CEO Eldonna Shaw. “Like the Valley itself, we’re friendly and inclusive. There’s a real people element here.”
At the chamber’s annual meeting last November, Shaw acknowledged the challenges faced by businesses during the recent recession, but used the platform to speak about positive strides made by local companies as well as the chamber itself, which had added 131 new members over the past year. The group’s renewal rate consistently hovers around 80 percent.
“These have been difficult times,” Shaw said. “But I see a lot of energy. I think we’re emerging out of it.”
From early chamber leaders such as Harry Nelson to board presidents such as Raymond Kelley and Oscar Reinemer who served in the thick of the Great Depression, Smith said he “cherishes the opportunity to be part of the chamber’s history.” Well-known Valley names like Norma Ventris, Joe Custer and Clark Hager are also among the roll call of past chamber chiefs whose photos are included on a wall in the SVCC office.
“It’s inspiring to serve on the same board as those people,” Smith said.
The chamber continues to do its part to spur area commerce, opening a new Business Center in Liberty Lake in 2010, complimenting a program at the main office that has helped over 30 businesses establish footing since 2004. The chamber is also the only entity of its kind in the state to offer the NxLevel entrepreneurial training program in conjunction with Washington State University.
From sponsoring college scholarships for local high school students to hosting an educational program for political candidates, the chamber continues to place an emphasis on themes like advocacy and service. Each fall, the chamber awards a Citizen of the Year award in honor of a resident who has made a difference in the community.
“We’re bringing people together and finding common ground,” Shaw said.
“To celebrate 90 years gives you a sense that you’re part of an effort that has roots in the community. I hope to be here when we celebrate 100 years.”