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November 4, 2009 > What is a Chamber of Commerce?

What is a Chamber of Commerce?

By Simon Wong

A chamber of commerce is a federation of businesses of all sizes, in all sectors. The US Chamber of Commerce's mission is "to fight for free enterprise before Congress, the White House, regulatory agencies, the courts, the court of public opinion, and governments around the world."

Locally, chambers of commerce and industry associations do much the same. Most members are small businesses with fewer than 100 employees. Chambers also organize events within the community to promote and raise awareness of businesses and encourage membership. A chamber is a forum in which business people can meet, offer mutual support and attend seminars to learn more.

"The Hayward Chamber of Commerce is one of the oldest, largest and most respected in Alameda County," said Jim Wieder, Hayward Chamber President & CEO and owner of ACE Hardware on B Street for the past two and four years, respectively.

"Its primary function is to ensure our 700 members are heard by city and state governments. We're very proud of our relationships with people like State Senator Ellen Corbett," explained Wieder.

This is why he encourages membership. Some cities have been known to refuse calls from individual small businesses. Moreover, some merchants have neither the time nor inclination to visit city hall. Chamber representatives go instead; a collective voice is audible.

For example, a company contacted the Hayward Chamber about an ordinance that limited its expansion; another business sought the Chamber's help when it erected signs that led to disputes with neighbors; another wanted clarification on the smoking ordinance. The Chamber worked with the City and Council to solve or mitigate the problems.

The Hayward Chamber started working with local government in the 1930s. Most recently, its political action committee, Good Government Now!, was a major force behind the passage of Measure I, Hayward Unified School District's School Safety & Construction Bond Measure for $205M, in June 2008. The Chamber raised campaign funds and lobbied in support of the Measure which enabled the first school-construction project in Hayward since the Kennedy presidency.

"A good relationship with the City, Council and special districts benefits everyone. The Chamber typically monitors the City's potential fees, fines, changes, additions and subtractions and represents business interests to the politicians.

"We've developed a relationship with the City, enhanced ties with Cal State University East Bay (CSEUB), are reinforcing our links with Chabot College and wish to connect with industrial businesses along the I-880 corridor.

"Every generation of American politicians has a theme. The 1970s saw the anti-war movement. The 1980s saw free-market economics and conspicuous consumption, and so on. The current generation will be remembered for fiscal responsibility, economic recovery and growth, if their policies succeed. Leading business people, accountants, people who can read a balance sheet are considering public office. 'Balancing the budget' is uppermost in people's minds," stated Wieder.

Besides political representation, members derive commercial benefit, directly or indirectly, through the Chamber's four summer street parties in the Downtown Area, two business expositions annually and other events, such as the monthly mixer. This chamber is one of the most proactive with a busier events calendar than most in the region.

"Our first joint expo with Union City Chamber of Commerce under the Grand White Tent, St. Rose Hospital, was a great success. Small businesses interacted directly with city officials and the community's other decision makers. Our usual Spring expo moved to this venue because Centennial Hall closed on October 31. A location for Spring 2010 has yet to be decided," said the Chamber's President & CEO.

The recent grand opening of Comerica Bank in Hayward is a perfect example of the synergy achievable. Almost 200 guests, City staff and elected officials attended. The bank could have held such an event without the Chamber but the latter's involvement facilitated its success.

Looking ahead, a celebration of the Holidays on December 3 will culminate in a tree-lighting ceremony in the City Hall rotunda. Whilst there might not be a direct correlation between this chamber event and commercial benefit to local businesses, the chamber's involvement helps indirectly.

The 66th Annual Hayward Chamber of Commerce Community Heroes' Awards gala at CSUEB's University Union on January 30, 2010, will be an opportunity to confer the Hayward Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award upon Alameda County Sheriff Emeritus Charles Plummer. The Hayward Community Firefighter of the Year, Teacher of the Year and Business Person of the Year will also be honored.

Listening to Wieder define a "chamber of commerce," it is clear the agency's ethos, actions and involvement are essential for the health of commercial enterprise, the wider community and City, reinforcing the vital link between the private and public sectors.

"I'm a merchant and assure prospective members their dues won't be wasted. Every new member is treated with the same courtesy, dignity, respect and good customer service accorded to everyone entering my own store. If they are dissatisfied, they can certainly have a refund. There have been no such requests," concluded Wieder.

For more information, visit www.hayward.org, or contact Jim Wieder on (510) 247 2041 (office) or (510) 258 8996 (cell) or by email to jim@hayward.org. Alternatively, send an email to membership@hayward.org or info@hayward.org.

Hayward Chamber of Commerce
22561 Main St., Hayward
(510) 537 2424
www.hayward.org

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