Chambers of Commerce are known for being among the best organizations to join when you are starting and growing your business. In recent years, however, Chamber membership has taken a hit, and more networking event groups have popped up—giving Chambers a run for their money.
In this new column in Be Inkandescent magazine, we’ll be talking to the leaders of dozens of Chambers to learn if this go-to group can, and will, retain its reign.
Because each city has its own unique personality, especially when it comes to how business professionals network and build their businesses, we’ll be discussing which events are right for the work in which our range of readers are involved.
We’ll also be posting the best networking events for you to attend in 2012, on our strategic social media site, www.inkandescentnetworking.com.
Innovation: The Focus for 2012 for the Greater Boston Chamber
“It is plain that the idea behind this name ‘Chamber of Commerce’ is that the merchants of Boston, by associating themselves together, can accomplish some good for the welfare of our city and state,” said the first president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, James J. Storrow, back in 1913.
That was just a few years after the founding of the Chamber in June 1909, when a merger of two major business groups created the modern-day organization.
At the time, explains current Chamber President Paul Guzzi (pictured above), the Chamber was the largest civic organization in the United States, and it wielded a great deal of power not only on Beacon Hill, but on Capitol Hill, and in the White House, too.
“Chamber members hosted banquets featuring the president of the United States, and they traveled the world to promote the region as a center of world commerce,” he shares.
Guzzi adds that intensive lobbying by Chamber leaders helped bring about the creation of the Boston branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. Its members have also partnered with the state legislature to pay for construction of a new commercial airport in East Boston.
In addition, the Boston Chamber was the first in the nation to elect a woman to its board of directors, and it helped forge the infrastructure that transformed the area’s economy in the middle of the 20th century.
More recently, the Chamber has played a key role in some of the region’s most important policy issues, including education reform and preservation of the state’s standardized tests, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).
The Boston Chamber has also helped to develop the South Boston Waterfront, construct the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, and play a role in passing landmark health care reform and implementation.
“For 100 years, the Chamber has been a force for the public good in Greater Boston,” Guzzi insists. “Yet all that the Chamber achieves and all that we strive to accomplish is driven by our members. In these challenging economic times, their involvement in the Chamber and in our community is more important than ever. They represent the power of our past and the promise of our future.”
Indeed, Guzzi and his team have positioned the Chamber to be at the forefront of innovative initiatives, and together with government leaders they have laid the foundation for change.
Following is our Q&A with Guzzi, a former Massachusetts secretary of state and chief secretary to the governor. As well as being a member of the management teams of two Fortune 500 companies, he is a leading advocate for economic development and job creation.
Be Inkandescent: What sets the Boston Chamber apart from other Chambers of Commerce?
Paul Guzzi: We are focused on making Greater Boston a better place to live and work. We have an advocacy agenda dedicated to enhancing the state’s business climate. We offer a number of annual speaker programs and networking events to help our members connect to the region’s leaders in business and government and to each other. And we offer important leadership development programs focused on developing the next generation of leaders.
Be Inkandescent: Compared to other cities, how has Boston fared through the recession?
Paul Guzzi: Boston continues to outperform other parts of the nation. Our unemployment rate continues to fall. We have seen growth in the life sciences and technology industries; we have seen a resurgence in both commercial and residential development projects throughout the city this year, with a focus on development in the waterfront Innovation District; tourism numbers are beginning to rebound; and our hospitals and institutions of higher education continue to be areas of strength.
Be Inkandescent: What are some of the leading industries and companies that the Boston Chamber represents?
Paul Guzzi: The Chamber has a widespread membership base. We represent companies in financial services, technology, higher education, health care and life sciences, and the visitor industry, as well as nonprofits.
Be Inkandescent: The Boston Chamber initiated several leadership initiatives in recent years, including the Executive Leadership Institute, Boston’s Future Leaders, and the Women’s Leadership Program. (Details are below.) Tell us why you think these programs are important for the future of Boston.
Paul Guzzi: This region is known for its intellectual capital and innovative drive. We at the Chamber think it is critically important to develop the region’s next generation of leaders in order to drive economic growth and guarantee our position as an attractive place to do business for years to come.
Be Inkandescent: What do you forecast will be the highlight of 2012, in terms of employment opportunities and corporate growth in Boston?
Paul Guzzi: We will continue to focus on the region’s leading industries, and on the continued growth of the Innovation District.
Be Inkandescent: Do you work closely with other Chambers of Commerce? If so, how? Is this a focus for 2012?
Paul Guzzi: Over the years, we have worked collaboratively with other Chambers of Commerce throughout the state and have partnered on certain initiatives. We also work closely with Greater Boston’s leading business groups in order to maximize the potential for regional job growth and economic development. These types of collaboration are incredibly important, and we will strengthen them in 2012.
Be Inkandescent: What are you most looking forward to in the new year in terms of personal goals, and growth at the Chamber?
Paul Guzzi: We at the Chamber are striving to help our member companies connect and grow as we work to encourage a strong, growing economy. We want to amplify Greater Boston’s position as one of the nation’s top places to do business.
About the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce
The Boston Chamber is a broad-based association representing 1,500 businesses of all sizes from virtually every industry and profession in our region. It provides leadership in creating a healthy climate for economic development and job creation. It also aspires to be a Chamber of Community as well as a Chamber of Commerce. “The Chamber is deeply committed to promoting diversity in every aspect of its work, and throughout the business, government, and civic life of our community,” says Chamber CEO Paul Guzzi. “We are an important resource to our members for advocacy, information, and marketing exposure that enhances their business success. And most importantly, we add value to the community at large by working for legislative changes that are critical to economic growth.” Learn more here: www.bostonchamber.com.
About the Chamber’s Executive Leadership Institute:
In collaboration with MIT and the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government, the Executive Leadership Institute convenes a stellar group of senior executive business leaders for high-level discourse, learning, and engagement. Participants have the opportunity to interact with C-level peers in business and government, learn from world-class professors at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business & Government, and deepen their knowledge of the economic and civic issues the region faces. The program accepts up to 30 senior executives each year who hold high-level management responsibilities in a Chamber member company. Click here for more information about the program.
About Boston’s Future Leaders Program
In partnership with Harvard Business School and Suffolk University’s Sawyer Business School, Boston’s Future Leaders program identifies and engages high-potential individuals in the business and civic life of the community. The program provides a platform for young leaders’ professional development and enriches their professional experience as they advance to executive positions. Each year, up to 60 individuals who hold a mid-level management position at a Chamber member company—and have been identified as having high-potential for an executive-level position—are accepted to the Boston’s Future Leaders program. Click here for more information about the course offerings.
About the Chamber’s Women’s Leadership Program:
The Women’s Leadership Program will be delivered in collaboration with the Simmons School of Management, a leading provider of management education for women. This year-long program will include a one-day seminar at the Simmons School of Management that will include lectures, case studies, and extensive discussion facilitated by top faculty. In addition, participants will take part in a series of workshops, roundtables, and events throughout the year focused on networking, skill-building, negotiation, and personal leadership development. The program annually accepts 40 female professionals with three to eight years of professional experience. Click here for more information.