EDITOR’S NOTE: South King Media Founder/Publisher Scott Schaefer serves on the Board of Directors for the Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce.

Not Your Typical Chamber

By Andrea H. Reay

I have been doing economic development and community engagement work for over eight years now. One thing that comes up consistently in conversation, once people experience our work here at the Chamber first-hand, is that it’s not what they expected.

I hope one positive impact of the pandemic is that it has challenged us to confront our expectations. I also hope that our Chamber continues to be a catalyst for confronting the challenges that prevent our community from achieving our full potential. That includes confronting and challenging systemic racism, economic strategies, and policy.

This month I wanted to review what the top three assumptions/myths are in working with Chambers and how we hope to rise above those assumptions in service to our community.

1. “Chambers are archaic conservative clubs established to help rich people get richer.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. Chambers were established in 16th century France to help ensure the voice of the community was heard by the nobility. Before there was a revolution, there were Chambers. Before there was a movement to support the community, there were Chambers. One such example of a Chamber acting in support of unified local businesses was a protest of increased tax and regulation held by the Boston Chamber of Commerce in 1773, also known as the Boston Tea Party.

Chambers are organizations established to promote the interests of business and community in a broad-based way. The truth is that business interests are community interests, and the long history of the profession is centered on elevating minority voices that are often marginalized and overlooked.

This is especially true when it comes to amplifying the BIPOC, LGBTQ+, women, and veteran voices of our business community. We work very hard to expand economic opportunity through events such as our PNW Economic Equity Summit and our Education and Workforce initiatives. We aim to assess the unique needs and opportunities in our community and respond appropriately to be a catalyst for change.

2. “Chambers can only serve one city.”

Most Chambers do serve only one city. However, in our Seattle Southside community, we have been one Highline community for over 100 years. Only recently, around thirty years ago, did we become multiple cities. This is why the Seattle Southside Chamber serves the cities of Burien, Des Moines, Normandy Park, SeaTac, and Tukwila together.

Economic development can and does happen regionally. Having a multilateral and regional approach helps to ensure that common interests—whether that be related to the Port of Seattle, King County, or other agencies and entities—receive input and feedback from our local businesses. This works to strengthen community ties and build stronger connections with all economic players.

We were founded on the belief that we are better and stronger together and that belief holds true at every level of our organization. The Chamber’s by-laws are constructed in such a way that every municipality represented by the Chamber has an equal voice on our Board of Directors. This ensures geographic equity and representation and allows us to act not only in the best individualized interest of each city, but also with the broad regional identity to leverage our strengths for maximum benefit.

3. “Chambers focus exclusively on business, ignoring community elements like our youth.”

Our Chamber is an independent non-profit that focuses primarily on our business community, but we also establish other groups and organizations to focus on other important initiatives.

Because of the close relationship between economic development and education, workforce, and community development, we established the Success Foundation, our 501(c)(3) charitable enterprise, to work exclusively on education and workforce development. We know one of our greatest challenges is economic equity; the greatest way to help achieve more equity is to help our local youth find career pathways to family-wage jobs. This is especially important in South King County, where our poverty rates are twice the federal average.

The Chamber also hosts several Chamber Committees to focus on relevant topics in our community. Our 2021 Committees currently include local endeavors such as the Burien Creative District Committee and the Des Moines Business Committee as well as initiative-focused groups such as the Education & Workforce Development Committee and the Government Affairs Committee.

We are a nonprofit service organization dedicated to creating success, advancing our region, and maintaining a strong economy through support, service, and advocacy. We know that some of our biggest challenges are to dispel myths about Chambers as well as create more opportunities to build up a culture of collaboration in our communities. We are proud of our history, but even more proud of the community we serve. The Seattle Southside Chamber is honored to continue the legacy and invite you to experience our work yourself.

This article was written by Andrea H. Reay, President/CEO of Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce, “A voice for business, a leader in the community.” Seattle Southside Chamber has served the communities of Burien, Des Moines, Normandy Park, SeaTac, and Tukwila since 1988.

For more information about the Chamber, including a full list of member benefits and resources, please visit their website at www.SeattleSouthsideChamber.com.