Grand Rapids Chamber Celebrates 135 Years with Founding Members
Tomorrow, the Grand Rapids Chamber celebrates 135 years of leading and advocating for the West Michigan business community.
The Chamber was founded as the Board of Trade in 1887 when the city of 60,000 was in economic distress over high railroad rates. By joining forces, the 147 founding businesses were able to secure a rate cut that saved the city’s manufacturers and supported the furniture industry. Today, the Chamber serves more than 2,200 members across all industries and has seen a net growth of 193 members in 2022.
The following eleven members helped found the organization in 1887 and are still Chamber members to this day. Tomorrow, we will celebrate with them by delivering birthday cakes to their offices to thank them for the continued support of the Chamber’s work and mission.
- American Seating Company
- AT&T Michigan
- BISSELL Homecare
- Consumers Energy
- Crosby & Henry
- Davenport University
- DTE Energy
- Fifth Third Bank
- S.A. Morman & Co.
- Siegel Jewelers
“Just like in 1887, our priorities are still member-set and driven,” said Rick Baker, President & CEO of the Grand Rapids Chamber. “After 135 years, transportation is still a top issue for the Chamber, along with talent, workplace culture and business growth issues. Our diverse team of subject matter experts is working on these issues to support our members and move West Michigan forward.”
In 2022 and 2023, the Chamber will remain fierce advocates for business focused on:
- Top leadership and talent development programs like Leadership Grand Rapids
- Cutting-edge diversity, equity and inclusion training and consultation
- Advocacy to support business success, housing supply and talent
- Expanding the Chamber’s collaborative office space to serve members
- Member benefits that help the bottom line on workers’ compensation, tuition, office supplies and more
Over its history, the Chamber and its member leaders have demonstrated vision and collaboration to support a thriving and prosperous West Michigan for all. Key achievements across the organization’s history include:
- Endorsed the new City Charter and formed the Kent County Farm Bureau in 1905
- Helped Calvin College expand in 1908 with a 10-acre gift from the Chamber
- Established the Grand Rapids Airplane Company during World War I
- Kent County Airport was built in 1926 thanks to the Chamber aeronautics committee
- The Chamber’s “Good Roads” committee developed the East Beltline in 1927
- Brought General Motors to town in 1936
- Created “Grand Rapids Industries” in World War II
- Greater Grand Rapids Chamber Foundation founded in 1972
- Created The Right Place program in 1985
- Leadership Grand Rapids instituted in 1985
- Institute for Healing Racism launched in 1997
- West Michigan Policy Forum kicked off in 2008
- West Michigan Minority Contractors established in 2014
- Led the Kent County Small Business Recovery Program during COVID-19
The Chamber’s history of work put into perspective in a statement from the 75th anniversary Bulletin in 1962:
The Chamber…does not claim in any sense that it has been solely responsible for the industrial, commercial and civic progress of Greater Grand Rapids. It does assert, in all due modesty, that it has played a large part in shaping the city’s destinies – thanks to the efforts of many dedicated citizens…
For more information, visit www.grandrapids.org.
To schedule media interviews, please contact Andy Johnston at [email protected].
Photos From Then and Now
The Chamber’s current offices at 250 Monroe Avenue and previous offices in the historic Waters Building.
Downtown Grand Rapids in 1920.
Attah Obande, Vice President of Business & Talent Development with Chamber team members at the 2022 West Michigan CEO Summit on June 14.
Rick Baker, Chamber President & CEO and Jeff Connolly, Chamber Board Chair with Deidra Mitchell, Summit Chair of the 2022 West Michigan CEO Summit on June 14.