Slam-Dunk Honor in Akron
Earlier this month, the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce enjoyed some celebrity sizzle during its annual meeting banquet when it honored Cleveland Cavaliers basketball star LeBron James. James, a four-time NBA MVP, attended the event to accept the H. Peter Burg Leadership Award, recognizing his leadership and philanthropic efforts in Akron. The award annually honors a community member who exemplifies community service.
A Map That Was Worth 1,000 Words
Chambers of commerce affect history in strange ways.
Harry Gold watched nervously as FBI agents ransacked his Philadelphia apartment. They had been tipped off by a spy for the Soviets, British citizen Klaus Fuchs, that someone had been a courier between Fuchs and others in an atomic spy ring. Fuchs couldn’t name the person, but the FBI managed to infer from Fuchs and other evidence that the individual might be Gold.
It was May 22, 1950. The Soviets had detonated an atomic bomb nine months earlier, which President Truman had announced to the nation. The resulting hysteria, fanned by Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, was gripping the country. The idea that one of the most murderous regimes in history, Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, now had a weapon of mass destruction, was too much to bear. Yes, without spies the Soviets sooner or later would have devised their own bomb, but for them to have it years ahead of schedule represented an obvious danger for America and her allies. (Indeed, as some pointed out later in the year, the Soviets’ having the atomic bomb may have been what emboldened Kim Il Sung of North Korea to invade South Korea in June 1950, setting off a war that would cost 35,000 U.S. lives.)
Who had leaked our secrets to Moscow? Harry Gold, an unassuming, pudgy chemist, considered kind and likeable by those who knew him, was not a likely suspect. Moreover, when the federal agents asked him if he had been to the Manhattan Project laboratories in Los Alamos, N. M., he said no, he hadn’t even been west of the Mississippi.
The G-men, Scotty Miller and Richard Brennan, continued their search. Miller reached behind a bookcase and found a brochure. It included a detailed map of Santa Fe, N.M. It was published by the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce.
“I thought you said you’d never been out West,” Miller said to Gold. Taken aback, Gold opened his mouth, sat down and said, “I am the man to whom Fuchs gave the information.”[i]
The evidence against Gold was not conclusive. He might have escaped arrest if he had kept his mouth shut.[ii] But somehow that map, and perhaps his own feelings of guilt or his desire to be helpful, undermined his instinct for self-preservation. He opened up to the agents. Two days later, Fuchs, shown a photo of Gold, confirmed that he was the man Fuchs had worked with. Gold would go on to help the FBI on dozens of investigations, many of which he suggested. The atomic spy ring case was about to be blown wide open.
Gold fingered David Greenglass, a former Army officer assigned to Los Alamos in 1944 and 1945. Greenglass, in turn, implicated his brother-in-law, Julius Rosenberg, and eventually Rosenberg’s wife (and David Greenglass’s sister) Ethel, too. Greenglass had bargained to save his wife from prosecution.[iii]
The results were soon delivered by the courts. Gold received a 30-year sentence and served 14 years of it; Greenglass got a 15-year sentence and served 9 ½ years of it; and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were electrocuted at Sing Sing Prison on June 19, 1953.
Thus did a simple chamber of commerce map play a role in the greatest spy drama in American history. In events of not only national, but sometimes of world importance, chambers of commerce stubbornly, often in unexpected and even unintended ways, kept at their business. In the atomic age, when communities could be blown off the face of the earth, towns’ and cities’ chambers of commerce still would remain, one way or another, on the map.
[i] Robert J. Lamphere and Tom Schactman, The FBI-KGB War: A Special Agent’s Story (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1995; previous edition, 1986), 151. Lamphere was the agent dealing with Klaus Fuchs in London while his colleagues were handling Gold in Philadelphia.
[ii] Gold’s biographer has written that the spy from Philadelphia could have escaped arrest if he had not confessed. See: Allen Hornblum, “Convicted Spy Harry Gold was Philadelphia’s Benedict Arnold,” Web posting on Philly.com, November 3, 2010. Hornblum’s biography was: The Invisible Harry Gold: The Man Who Gave the Soviets the Atom Bomb (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010 ).
[iii] Among the many sources describing the spy ring and its unraveling is this version from the FBI: “The Atom Spy Case,” from “Famous Cases and Criminals,” Federal Bureau of Investigation: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/history/famous-cases/the-atom-spy-case
Coolest Chamber in the Country?
Without a doubt, my favorite museum in D.C. is the National Portrait Gallery. I love the presidential portraits and the folk art exhibit, and the atrium is awesome when it’s stifling hot or freezing cold outside. But what I love most are the rotating exhibits.
Last year they hosted American Cool, a portrait collection of the 100 Americans who define “cool.” Muhammad Ali? Check. Marlon Brando? Check. Madonna? Elvis? Prince? Check, check, check.
But, surprise of surprises, not one chamber exec! I couldn’t even find a chamber board member. No chamber folks on the Alt-100 list (runners up group) either. How was this oversight possible?
Okay, so maybe chamber execs would be out of place among the top 100 (top 1,000?) coolest Americans of all time. But I know plenty of chambers working hard to shake off the stodgy image and channel their inner cool. The most successful right now could be the IndyChamber. Why?
They have their own house band.
The nine-member R&B ensemble called Chamber Music (clever) features five members of the chamber staff and three chamber staff relatives. Chamber CEO Michael Huber holds it down on keyboards. And Chamber Music is not a one-time, staff party gimmick. This group has gigs! They recently rocked the annual fundraiser for the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute.
Should your chamber be in the running for coolest chamber in country? Leave a comment and tell me why.
Making the case: “Don’t support the chamber . . . unless”
Last month, Mike Elswick, publisher at the Terrell Tribune in Texas, didn’t mince words when he made the case for joining his town’s local chamber . . . or not. His opinion piece, published with the provocative headline, “Don't support your chamber of commerce .... unless,” makes numerous arguments for why businesses in Terrell, Texas, should join their local chamber. His points can be applied to any chamber’s membership recruitment efforts, but the way he presents his case makes this op-ed a must-read.
On the Road with The Magicians of Main Street
Recently, ACCE's Senior Vice President Chris Mead has had the honor of visiting member chambers to share the stories and history of chambers of commerce presented in his book, The Magicians of Main Street. Last Thursday, he was the featured speaker at the Walton Area, Fl., Chamber's annual gala and 90th anniversary event. Today, he travels to his hometown of Chapel Hill to be the keynote speaker at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber's annual meeting.
"Chambers of commerce in the United States have such a rich history on their own, but few know about their integral part of American history," said Mead. "I really enjoy seeing the audiences' reactions of surprise and sometimes delight. These stories can be a motivator for chamber staff and volunteers to think big."
Look for Mead's presentation in your area or the next chamber execs meeting. In February he is slated to speak at Ohio Chamber execs (CCEO), Commerce Lexington, and One Southern Indiana. He will also present this spring at Mid-America Chamber Executives' Annual Conference in South Dakota, MAKO Chamber Conference in Missouri, and the Florida Association of Chamber Professionals' Spring Conference.
From Microsoft: Windows Server 2003 Extended Support Ends July 14, 2015
Windows Server 2003 extended support ends July 14, 2015. Start planning now.
- 5 Reasons to Upgrade
- The Assessment and Planning Toolkit
- Forbes Article on Embracing the Digital Age
- Find a Local Microsoft Partner to Help
An Awards Night Surprise
Withstanding Forces of Change
Today some chamber executives worry about whether their institutions can withstand the forces of change. A look at the past may give you some clues as to just how much chambers can handle. See this blog of an article by ACCE’s Chris Mead on the site of ACCE official corporate partner Accrinet.
Main Street Makeovers for
Small Business Saturday
To commemorate year five of Small Business Saturday, Nov. 29, five Main Streets across the country—in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Miami, New York City and Chicago—will receive makeovers from professional fashion and interior designers. In Washington D.C., American Express commissioned renowned NYC-based designer Sheila Bridges to work with local businesses and give a special makeover to P Street NW in Georgetown.
This year marks the fifth annual Small Business Saturday, a day dedicated to supporting the local businesses that create jobs, boost the economy and preserve neighborhoods around the country. Small Business Saturday was created by American Express in 2010, and it’s now part of the holiday shopping trifecta with Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Participating P Street NW businesses in Georgetown include:
- Little Birdies, 3236 P Street NW
- Wedding Creations/Anthony’s Tuxedos, 3237 P Street NW
- Just Paper & Tea, 3232 P St NW
- Ella-Rue, 3231 P St NW
- P Street Gallerie, 3235 P Street NW
Other Small Business Saturday events in Washington, D.C.:
Adams Morgan: ShopSmall Street Art by Aniekan Udofia
American Express commissioned DC-based artist Aniekan Udofia (Facebook, Twitter) to create a Shop Small mural to celebrate the local small businesses that make D.C. unique. The mural is located at 2423 18th St NW (map), which is where Adams Morgan will host its STAY CALM and SHOP SMALL activities on Small Business Saturday. Images of the mural can be found on Dropbox.
Union Market: ETSY Trunk Show at Salt & Sundry with Mallory Shelter Jewelry
American Express and Etsy have teamed up to encourage small businesses to discover and showcase local artisans in their community by hosting local Trunk Shows in their stores on Small Business Saturday The Washington, D.C. event will be held at Salt & Sundry (1309 5th St. NE) with an in-store party in from 4-7 p.m. The event will feature Etsy seller Mallory Shelter, complimentary food and drinks, music by a live DJ, and an on-site photographer. More details available on Eventbrite.
Local Chambers: The Rodney Dangerfields of History?
At this time of election campaigns, many local chambers of commerce make news via candidate forums, endorsements, and more. But after the first Tuesday in November, the silence returns. The United States, however, would be almost unrecognizable if the million acts of 7,000 local chambers could somehow be removed from its past. Here are a few reasons why we’ve forgotten what chambers have done and continue to do:
- They tend to avoid taking credit. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “There is no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.”
- They don’t have overt power and so they have to share credit for accomplishments with those that do have the final say, even if the project was the chamber’s idea. This inability to control the whole thing makes poor news copy. “The chamber was 40 percent responsible for the new convention center” is a headline none of us will ever see.
- Individuals, not groups, capture our attention. Do we think about the 600,000 shivering French troops outside Moscow – or about one short, charismatic man responsible for it all, with his hand inside his vest?
- Chambers, by design, start things and spin them off. Many festivals, transportation projects, civic improvement ideas, you name it – began at chambers but went on to be managed by other groups. And so, years later, we forget where it all started.
- “Rich boy makes good” or “rich boy does good” makes boring copy. Yet most chamber members aren’t rich. And sometimes these individuals, rich or poor, put their heads together and change their communities in fascinating ways.
- The business of business people is business. Entrepreneurs are lionized for the way they line their wallets. We don’t usually think of their other lives, in which sometimes they may eclipse their business achievements.
- “It was inevitable.” Of course if you put influential people in 5,000 cities and towns together, for a dozen or more times a year for 50 or even more than 200 years, something’s going to happen. But the real question is, why did some chambers hit it out of the park, while others hit themselves on the head – sometimes repeatedly?
- Government organizations and nonprofit groups have proliferated, frequently with the support of chambers of commerce. It’s not hard to get lost in these many-thicketed woods.
- Local chambers aren’t ideological. They often lean to the right on general economic and business issues, but when it comes to getting that bridge funded or a bond issue for a much-needed school, they can veer to the left faster than a speeding politician. Not being easily classified politically, chambers are not easily grasped by students of history.
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is often seen as the leader of local chambers; in many ways it is, but there is no hierarchy or unified governing body in the American chamber universe. The U.S. Chamber was formed in 1912 through, in part, the efforts of many local chambers of commerce that wanted a national voice for business. Local chambers are not “chapters” under the national chamber. The U.S. Chamber, often involving the loose federation of local chambers, has played a major role in American history. And so, too, have thousands of local chambers, plugging away with on policy, politics, and place making since the first one emerged in New York in 1768.
- Most chamber members are neither saints nor villains. They aren’t ashamed of profits but they want to help their community. Where’s the hot story in those intertwined goals?
- Chambers of commerce depend to a significant extent on something you can’t touch. What is the “Atlanta spirit” or the “Spirit of St. Louis”? While we’ve toned down the boosterism of a century ago, chambers of commerce still rely on bonds among individuals within the chamber, and within the community, to make things better than they are. Whether it’s a “rah-rah” spirit or a buttoned-down, urban, noblesse oblige-inspired caring for the community, it can be very real.
- Local chambers are “just local.” Where’s the sweep of history and the path of armies? Where’s the glamour of Main Street? What’s the glory in changing a street-sign ordinance? And yet, as Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local.” Jerusalem, Florence, and Athens are local. From comparatively little places, big things can happen.
To learn more about the fascinating, often overlooked, history of chambers pick up your copy of The Magicians of Main Street: America and its Chambers of Commerce, 1768-1945.
Republish this column in your chamber newsletter or local paper. Contact Chris Mead for more information.