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Chamber History

In 1993, the Youngstown, Warren and Niles chambers of commerce merged to become one entity that would serve all of Mahoning and Trumbull counties. Because of all that was going on in the economy at that time, the staff and boards of all three chambers knew that joining forces would mean a better outcome for the Valley as a whole than any one entity could accomplish on its own for even a portion of the community.

In the 1980s and 1990s, our economy was rapidly shrinking, as was our population, and as we had entered a new era of a knowledge-based economy, we knew that the manufacturing industry that had so long been the heart of this region would no longer sustain us on its own. Additionally, with the three chambers located within minutes of one another and serving many of the same customers (banks, hospitals and other businesses with multiple locations), limited funds supported three operations and two economic development groups. Therefore, many business leaders in the community advocated for a merger so that resources could be combined and the leadership of the new regional entity could make a larger impact in affecting change in the region collectively known as the Valley.

With reservation and caution—but seeing the great opportunities that lay ahead—the boards of all three chambers voted in favor of the merger, and the newly formed Regional Chamber opened for business. There was much to work through, though, as the individual chambers had different dues structures, benefits and policies for members. However, all employees were retained, and the team moved forward.

The expectations for the Regional Chamber included its becoming a powerful economic development force, influencing elected officials at the local, state and federal levels, offering more services to members and impacting the whole economy, rather than pockets of the region. Can we say, nearly 25 years later, that these expectations were met? Absolutely, and then some!

We have competed for and won major projects for the Valley and received national recognition for our efforts in these projects. We’ve also received several national awards for the creation of Grow Mahoning Valley, a unique partnership among the public, private and labor sectors that promotes economic development in the region through the completion of key infrastructure—road, highway, water and sewer—projects. In the membership arena, we pioneered the tiered dues structure, which was a game changer for the entire chamber industry nationwide. We applied some of the business principles of the private sector to the non-profit sector, which was very unusual at that time. Also unusual for chambers was the concept of management by objectives, setting goals, tracking outcomes and having more accountability for those outcomes, but that was the philosophy that guided the Regional Chamber, and very successfully so.

Change is certainly not always easy, and undoubtedly there was a bit of fear and uncertainty in merging three major chambers of commerce. But looking back at where the region was then, versus where we’re at today, the progress and successes have been utterly remarkable, and we are poised for so much more in the next 25 years.