“The Chamber of Commerce is against it,” accused a Wednesday Journal comment writer. Hold on! As Executive Director of your local Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce, I am compelled to correct that misconception. Whatever “it” is, your local Chamber does not take sides on controversial issues.
More than likely, the writer meant the US Chamber of Commerce, which intentionally works on behalf of its membership to lobby for legislative outcomes. Illinois Chamber of Commerce too, for that matter. These influential associations adopt typically “pro-business” stances on issues that make headlines. Immigration, minimum wages, unions, international trade agreements, compliance, tax, for example.
Local chambers are welcome to add their voice to national and statewide debates. But usually, they do not.
Common name aside, “chambers of commerce” are not affiliated organizations. Chambers developed organically and independently throughout the US at the local, state and national level over the past century. The Oak Park River Forest Chamber began in 1905, a year after the Chicagoland Chamber. Just as Chicagoland focuses on the economy anchored by our nation’s third largest city, the Oak Park River Forest Chamber is focused locally.
Chambers take their cue from their respective membership ranks. In Oak Park and River Forest, we seek to create community for businesses – a place where business owners and employees alike can come to make connections, share information and access resources.
That community extends well beyond our borders. We are not restricted to the municipal boundaries implied by our name. The vast majority of our members are based in either Oak Park or River Forest. However, some members hail from Forest Park, Chicago, Berwyn and other surrounding communities. Businesses often belong to multiple chambers.
Your local Chamber does not have a legislative agenda. Our mission calls for us to advocate for the general business climate, and our Board of Directors defines that as open lines of communication between businesses and government. We are interested in providing information, facilitating conversation and giving business a voice. Not deciding the answer.
Armed with the right information and connections, we believe businesses will speak for themselves.