A local institution turned 100-year-old today. The Effingham County Chamber of Commerce celebrated their centennial after being founded on this day in 1917 as the Effingham Merchant’s Association. Business owners and members of the public gathered at an open house Tuesday morning at the chamber office on Keller Drive in Effingham to celebrate.
“It was formed by a group of business and civic leaders who got together just to look at ways to improve the community and how businesses could be successful in the community,” said Chamber President and CEO Norma Lansing.
Norma Lansing discusses the chamber’s origins.
The group also called themselves the Effingham Businessmen’s Association before settling on the Effingham Chamber of Commerce until 2012 when they became the Effingham County Chamber of Commerce. The chamber now has 570 members.
“The early history of the chamber was about developing the community to the point of buying land and raising funds to bring industry to town,” Lansing continued. One chamber land purchase is now known as the Effingham Business Park on South Raney Street. Other early chamber projects included Lake Sara funding, the Effingham County Memorial Airport, and the Benwood Hotel, which is now the County Office Building.
Nowadays the chamber’s role has changed slightly, but the overall idea of improving the community is the same. “I think we’re kind of at that cusp of another leap into what the chamber is going to be involved in,” Lansing stated. “We’re working on a lot of workforce development issues,” she continued. That includes helping businesses find qualified workers and assisting community members with developing marketable skills.
The chamber is also big into business development with their new Business Outreach Center initiative. The idea is to build a mentoring network for new or struggling businesses. The chamber was approached by the state to act as a government funded Small Business Development Center, but Lansing said they declined because it “didn’t make economic sense.” The Business Outreach Center is way to provide those services through local volunteers.
“We have a great volunteer community,” Lansing said. “I’ve been very pleasantly surprised at the business people who have stepped forward to serve in that role who want to give back.”
The Effingham County Chamber of Commerce also helped to establish the Effingham County 911 Board and the CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) Program.