Chamber celebrates 125 years in Manatee County

January 20, 2014 

Quasquicentennial (kwäskw-sen-te-n-l). Before last year I would have had no idea what this word meant. I now know that this is the official term for a 125th anniversary -- a milestone the Manatee Chamber of Commerce is celebrating this year. It's given us the great opportunity to look back at the history of not just the Manatee Chamber, but our community, as well.

We trace our organizational history and roots back to 1889 and the first meeting of the Bradenton Board of Trade. It was the year that the Dakotas, Montana and Washington state were admitted to the union, the first U.S. golf course opened, the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed from coast to coast, the first long distance U.S. electric power transmission line (14 miles long) was completed, and the Wall Street Journal began publishing (it would still be 33 years before the Bradenton Herald was launched). It's difficult to imagine the conversations those business leaders had about the challenges and opportunities facing Manatee County, although research tells us the topics are similar to the broad areas of engagement we find ourselves involved in today.

The business leaders who formed the Bradenton Board of Trade had three goals in mind: to guarantee daily steamboat mail service, a telegraph line to Tampa (and telephone connection among ourselves before another 12 months passed), and the faint hope of railroad transportation to some point on the river. In 1895 the organization was renamed the Manatee County Board of Trade. Over the next century, through several names and iterations, the organizations that have become the Manatee Chamber of Commerce have tackled tough issues and worked diligently -- thanks to involved men and women -- to build the community we love today.

I find it fascinating that those three original goals of the Bradenton Board of Trade so clearly tied an improved quality of life to progressive policies and infrastructure that support the growth of commerce and business. 125 years later this same belief lies at the heart of the mission of our Chamber.

Two weeks ago we had 28 of our past chairmen of the board join us in the studios of METV to film remembrances of their year at the leadership helm. The success stories they shared touched on just about every aspect of business and community success in Manatee County -- from transportation to education, natural re

sources to government policies, tourism to agriculture. Their stories also focused heavily on collaboration and leadership, starting with Fred Langford (chairmen in 1962) relaying the big picture view business leaders took in combining the Bradenton and Palmetto Chambers of Commerce into the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce. It was a great reminder of the important influence business leaders had in decisions like the rebuilding of the Skyway Bridge, the creation of Port Manatee, the expansion of USF to a Sarasota-Manatee campus, the expansion of SRQ, the acceleration of I-75, and so many more.

The Manatee Chamber will kick-off our quasquicentennial in just a few weeks at our Annual Dinner on February 6. We will share the METV-produced film featuring our past chairmen and celebrating many of the accomplishments that have had a lasting impact on our businesses and our community. I thank the thousands of business leaders who have laid the foundation for our next 125 years of success.

Bob Bartz, President of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, can be reached at BobB@ManateeChamber.com.

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