Manatee Chamber of Commerce: a big winner in community improvement

February 6, 2014 

The Manatee Chamber of Commerce joined USF Sarasota-Manatee board members, administrators, faculty and local business leaders Wednesday to celebrate the ribbon cutting for USFSM's Culinary Innovation Lab.SABRINA ROCCO/Bradenton Herald

Tonight Manatee County's business community celebrates a century and a quarter of promoting economic development and building a stronger quality of life here. From the early days at the Bradenton Board of Trade dating back to 1889, the Manatee Chamber of Commerce has blossomed into a highly regarded organization.

With some 2,000 members and growing, the chamber wields considerable weight in the community and the state. As a three-time winner of the Florida Chamber of the Year Award and the 2007 honoree as National Chamber of the Year, the Manatee chamber has earned a strong reputation.

One of the chamber's top programs, Leadership Manatee, serves as a training ground for business people to become more fully engaged in the community and further develop leadership skills. Since its inception in 1982, more than 1,000 people have graduated from the program. That's quite a service to the community.

Going back to the days of the board of trade, one of the organization's first endeavors was to lobby Congress to dredge the mouth of the Manatee River and secure a rail line to Tampa. Back then, the shallow waters prevented shipments of vegetables and fruits from reaching markets in a timely manner, and the trade board found almost 8 million pounds of freight perished before reaching their destination over two years. What a monumental waste for the county's agricultural industry.

Two of the chamber's most important initiatives in the modern era, funded by the Manatee Chamber Foundation, were a critical health care study that highlighted the need for more doctors and nurses and an important analysis of the value that cultural plays in a community. Both those reports bore fruit. Manatee Memorial Hospital established a residency program for physicians, and the arts blossomed under a decade-long cultural master plan developed by a citizen-driven Realize Bradenton organization.

The Manatee Chamber of Commerce has been accomplishing its goal for decades, as this mission statement outlines: "To build a positive business environment while enhancing the community's quality of life."

The chamber plans to test the business community on history, beginning tonight at the 125th anniversary of its founding organization and the 51st celebration of the official launch of Manatee version. How did the Green Bridge acquire its name? Who brought the first automobile to Manatee County? Those are just two of the questions members will be quizzed on. Our thanks to Neil Spirtas, the chamber's vice president of public policy and small business, for sharing a few historic tidbits -- like these: The organization somehow managed to maintain the cost of a haircut at 50 cents at one time. The chamber also secured $50 million worth of roadway funding from the state in 2003.

A very happy anniversary to the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, and our thanks for contributing mightily to a business-friendly and engaged community.

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