The Manatee Chamber of Commerce was named Chamber of the Year for its category by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives.
The award — coming at the national chamber's convention Friday in Sacramento, Calif. — is the only one recognizing the dual role of chambers of commerce in leading both businesses and communities.
"Being honored with this national Chamber of the Year Awards is positively overwhelming," said Bob Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce. "I credit this award to our staff, board of directors and every member of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.
"The support that businesses in Manatee County give us allows us to take on an aggressive program of work that touches most issues in our community."
And that support was particularly evident on Saturday, as chamber members staged a surprise welcome back party for the group at Tampa International Airport.
"We're all excited," said Jacki Dezelski, the chamber's vice president for east county and community development as she enjoyed the airport festivities.
The Manatee Chamber was one of four chamber finalists in its category ($500,000-$1 million dues income) that has demonstrated its success in community leadership and organizational strength by being among the top in the nation for financial and membership growth as well as making a demonstrable impact on key community priorities in areas like economic opportunities, education, transportation, health care, and cultural vitality.
Other finalists in the category were chambers from St. Joseph County, Ind.; Lubbock, Texas; and Fargo-Moorhead, N.D.
This was the inaugural year for the national chamber awards, Bartz said. But it's far from the first time the Manatee chamber has been honored.
In fact, the chamber, with more than 2,400 members, is on an awards roll. On July 27, it snagged the top award in its category as the Florida Chamber of Commerce of the Year, presented by the Florida Association of Chamber Professionals.
This year's win was the first time a chamber in Florida had won in its category three times; Manatee also won the state award in 2000 and 2004.
Established in 1914, the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, based in Alexandria, Va., is the only national association devoted to the development of chamber professionals in the U.S. and Canada. It represents more than 7,000 individuals.
— Herald staff writer Joe Saunders contributed|to this report.