Chamber enters next 100 years with renewed focus

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The Beckley Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce is officially celebrating 100 years of service. Established in the spring of 1919 with the first president, Curry L. Buckner, general manager of Lewis, Hubbard & Company, the Chamber of Commerce was originally a volunteer organization put in place to serve the growing business community.

Picture 1919 in Raleigh County … “Two world wars and increased steel construction led to a higher demand for coal and thousands of miners moved with their families into new company towns. The county population jumped from 25,633 in 1910 to 42,482 in 1920 and 68,072 in 1930. Tiny Beckley launched into a slow growth during the first half of the century, through most of which it remained a small cluster of homes, churches and stores around a country courthouse. But by 1950, Beckley became one of the state’s largest cities, touted for its fresh air. Thousands of miners moved in from the coalfields to escape the confinement and industrialization of coal camps. As Alfred Beckley predicted a century before, the town’s topographic situation forced roads to pass through it. Two U.S. Highways and three state roads were carried by its prominent avenues. As the first half of century closed, the block of commercial buildings around the courthouse began to appear as an island in a widening suburban landscape.” (Sibray, David. “Raleigh County 1899-1999: A Century of Pictures.” The Boom: 1910-1950, p. 18., edited by David Sibray and published by Beckley Newspapers and Sibray & Associates, Beckley, W.Va., 1998.)

One can imagine how the need for goods and services increased at this time. New businesses cropped up to serve the population growth and commerce was heightened. Business owners and professionals likely wanted to organize in order to help one another succeed. Entrepreneurs at the time might have wanted to develop an alliance that would represent business with one voice, especially when working with local government. The Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce was born. From that first year until today, the leaders of our community carried out the mission and vision for this organization. I am privileged to be the new president / CEO of an establishment that has thrived for 10 decades.

We celebrate this milestone by stepping into the next 100 years with a renewed focus on the basic principles of our organization. The four areas that will guide our work into the future are advocacy, resources, people and sustainability. Within each of these focus areas, we will take on new challenges, inject new energy and expect better results in order to provide the very best value to our membership and our community.

Just like 100 years ago, your chamber of commerce will advocate for our business community by sharing the concerns of our membership with our elected officials to create a positive business climate that promotes growth.

We’ll continue to provide resources to help our membership operate their businesses effectively and successfully. Business-to-business exchange will result from our networking events, referral initiatives and cost-effective advertising opportunities.

Inviting more people to our region is necessary to support our businesses. Helping our employers recruit quality employees to the area will be one of our foremost goals. Think back to 1950 when “Beckley became one of the state’s largest cities, touted for its fresh air.” Whether it’s fresh air, beautiful scenery, outdoor recreation or our overall inexpensive cost of living, we will find the best ways to promote our assets to increase our residents. Attracting more retirees, encouraging young people to return home and evoking a larger workforce benefits our economy.

Sustainable communities are places where people want to live and work, now and in the future. We will collaborate with our local and neighboring city and county leaders to plan for tomorrow. Not only will we think about transportation and housing, but quality of place amenities that meet the diverse needs of a healthy, happy community: arts/culture, entertainment, shopping, beautification/environmental stewardship, parks/outdoor recreation and university enrollment. These are things that can influence moving decisions as much as crime rates and affordable housing.

All this and more will be coming out of your Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce in the upcoming months and years. We want to help you reach your 2020 goals to improve and grow your business. Please reach out to us at any time Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 245 N. Kanawha St., Beckley, or by calling 304-252-7328 and let us know how we can help.

— Michelle Rotellini is president of the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce.

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