For more than a century the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce has been a social and economic engine guiding the region from a small seaside community to a global business and finance hub of the 21st Century.
Along the way, the Chamber has been a force for positive change in business, education, the environment and other areas through two world wars, the civil rights movement, the information revolution, a devastating hurricane and explosive domestic and international immigration that has made South Florida the demographic, cultural and commercial envy of America.
The Chamber's predecessor, the Miami Board of Trade, was organized shortly after the City of Miami's incorporation in 1896. Chartered in 1907, it worked to obtain deep water access to Miami's natural harbor – an effort critical to developing Miami-Dade County's agricultural resources. Today, the Port of Miami is the world's premier cruise port and a primary cargo hub for Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Far East.
The Board of Trade and the Merchants' Association later united to become the Miami Chamber of Commerce. E.G. "Ev" Sewell became president in 1915 and, through his efforts, Miami became one of the nation's best-publicized areas. During his tenure, the Chamber's endeavors to build the community focused on aviation, clean water, tourism, spring training baseball, and preserving space for parks. Minutes of Chamber meetings survive since 1919. They provide lively reading, chronicling the events and people that shaped early Miami's politics and economy.
Following the hurricane of 1926, the Chamber exerted strong leadership in raising relief funds for typhoid inoculations and for the improvement of sanitary conditions. The following year, the Chamber opened the area’s first tourist bureau. Thus began the pioneering effort to promote Miami as a major vacation destination. As part of this revitalization effort, the Chamber also contributed to the early efforts to establish a national park in the Everglades.
The push to get Miami worldwide name recognition continued into the 1930s. The Chamber led major endeavors on economic recovering during the Great Depression. It focused its efforts on the development of better port facilities and changing the name of Dade County to Miami County or Miami-Dade County.
The Post-War Boom
Even as the world slowly became consumed with war, the Chamber’s leaders looked ahead and realized that economic growth for Miami depended very much on strong ties with Latin America and other nations in the hemisphere. Commercial air travel for ordinary citizens was on the horizon, and these leaders knew that Miami would develop into a major aviation hub. The Chamber was well positioned to work toward shaping the international future of the city. While many Florida cities drawing on military spending went bust after the war, Miami boomed. The invention of air conditioning, the development of a national highway system and growing families all made the city a natural vacation destination. And many of those servicemen and women liked what they saw and decided to stay, pushing the population up to almost a quarter million by 1950.
Growth and prosperity continued into the 60's. In 1967, the Chamber formed a study group chaired by community leader and newspaper executive Alvah Chapman Jr. This committee recommended the creation of a system of action committees with specific, measurable goals and the achievement of civic progress throughout the entire Greater Miami community. The Chamber itself launched a restructuring that led to the birth of the reinvigorated Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.
The Super Bowl and More
The impact to the community was immense. In a single decade the Chamber was behind the successful bid to get Super Bowl V for Miami in 1971. The Greater Miami JOBS Drive created nearly 2,700 job commitments while Chamber officials helped lure new business that resulted in more than 300 new plants and offices in Dade County. Finally, the Chamber assisted in efforts that brought more than $30 million in neighborhood development funds for Greater Miami.
The Chamber created the New World Center Action Committee to stimulate downtown development. High-rise office buildings, hotels and the waterfront Bayside Marketplace were constructed, while Bayfront Park was created. Two major Transportation Summits – sponsored by the Chamber in 1988 and 1995 – examined and pushed for major projects like the Dante B. Fascell Port of Miami and the continuous improvements at Miami International Airport.
Leadership Miami, and orientation for potential community leaders, was launched in 1979 and continues with a new class enrolling each fall. Recognizing the need for a county-wide marketing approach for both the visitor industry and economic development, the Chamber was instrumental in founding the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Beacon Council in the 1980s. Today these entities are strong organizations with close ties to the Chamber.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew - among the worst natural disaster in the history of our country - spent its full force in the Southern region of Greater Miami, causing an estimated $20 billion in damage to businesses, homes, and schools. The Chamber's immediate response was twofold, recovery and rebuilding.
At its 1995 Goals Conference, the Greater Miami Chamber established a Community Long Range Planning Committee. The committee was charged with developing a master plan to create high-paying jobs in fast-growing industries. One Community One Goal: Creating Jobs for the 21st Century evolved from that effort. The comprehensive project identified several industries for growth including biomedical, film and entertainment, financial services, information technology, international commerce, and telecommunications. As a direct result, the Miami Medical Alliance was established to market Miami as a significant medical center. Additionally, the International Services Network was launched to increase the volume of services exported by Florida Businesses.
A 21st Century Chamber
Today, our mission and vision remains focused. Just as it looked out from its beginnings in the early 20th Century, the Chamber today continues to imagine a Greater Miami region powered by dynamic entrepreneurs, cutting-edge technologies, an educated work force and imaginative leaders.
Historically, even tragic setbacks like devastating storms have provided opportunities for bold reimagining of Miami’s potential. Following the economic downturn resulting from the September 11 attacks, the Chamber established the Economic Recovering Task Force, which fast-tracked $500 million in county funds for various public projects. It also secured Congressional authorization for the $8 billion, 20-year Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) as well as $1 billion from the State of Florida for Everglades land acquisition.
The Chamber’s Americas Linkage program, meanwhile, made a historic trip when it headed to Toronto and Montreal, Canada for its first mission in North America facilitating business development opportunities with our neighbors to the north. The Chamber also spearheaded a joint effort with the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau to market Miami as an international healthcare destination and the ideal place for medical procedures and recuperation.
In transportation, the Chamber engaged with the Central Florida Partnership and the Tampa Bay Partnership to support high speed rail lines that would connect Greater Miami with Orlando and Tampa. The project would significantly enhance the vitality, quality of life and economic development of Florida that could lead to an innovative, shovel ready project that reflects the intent of the Obama administration’s Economic Stimulus.
As a not-for-profit organization primarily funded by its membership, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce is a direct reflection of Greater Miami's abundance of small-to-mid-sized businesses and its ethnically diverse community. The Chamber is a thriving organization with over 5,000 dedicated volunteers. As an activist chamber with a social conscience and a history of assuming authoritative roles, it continues to serve its membership and the community responsibly.