What exactly is a Chamber of Commerce?

M_Nieves_1By Maria Nieves, President & CEO

The staff and I here at the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce get asked so many varied questions about the nature of the chamber, that I thought it might be helpful to take time to answer some of the more basic questions about this very “sexy” topic of what we do and who we are. Here are the top seven questions we often get asked about our Chamber and our answers!

65_Liberty_Street_9484

The former headquarters of the New York Chamber of Commerce at 65 Liberty Street in NYC. Founded in 1768, the New York Chamber was the first chamber formed in the United States. It no longer exists as it merged with another organization to form the Partnership for New York (which ironically, is not a chamber!)

#1: What exactly is a Chamber of Commerce?

Let’s start with the most basic question of all. According to my good friend Wikipedia, a chamber of commerce “is a form of business network…a local organization of businesses whose goal is to further the interests of businesses. Business owners in towns and cities form these local societies to advocate on behalf of the business community. Local businesses are members, and they elect a board of directors or executive council to set policy for the chamber. The board or council then hires a President & CEO or Executive Director, plus staffing appropriate to its size, to run the organization.”

To put it simply, the Hudson County Chamber–and for that matter, so too the Hoboken Chamber of Commerce–is an organization made up of businesses that want to further the interest of the business community here in the county.  It is, frankly, a self-serving organization as we look out for the interests first and foremost of our members. That said, we are here to build a community that attracts residents, visitors, and investors; ensure future prosperity via a pro-business climate; represent the unified voice of the employer community.

#2: Is the Hudson Chamber part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?

According to the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, there are approximately 3,000 chambers in the United States. That means there are 50 chambers on average in each state!  And each chamber is its own independently operated organization. That is, we are not a chapter of either the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or the New Jersey Chamber.  That said, we do have a partnership that we are formalizing with the Hoboken Chamber of Commerce, which will make them a chapter of the Hudson Chamber. That arrangement, however, is not typical. In this case, we do believe that formally partnering will add great value to the two organizations and enable both to better serve our members in the county.

#3: Is the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce a charity?

The Hudson County Chamber is a nonprofit organization.  We were formed in 1888 as the Jersey City Chamber of Commerce (our name changed in 1979 to Hudson County Chamber) by local business leaders to serve the interests of our members and as a nonprofit, any revenue generated is invested back into the organization so that we can continue to serve our mission: The Hudson County Chamber of Commerce is the leading resource for driving economic growth—providing education, advocacy and access to our members within and throughout each community in Hudson County.

We are also a tax-exempt organization; designated as a 501(c)6 organization by the Internal Revenue Service. While we are a nonprofit and tax-exempt, we are not a charitable organization, which seeks to serve the public good and is commonly designated as a 501(c)3 by the IRS.

#4: What do you really do for a living?

Sometimes I am asked a really interesting question, what do I really do for a job? This question assumes that all chambers are completely volunteer-driven. Being President & CEO of the Hudson County Chamber, however, is my real job. My real, full-time, paid job.

I don’t know how many of the roughly 3,000 chambers in the United States are able to support full-time staff, but there are many of them that can and some of them are very large organizations with staffs numbering in the hundreds. Think about states like California, which is the largest state in the union, and thus has a very large state chamber.  In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the largest nonprofits in the nation and, I believe, the entire world.  Here in Hudson County, we are fortunate to have more than 625 Members that pay annual membership investments and that also support us through advertising, sponsorship and event fees.  As a result, we are able to currently have 3 full-time staff and 2 part-time staff to support our mission.  We all feel incredibly fortunate to represent one of the most dynamic business communities in New Jersey.

#5: Is the Chamber a government organization?

The Hudson County Chamber is formed and supported by our Members. We are not funded by local, county, state or federal agencies and are not a part of any government agency.  While on occasion a public agency may choose to join the Chamber and support our mission, the vast majority of our Members are private sector for-profit and nonprofit businesses.  And our Members support us primarily through annual membership investments.  We also raise additional funding through fundraising events like our Legends gala and our golf outing, by providing fee-based services, and advertising opportunities. While we may have various ways to raise funds, our funding is derived primarily from our Members and as a result, our funding is inherently incredibly diversified.

#6: What does the Chamber do?

The Chamber is a critical part of the ecosystem here in Hudson County. Our mission is to be the leading resource for business in Hudson County and to that end, we offer numerous programs and services to assist the business community–from educational and networking events to services that help our Members generate sales leads and promote their business in the region. We also help to convene the business community around issues that we believe they need to be informed of–whether it is local development and trends or legislative issues.

We also are a leading proponent for doing business in Hudson County. Whether it’s educating our Members about the benefits of shopping local, publishing the one and only printed guide to the community and business directory, or advocating for pro-business policies.

#7: Why should I join the Chamber?

That’s a great question, but I have a better one. Given what you’ve just learned about what the Chamber does and why we do it (see questions #1 – #6 above), why wouldn’t you join the Chamber and be a part of supporting local business?

If you’re doing business here in Hudson County, why wouldn’t you join? And if not this Chamber, then join a chamber. Perhaps the one in your local area. Get involved and support your peers in the business community who are trying to make the region a great place to live and work and play. Given that joining for most businesses costs just pennies/day, it’s well worth the investment!

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