Chambers of commerce provide a community support structure for local business owners by:
Although it was organized in 1881, the origins of the chamber of commerce in Lexington have been traced back to 1797, when John Postlehwait convened a meeting of the Lexington Society for the Promotion of Emigration. The actual meeting minutes from 1881 reflect that the chamber board of directors met for the first time on November 11 in the President’s Room of the First National Bank building. The chamber offices were formally opened on December 8, 1881.
Among the earliest activities included a Lexington delegation’s visit in 1884 to Louisville to boost collaboration and trade between the cities, and a reciprocal visit by Louisville officials that same year. Today, regional collaboration has been heightened with the ongoing Regional Competitiveness Plan that includes our nine-county economic development area and aims to improve our competitiveness for jobs and talent within the region.
In the early 1900’s, the chamber board considered issues like water, housing, traffic, taxes, coal, transportation, sanitary sewers, fire protection, and efforts to attract a creamery, dairy packaging company, buggy and spoke manufacturing plants, and even an oil refinery. Since its beginning, the chamber of commerce has been focused on recruiting new companies to the area, while enhancing the existing businesses that call Central Kentucky home. Last year, our economic development team assisted with projects that announced nearly 1,000 jobs and more than $352 million dollars in regional capital investment.
Our Community and Minority Business Development program has been at the forefront of supporting minority owned businesses and entrepreneurs – through financing, procurement, networking, and other small business assistance opportunities. The innovative Access Loan Program has facilitated over $24 million dollars in approved loans for small business start-ups and expansions since 2001, while Commerce Lexington’s Minority Business Accelerator has helped 10 local businesses achieve nearly $44 million dollars cumulatively over the last decade.
Chambers of commerce are there for the community through the good times and the challenging times. The recent pandemic was very difficult for businesses and especially small businesses. In 2020-21, Commerce Lexington managed the city’s Small Business Economic Recovery programs, distributing about $6.9 million to local small, minority-owned and women-owned businesses through the framework of its Access Loan Program and the assistance of many volunteers.
Chambers also have a way of transcending generations. During World War I, the Lexington Chamber helped returning soldiers find employment. In 2011, Commerce Lexington participated in the Hiring Our Heroes Job Fair initiative.
In 1927, chamber leaders organized relief efforts in the wake of storms and flooding in Hazard, Kentucky. Following the Ice Storm of 2003, the chamber coordinated a widespread clean-up effort around Lexington.
In talking about the chamber during the annual meeting of 1885, President George W. Ranck said, “Let us make it a parliament of the people, in which merchants, lawyers, mechanics, clerks, and everybody can work together to push on our new, wide-awake, and progressive city. The Chamber was not intended simply for men of property. Some of the greatest benefactors the world has ever known did not own a foot of ground or a single share of bank stock. Help us, work with us, do something to add to the happiness and prosperity of your city and your people, and it will redound to the benefit of your mind, heart, and pocket.”
Over the years, the chamber of commerce has been known by different names, but its role has always been the same – to create new wealth for our region, while improving its quality of life. Today, with more than 1,900 member investors, countless volunteers, and a dedicated staff, your local chamber of commerce – Commerce Lexington – is leading the way to a more prosperous future for our community and region.
To find out how you or your business can take advantage of the resources available through the chamber, call (859) 254-4447. Together we will be #CHAMBERSTRONG!