For more than a century the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce has been a social and economic engine guiding Miami through history, from a small seaside hamlet to an international business and finance leader of the new global economy.
The Chamber has served as a force for positive change in Miami's business community through two world wars, the civil rights movement, , the information revolution, “Paradise Lost”, Hurricane Andrew, and a recent era of domestic and international immigration that has made South Florida the demographic, cultural and commercial envy of America.
The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Through History
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 – at the time an effort critical to developing agricultural resources; today, PortMiami is the world's premier cruise port and a primary cargo hub for Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Far East.
This set the foundation for Miami's place in history.
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 historical Chamber meetings survive since 1919, chronicling the events and people that shaped early Miami's politics and economy.
- The Chamber opens the first tourist bureau beginning the pioneering effort to promote Miami as a major vacation destination. Many national organizations were invited to have their annual conventions in Miami. Among them, Lions International -- in 1927, the Chamber spent $25,000 to entertain the visiting delegates.
- To gain a clearer identification in the world press, the Chamber participated in proposals to change the name of Dade County to Miami County or Miami Dade County.
- The Chamber contributed to early efforts to establish a national park in the Everglades.
- Following the history-making hurricane of 1926, the Chamber exerted strong leadership in raising relief funds for typhoid inoculations and for the improvement of sanitary conditions.
- The Chamber led major endeavors on economic recovery during the Great Depression. It focused its efforts on developing better port facilities.
- High-style and Miami aligned when Burdines sponsored a fashion campaign prominently mentioning Miami in The New Yorker, Vogue and Vanity Fair.
- In the 1930 Census, the Chamber arranged with the Ministerial Alliance to monitor and check the actual enumeration ensuring that all segments of the community were included. As a result, approximately 1,000 families were uncovered who claimed to have been missed by the Census takers.
- The Chamber continued its ebb and flow with the City of Miami. The wars came and with it the boom years, while many Florida cities were heavily affected by the war and went into financial ruin, Miami remained relatively unaffected. After the war, many servicemen and women returned to Miami, pushing the population up to almost a quarter million by 1950.
- The Chamber, known then as the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, celebrated its 50th anniversary. The Chamber was involved in every area of our community. During those postwar years, populations grew quickly and new businesses, mostly small businesses, filled the community.
- 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 to achieve civic progress throughout the Greater Miami community. This led to the birth of the reinvigorated Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. The impact to the community was immense:
- The Chamber launched a successful bid to get Super Bowl V to Miami in 1971
- The Greater Miami JOBS Drive created nearly 2,700 jobs for the unemployed and 800 for youth.
- Chamber officials helped lure new business leading to more than 300 new plants and offices in Dade County.
- Assisted in obtaining more than $30 million in neighborhood development funds for Greater Miami.
- The Chamber created the New World Center Action Committee, strictly focused on stimulating downtown development.
- Fostered development of international commerce with Miami as the key link between North and South America as well as the Americas, Europe and Asia:
- Sought consular offices for those nations not already represented in Miami.
- Established the Greater Miami Foreign-Trade Zone, Inc. and received a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to operate a foreign-trade zone in Miami.
- Coordinated Miami visits of trade delegations from Europe, Asia and the Caribbean.
- “Project Manhattan” was established as a Chamber initiative to lure corporate headquarters from New York City to Greater Miami -- five new firms relocated adding 134 new jobs.
- Among the many tourism, civic involvement and economic development campaigns created by the Chamber, it received national honors for its “Tourists, Nice People” campaign.
- Established the Business Resource Center to aid minority businesses.
- The Chamber persuaded the County Commission to set aside $8.5 million of the 1974-75 budget for low and moderate income housing.
- A Champion of higher education, the Chamber provides a forum for Florida International University to unveil its master plan and introduce its staff, and obtained commitments of $3.2 million in community development funds for Miami-Dade College’s three-block expansion of the downtown campus.
- Jeanne Bellamy, the first female Chairman of the Chamber, takes office in 1977.
- The Chamber’s Leadership Miami (LM) program launches in 1979. LM focuses on community issues, civic engagement and developing Miami’s future leaders. It continues with a new class enrolling each fall.
- Recognizing the need for a dedicated county-wide marketing approach for both tourism and economic development, the Chamber creates the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Beacon Council. Today, these entities are strong organizations with close ties to the Chamber.
- Raised $6.9 million to launch the Business Assistance Center, stimulating economic growth in Liberty City.
- The Chamber secures an NBA franchise in Miami, The Miami Heat, pre-selling 10,000 season tickets.
- First Chamber in the United States to receive an “E” Star Award for its continuing efforts to promote the export industry.
- Assisted in passing the nation’s largest school bond issue.
- Began the first drug-free workplace program for small businesses in the United States, Business Against Narcotic Drugs (BAND), now used nationwide.
- Influenced American Airlines to open an international hub at Miami International Airport.
- Organized negotiations for the Lipton Tennis Tournament to be permanently housed on Key Biscayne.
- Secured the Florida Marlins franchise through inaugural season ticket presales.
- After Hurricane Andrew unleashed 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 two-fold – recovery and rebuilding – establishing a county-wide program identify and address key needs for local businesses and procured funding to assist in rebuilding relief.
- Created the Workers’ Relocation Center, which processed 19,000 employees laid off by major airlines and banking corporations.
- Wrote legislation and lobbied to establish the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, an effort begun in 1987.
- Pioneers a program model for the export of professional services and establishing an alliance of 70 organizations in Florida and abroad.
- “One Community One Goal” completes study on seven key industries destined to advance economic development in South Florida.
- Founded Carrfour Supportive Housing, which has provided permanent homes and supportive services to more than 10,000 formerly homeless families and individuals. That same year the Homeless Trust is created and the Chamber’s leadership earns Miami the distinction of being the only U.S. community with a dedicated funding source to end homelessness.
- Parrot Jungle Island and Carnival Center for the Performing Arts break-ground and are completed – culminating efforts the Chamber began championing in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively.
- Established the Economic Recovery Task Force, following the economic downturn resulting from the September 11 attacks, fast-tracking $500 million in county funds for various public projects.
- 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.
- Helped develop and promoted enactment of the local ordinance establishing the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.
- The Chamber provides strong support for DR-CAFTA, making several trips to Washington, D.C. and visiting the White House twice, including being in attendance when the President signed the agreement.
- After the 2005 hurricane season, the Chamber creates the Preparing Greater Miami forums to help area businesses with disaster preparedness and recovery; and joins with Miami-Dade County to create the Partnership for Recovery to help the displaced victims of Hurricane Wilma.
- Enterprise Florida’s Selection Committee for the Florida International Business Expansion Initiative approves $120,000 in funding for the Greater Miami Chamber’s international programs and initiatives.
- Chamber commissions a housing needs assessment for Miami-Dade County, the final piece in a series of studies already completed for Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe Counties – allowing for a comprehensive look at the need for workforce housing in Miami-Dade County and throughout the region.
- The Chamber’s Americas Linkage program – typically focused on business missions to LATAM and the Caribbean -- headed to Toronto and Montreal, Canada for its historic first mission in North America, facilitating business development opportunities with our neighbors to the north.
- The Chamber spearheads 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.
- 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.
- Championed support for the Port of Miami dredge to ensure it would be ready for larger ships from the widening of the Panama Canal.
- Recognizing the potential for powerful economic development benefits, job growth and enhanced international tourism at the core of destination gaming, through its public policy process the Chamber developed a position approving conditional support of the establishment of destination gaming resorts in South Florida.
- The Chamber supported American Airlines’ new business restructure. Instrumental in convincing American Airlines to expand its operations in Miami 25 years earlier, the Chamber was encouraged that the restructuring process would give the airline the flexibility for growth.
- Chamber supports the 21st Century Schools Initiative, a $1.2 billion General Obligation Bond for renovating facilities, updating technology, building school replacements, expanding capacity and enhancing facility safety – essential to ensuring that every student is prepared for the evolving workforce.
- Chamber successfully advocates in Washington, D.C. on behalf of the Seventh Coast Guard District’s search and rescue activities in jeopardy due to the Sequestration.
- Inextricably tied to the history, culture and diversity of this community, the Chamber recommended that Miami Marine Stadium be restored to a central place in Greater Miami’s cultural landscape. The Chamber’s support was recorded at the commission meeting where the item was later passed; that same day members were given a tour of and celebrated alongside the original architects at Miami Marine Stadium.
- Supported the ordinance mandating taxicabs be equipped with GPS, SunPass and credit card processing machines; and endorsed the Mayor’s program for an Ambassador Cab Program that would reward drivers for compliance with such issues as a dress code and a code of conduct.
- PortMiami Tunnel opens! At one point the project was dead in the water and it took Greater Miami Chamber leaders joining with city and county officials to convince the state to resurrect the project – a tribute to collaborative community support combined with the resources of public private partnerships.
- At a time when residents were concerned about significant cuts to the library system, the Greater Miami Chamber commissions a library survey with support from the Knight Foundation of Miami-Dade’s voters in order to provide elected officials and the community at-large with valuable and reliable information to make educated decisions on funding solutions.
Today, our mission and vision remain focused. The Chamber continues to imagine a Greater Miami region powered by dynamic entrepreneurs, cutting-edge technologies, an educated work force, young professionals, and imaginative leaders – just as we have done all along.
The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce is a direct reflection of the abundance of small-to-mid-sized businesses and ethnic diversity in our community. We are a thriving organization with over 5,000 dedicated volunteers who maintain a deep social responsibility and continue to assume leadership roles to better local businesses, our community, lives, and ongoing history of Miami-Dade residents.