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The chamber of commerce idea is a concept found only where private initiative and free enterprise exist. As a voluntary institution in the United States, chambers of commerce are eight years older than the Declaration of Independence. The New York Chamber of Commerce, the first in America, was organized in 1768. Then five years later, the first local Chamber was formed in Charleston, South Carolina.

A brief history lesson

Since then, chambers have grown from single-purpose federations of traders who organized to promote trade and cut costs by cooperating in certain operations to broad community development associations. Chambers quickly became an environment for people with high purpose to work unselfishly to create a prosperous business community.

Since its incorporation in 1921, the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce (which has its origin in the Lakeland Board of Trade formed in 1897) has built a reputation as one of the strongest chambers in the country by effectively representing the interests of the Lakeland business community.

Today, the Chamber is still gaining a reputation for its effective leadership throughout the nation. It continues to partner with other local, key stakeholders to solve the many complex problems that confront a growing city.

From the beginning, the Chamber played a significant role in the development of Lakeland. The same year it was chartered, the Chamber, along with City leaders, launched a successful campaign to relocate Florida Southern College (the oldest private college in Florida) to the shores of Lake Hollingsworth as it needed a more permanent, centralized location from its former home in Sutherland, now called Palm Harbor.

The Chamber today

Located by Lake Morton in the former home of the Lakeland Public Library, the Chamber was first accredited in 1968 and then reaccredited in 1973, 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993, 1998, 2004, 2009, and 2014. In 2019, the Chamber was again recognized with a 5-star accreditation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for its sound policies, effective organizational procedures, and positive impact on the community.

In the last 20 years, the Chamber has offered unique programming, business counseling, and signature events and has stayed on top of critical advocacy efforts that affect businesses. One of the growing needs in our community was a place for young professionals to grow and learn about the business community in Lakeland. So, in 2003 the Chamber partnered with United Way of Central Florida to begin the groundwork for a young professionals group called EMERGE Lakeland. The goal of EMERGE is to create a venue for their members to build relationships, develop professionally, become politically aware, philanthropically active, and contribute to the economic development and quality of life in Lakeland. EMERGE is one of the many programs the Chamber is proud to have played such a vital role. The Chamber strives to serve as the catalyst for business success, convener of leaders and influencers, and champion for our thriving community.

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