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Travel a major thoroughfare or side street, cruise downtown, or take in a community event and you're bound to see the imprint of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. For more than 110 years, members of this business and community organization have worked together to mold a prosperous economic climate for Lansing and the surrounding area. "Being part of the greater Lansing region is nothing new to us," says Tim Damon, chamber president and CEO. "That relationship was part of our mission then and is part of our mission moving forward." Business leaders founded the Lansing chamber in 1901 with the sole purpose of convincing Ransom E. Olds to start his motorcar company on city grounds. "Obviously, our founders were successful," says Damon. "In many ways, the name R.E. Olds is synonymous with this region." Lansing and outlying landmarks bear the stamp of former chamber leaders and members, including James Henry Moores, C.W. Otto, William K. Prudden and Fred Wohlert. Today's chamber also comprises recognizable businesses and leaders from Lansing and all points north, south, east or west, from DeWitt to Eaton Rapids to Williamston to Grand Ledge. Close to 1,150 businesses and individuals boast membership in the century-old chamber, ensuring the continual flow of investment and job creation opportunities as well as advocacy programs with local and state government. Organizations such as the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the Small Business Administration are also actively engaged in chamber efforts. About 80 to 85 percent of Lansing chamber members are small business owners with 15 or fewer employees. Larger organizations include companies in the insurance sector, higher education, health care and manufacturing. Young entrepreneurs and emerging business startups round out the mix. "Having that diverse membership makes our organization diverse as well," says Damon. "We try to deliver those products and services that best meet the needs of our membership base." An Eye Toward Sharing In the past few years, Chamber programs and services have reflected collaborative efforts aimed at creating opportunity and supporting existing businesses. The State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) is one of the more recent programs. In cooperation with MEDC and the SBA, STEP serves an 18-county territory and helps support businesses that are growing and expanding in international markets.
The Lansing Economic Club continues to be a strong resource for education and networking opportunities for all chamber members. The possibility for shared or consolidated services across traditional boundaries and municipalities has also been at the top of the list. "That's long-term and very important to the future economic growth of our region," says Damon. "About 75 percent of our members have told us they feel the chamber and business community should take a leadership role in furthering these types of regionalism efforts." Damon says the chamber continues to acknowledge and support the "home-grown" or longterm businesses that have made Greater Lansing their base of operations. The Annual Celebration of Regional Growth, for instance, has recognized 41 businesses in the last seven years that have collectively invested about 1.5 billion dollars in the region. "About 80 to 85 percent of new jobs being created in our region are through companies already here," says Damon. "In that regard, our efforts are shifting toward retaining and growing that current business base through our programs and initiatives." Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce 500 E. Michigan Ave., Suite 200 P.O. Box 14030 Lansing, Michigan 48901 Phone: (517) 487-6340 www.lansingchamber.org Article by Ann M. Kammerer | Photos by Terri Shaver