Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce - About us

Chamber History

Williamsport Lycoming Shamber of CommerceSeptember 2010

This is the tenth in a series of articles taking a look back at the Chamber’s history in celebration of its 125th Anniversary.  The Chamber was founded on December 15, 1885 as the Williamsport Board of Trade.

            In October of 1934 the country was in the midst of the Great Depression.  Perhaps more than any time in our nation’s history, businesses needed to work together to not only succeed, but for many, to just “ride out the storm” until better times.  From its inception, the Chamber has always been a champion of the free enterprise system.  In 1934 that system was, much as it is today, unfairly under attack.  People were afraid and many had lost faith in our collective futures.  While collectively we are not as bad off today as we were in 1934, there are similarities.  Government then became much more aggressive and delved into areas that previously were seen as the domain of private enterprise.  New regulations and increased government oversight were popular themes.  The government even started to dabble in managing private businesses – similar to what they are doing in some areas today.  In essence, they were taking advantage of a down economic time to spread the federal government’s influence and to make not only economic change, but social change as well.  I thought the years 1934 and 2010 shared some similarities since both were approximately two years into the economic downturn and many people were struggling then as they are now.  In 2010, the Chamber is working hard to create jobs and promote free enterprise and in 1934 it really was not much different from that standpoint. So, let’s take a look at what some of the items the Chamber was working on in 1934 as recorded in their Annual Report by William S. Millener, then the Secretary-Manager.
            According to the report “A great deal of quiet work has been done in an effort to insure the continued and expanding operation of the Williamsport Wire Rope CO., which for so many years has provided a large and dependable payroll in this community.  In this matter the Chamber is not partisan to a particular plan, its interest being to help the local investors to get all it is possible to get in a reorganized company and that the operation be continued in Williamsport.”  Of course, the operation was continued in Williamsport and remains today.  Ironically, the Chamber and Industrial Properties Corporation played an important role in helping new local investors save Williamsport Wire Rope just a few short years ago.  Without the local investment, Wire Rope would probably have failed.  Instead, the new owner breathed new life into the operation and it once again is a major employer in Williamsport and the region.
            Also on the Chamber’s agenda in 1934 were the unemployed.  Obviously, in 1934 the ranks of the unemployed were swelled well beyond what was normal as they are now and the Chamber had an Employment Committee working to put people back to work. One item for this Committee mentioned in the annual report sounds familiar to what we are doing today.  “Another important meeting of the committee was held with executives of the silk mills for the purpose of requesting the cooperation of the school authorities in reopening a training class for silk weavers in cooperation with the local silk mills.  The plan has been approved and it is believed the school authorities will shortly start such a training class.”  Of course, the silk mills are pretty much gone from here and many areas, but today the Chamber is working with the natural gas industry to find employment for local residents.  We have worked cooperatively with many entities including the local Career Link office to work towards local people being prepared to work in this new industry. In addition, we continue to work with the Pennsylvania College of Technology in their efforts to offer courses and training that will assist area residents in finding jobs.  We have conducted a highly successful job fair and will conduct a second one in the near future that will key in on the natural gas industry and the increasing number of jobs that are opening up.
            The Chamber formed a new committee to work with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on federal legislation and if you read the Chamber Board Minutes, it is obvious that the Lycoming County business community in 1934 was gravely concerned about the encroachment of the Washington into the free enterprise system.  Several pieces of legislation were mentioned on a number of occasions as being particularly bothersome including federal taxation and new labor laws.  As I am sure you are aware, many in the business community today see much of what Washington is currently doing as unnecessary incursion of the federal government into our businesses and our personal lives.  Many believe, and I agree, the free enterprise system is under attack and, in the long run, it could be very damaging to our nation’s and the world’s economy.
            Yes, 1934 and 2010 share some great similarities and the one thing that is perhaps more the same than anything else is that the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce is here; still working for the business community in the hopes they will flourish and, as a result, create family sustaining jobs for everyone ready, willing and able to work.