What Is a Chamber of Commerce?

A chamber of commerce is an association or network of businesspeople designed to promote and protect the interests of its members. A chamber of commerce, sometimes known as a "board of trade," is often made up of a group of business owners that share a locale or interests, but can also be international in scope. They will choose leadership, name representatives, and debate which policies to espouse and promote.

Chambers of commerce exist all over the world. They do not have a direct role in creating laws or regulations, though they may be effective in influencing regulators and legislators with their organized lobbying efforts.

Understanding Chambers of Commerce

The first chamber of commerce was founded in France in 1599. The first one in the United States started in New York in 1768. The United States Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1912 and promotes pro-business issues via lobbying efforts at the national level. At the state, city, regional, and local levels, chambers focus on issues and advocacy relevant to their individual membership.

Such chambers may or may not be affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce through a Federation Partnership Program. The national chamber tends to support conservative politicians and is the largest lobbying group in the U.S. Chambers of commerce differ from trade groups or trade associations, which promote a specific industry.

Among the benefits chamber members receive are deals and discounts from other chamber members, listing in a member directory, and a variety of other programs and services designed to promote business activity in a region.

Chambers of commerce also play an important role in local municipalities in promoting business activity and representing chamber members. At least at the local level, chamber of commerce members often meet to discuss and attempt to shape policy that relates to the business and overall economic environment. Members also receive the distinction of being a preferred local vendor, as well as listing on various municipal websites and literature.

Key Takeaways

  • A chamber of commerce is an organization made up of local businesspeople to network and promote the interests of the business community.
  • Recognized chambers of commerce have been around since the year 1599 and still exist today.
  • While chambers of commerce do not directly influence political outcomes, they may try to influence or lobby local community leaders to pro-business stances.

Chamber of Commerce Formats

Chambers of commerce may follow several different formats. For example:

  • Regional, city and community chambers: Focused on regional or local issues featuring cooperation with local government, but may also promote broader pro-business initiatives that cross borders, such as promoting trade between immigrant groups and their home country.
  • City chambers: Aim to promote a city's economic interest locally and possibly globally.
  • State chambers: In the U.S., these chambers focus on statewide and sometimes national advocacy, and therefore have greater influence over-regulation and legislation.
  • National or international chambers: Focus on advocacy or lobbying for national or broader issues.
  • Compulsory chambers: In some countries businesses of a certain size are required to join a chamber of commerce, which provides a degree of self-regulation, as well as promotes member businesses, supports economic development and oversees worker training. Such chambers are popular in Europe and Japan.

In some countries, chambers of commerce provide key economic data by surveying their membership. For example, the British Chambers of Commerce Quarterly Economic Survey is used by the government to gauge the health of the economy.