This year’s annual meeting of the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce is going to be a little different.
“We’re hiding an annual meeting in a birthday party,” said Michelle Merritt, vice president of member relations and communications. And why not — for the organization’s 135th year of serving its local business members?
The Nov. 4 gathering at the new Courtyard by Marriott Fort Wayne in the Grand Wayne Convention Center-Parkview Field complex will “walk people through the history of the Chamber of Commerce and how it has impacted the community,” she said, “and we’ll be giving out awards as we go through that.”
“We’re excited to recognize this milestone in our history,” said Mike Landram, president and CEO of the Chamber, in the anniversary announcement. “The Chamber has long been a pillar in the Fort Wayne community — the storied voice of commerce for local businesses. While we recognize our place in the history of this city, we also constantly look ahead to anticipate the unique needs of today’s businesses.”
Among the ideas to be celebrated is a tribute to founding member businesses that are still members.
“Since 1875, the Fort Wayne Chamber has been addressing the needs of local businesses,” its anniversary announcement states. “The foundation for The Chamber was established 135 years ago by a group of like-minded merchants who began meeting to share challenges and solutions. Eventually those merchant groups merged to officially form The Chamber, which became the heart of the business community.
“Throughout its history The Chamber has evolved to meet the needs of local business. The Chamber today serves a membership of over 1,700 businesses, acting as a catalyst for economic growth by providing relevant business resources and facilitating strategic connections across business, education and government. The Chamber remains dedicated to its mission of creating a vibrant economic environment by supporting business, advocating on behalf of the business community and fostering community partnerships to advance a common economic vision.”
Its vision is many-faceted and includes programs like this summer’s Industry to Educators Externship, which brought 15 math and science teachers into the labs and offices of Raytheon, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman and ITT Defense & Information Solutions (members of the Northeast Indiana Defense Industry Association). A smaller externship project was piloted in 2007 at Raytheon.
Merritt said the externship project “had great participation, and the feedback from the companies was all very positive.” That kind of business-to-education connection has lots of value for the community. “It gets teachers excited and it gets businesses excited about the future employees coming out of Indiana schools,” she said. ■