Harry Williams joined the Kent Chamber of Commerce 53 years ago and still reaps the benefits from the organization’s widespread reach to this very day.
He and his wife of 42 years, Marge, have many friends to show for it.
“It has served us very well,” said Williams, who was in real estate before shaping and building a career in the life and health insurance business for 33 years in Kent. “I’ve always had a strong belief in chambers of commerce, and I’ve put in my time and efforts in promoting it and helping it flourish.”
Williams, 84, has long since retired, having sold his business but continues to be a part of the chamber. He reunited with friends and joined members on Nov. 29 to celebrate the Kent chamber’s 70th birthday at its downtown office. Merchants gathered to talk shop, share laughs, enjoy food and drink, win prizes and toast the milestone.
The chamber is an important backbone for local business, members said, an organization that represents their best interests while providing resources, services and events to enhance their livelihoods. The chamber provides educational opportunities and helps businesses with the latest marketing and promotional techniques.
It continues to serve as an effective networking tool.
“I really enjoy being an ambassador, just help making the connections,” said Betty Haque, a small business and group benefits specialist at Legal Shield.
Today, the Kent chamber has more than 450 member companies representing nearly 26,000 employees, with an annual operating budget of more than $400,000.
For Williams, joining the chamber was among the first things he did when he arrived in Kent in 1956. In his long association with the chamber, he has served in various capacities – as president, board member and role player on committees. He and his wife continue to contribute to the chamber, including the preparatory work to stage its large, fundraising gala each spring.
The chamber also has played a significant role as business advocate on regional and state fronts, Williams insisted.
“I have found the chamber, from my business standpoint, to be a champion for legislation,” he said. “(The chamber) has been an effective spokesperson for me and other members. They are our lobbyists.”
Andrea Keikkala, CEO of the chamber, has enjoyed the challenge of leading the chamber during the past decade.
“In today’s business environment, it is imperative that this organization represents and protects our business community by working hard to support every aspect of doing business in the Kent Valley,” she said. “From advocating for business at the city, county and state level, to providing business seminars to spur growth and fun networking event opportunities, we help business thrive by bringing them together in dynamic ways. We are looking forward to continue to innovate and serve our members for the next 70 years.”
Jim Berrios has seen how the chamber as a delegation has been an influential force when it comes to working with lawmakers.
“They truly represent businesses, not only in terms of creating economic vitality but also from a political standpoint, just making sure that people at the state, regional and local levels – the people in politics – understand that, ‘Hey, whatever you’re doing, please be focused on your impact on businesses.’
“The chamber has proven that it is there to support businesses from all aspects.”
Chamber voices can be heard regarding how the state sets wages, regulations, stipulations and policies, Berrios said.
“Having a chamber of commerce in a community is important because it allows businesses to have an advocate for them at different levels when it comes to helping you address some of the business challenges,” he said. “And this state? It’s probably one of the most challenging states to do business in.”
Berrios, who owns the Golden Steer Steak ‘n Rib House, will become a 20-year chamber member in February. He has served as president and has been active on the board. He encourages business owners and operators to join the chamber and support it, even if they are unable to frequently engage in its activities.
Membership alone supports the chamber in doing what its does in terms of addressing legislative issues or providing workshops and seminars, Berrios pointed out.
“You don’t have to go (to all chamber functions) but if you get an opportunity … you go to one or two and determine whether or not you should come to more,” he said. “You don’t have to go … but just know that your money is working the entire time in terms of those type of activities.”
Williams is glad he made the investment. People in Kent – connected through the chamber – have treated him well.
“It’s been a great ride,” he said.
To learn more, visit kentchamber.com.