ChamberRVA has done more in its history than be the main voice for business members.
It has developed leaders and entrepreneurs, pushed for a thriving regional community and created key organizations, including what is now called Richmond Region Tourism, Leadership Metro Richmond and the Greater Richmond Partnership.
The chamber has been involved in promoting tourism for decades, operating a convention and tourism committee since at least the 1950s.
“The promotion for economic development, convention and tourism was an integral part of the chamber,” recalled John H. Hager, the chamber’s chairman from 1987 to 1988 who was elected lieutenant governor of Virginia in 1997.
In 1983, the chamber spun off its tourism operations into an independent Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau — sometimes called Metro ConTour — to give it more focus, Hager said. The bureau was a venture between the chamber and the city of Richmond and Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover counties.
“The chamber was trying to do everything,” he said. “When you have people focusing on a specific arena, you get a more effective organization.”
In 2013, Richmond Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau changed its name to Richmond Region Tourism — the first major name change since the mid-1980s.
Today, Richmond Region Tourism is a collaboration between the city of Richmond and Chesterfield, Hanover, Henrico and New Kent counties. As the region’s primary marketer, its mission is to grow the economy by attracting conventions, meetings and visitors and ensuring as much as possible that visitors have a good experience.
Leadership Metro Richmond, a nonprofit leadership development program for the Richmond region, was started in 1980 by a group of chamber officials but it was always independent, Hager said.
“We had heard about other metropolitan areas doing leadership programs; it was a very logical idea to bring emerging leaders together, get more than one person’s perspective on the region and get people working together,” he said.
The goal was to improve racial, gender and socioeconomic divisions in the community. More than 2,000 people from businesses, nonprofits and government entities have participated in the 10-month leadership development program since it was created.
LMR’s mission is to connect and educate diverse groups of community leaders, inspiring them to serve the greater Richmond region.
“The chamber has been very effective over a long period of time,” Hager said. “All these spin-offs are representative of how it continues to be effective.”
The Greater Richmond Partnership was born from business and chamber people who were eager to move the region forward, said Robert S. “Bobby” Ukrop, president and CEO of Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods who served as the chamber’s chairman from 2006 to 2007.
“The chamber and the partnership worked closely together ... they were intertwined,” said Ukrop, who is serving in a second consecutive term as chairman of the public-private partnership.
His older brother, James E. Ukrop, who was a chamber’s chairman from 1994 to 1995, was among the original board members of the Greater Richmond Partnership.
The partnership was founded in 1994 to attract businesses to the region, to help retain and expand local businesses and to market the region nationally and internationally.
“The partnership was the energizer for economic development for the region,” Robert Ukrop said.
He recalled how Gregory H. Wingfield, the first president and CEO of the partnership, and James W. Dunn, president and CEO of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce from 1990 until 2008, went out and talked with business people about the Richmond area.
“People don’t universally know about Richmond; they don’t think of Richmond in the same breath as Washington,” Ukrop said. “Once they get here, they like it. But it takes a lot of work and time to get them to come here.”
Wingfield and Dunn were the foot soldiers for that effort, Ukrop said. “The point was there is a lot of great teamwork, collaboration and cooperation. People set aside their egos for the greater good of the region and Jim Dunn was at the center of that.”
Richmond is now known as a “creative knowledge center and as a hip place to live,” Ukrop said. “The chamber took the lead in that.”