The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Arkansas (AIA) was founded in 1928. Almost immediately, it became the foremost private organization for the promotion of economic interests, and the state chamber established research agencies and agencies to promote its interests to public bodies.
After World War II, business leaders saw the need for a coordinated effort to develop the state’s economy. Each region had unique attributes and needed local development groups. The state chamber was to be the body coordinating the efforts of the various local chambers organized along city or county lines. Associated Industries of Arkansas, the purpose of which was to provide political support to business and industrial interests, was organized at the same time as the state chamber to serve as a parallel organization. Much of the work of both organizations has centered on legislation regarding state taxes, regulations affecting businesses and regions, and the allocation of finances.
As a service to business, these organizations provide to members the Legislative Summary, a synopsis of the laws passed in a legislative session. When the General Assembly is in session, the state chamber/AIA provides a Daily Legislative Update on pending legislation and committee meetings. Such information allows the members to follow what is happening in the Arkansas General Assembly and to stay in contact with their legislators on important issues. The chamber/AIA keeps abreast of changes and proposed changes in federal laws and taxes and helps members lobby for measures important to business.
An important role of this entity has been to assist in the guidance of the state’s economic development program. It was through the efforts of the State Chamber that support was garnered for the establishment of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission (now the Arkansas Economic Development Commission), the Industrial Research and Extension Center (now the Institute for Economic Advancement), the Graduate Institute of Technology, and financial agencies necessary for the state’s growth. The organization also realized that various parts of the state had differing economic problems and opportunities. Therefore, the state chamber supported the concept of regional planning agencies which would identify economic problems, illuminate productive resources, and direct searches for appropriate businesses for the area. The regional agencies would then partner with federal development agencies, such as the Economic Development Administration, to seek financial or other assistance, depending upon the identified needs of the region. Such projects might include water, sewer, levee, or flood control work. An industrial park might be needed, or a new highway. The chamber also helped develop the Association of Chamber of Commerce Managers and the Association of Economic Developers.
For years, the agency conducted annual goodwill tours to Washington DC to allow state business people and political leaders to meet with the Arkansas congressional delegations. The organization supports the state’s development effort by supplying written materials and calling special meetings to support particular programs. The list of programs has been long over time and has included healthcare and training programs for employees. Often, the chamber hosts meetings to entertain executives of prospective industrial firms being courted by the state. The chamber has supported other efforts of the state to enhance the economy, such as the promotion of agriculture and tourism. In addition, the chamber recruited firms and maintained offices in Europe and Japan to promote Arkansas to the world.
For additional information:
Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas. http://www.statechamber-aia.dina.org (accessed February 15, 2006).
Barton A. Westerlund and Roger K Chisholm
Little Rock, Arkansas