Founded in 1918 as the Annapolis Chamber of Commerce, today’s Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce (AAACCC) celebrates a significant 100th anniversary in 2018.
Much has changed during the organization’s existence, particularly in terms of the community it serves and the service it provides.
“The original chamber was established by members of the Annapolitan Club, which was a businessmen’s social club,” said AAACCC President and CEO Bob Burdon. “They located the chamber in the downtown Annapolis area, which is where all the businesses were at that time. The rest of the county was farm fields.”
Today, AAACCC membership exceeds 1,200 and includes businesses, nonprofits and government agencies from all reaches of the county and throughout central Maryland, in addition to a few from out of state.
Celebration activities are scheduled throughout the year, said AAACCC Business Development Director Karen Cline, and include a special Party of the Year that will take place on May 16 at the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA)’s Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
History of Growth
Over the years, the AAACCC changed its identity as it adapted to changes in Anne Arundel County, with one of the first business influences coming from a realignment of Route 2 into the four-lane Ritchie Highway between Annapolis and Baltimore in the 1930s.
As commercial development took root along the highway after World War II, the Annapolis Chamber renamed itself the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce and created a committee focused on county business concerns.
After the committee spun off to become the Anne Arundel Trade Council in the early 1950s, the AAACCC changed its name back to the Annapolis Chamber of Commerce and focused exclusively on city business concerns.
The two organizations rejoined forces in 1999 to avoid membership and program duplications, emerging once again as the AAACCC. Two years ago, the chamber officially dropped the Annapolis designation from its name. (Although Annapolis was dropped from its name, the chamber still uses a triple-A in its abbreviation.)
Burdon, who has announced his retirement from the chamber effective June 1, served as executive director of the Trade Council from 1997, and transitioned to chamber president and CEO after the merger.
“One of the critical things we’ve done under my administration is work to position the chamber as a consensus builder in the communities we serve,” Burdon said. “We’re in a polar environment. We found a niche to be in that role, and in an advocacy role for a strong economy [that is] conducive for an excellent quality of life in the county.”
Throughout the year, the AAACCC hosts four large events, which include the Business Hall of Fame (scheduled Nov. 1 at Live! Casino) and the annual Holiday Mixer at Homewood Gardens. The chamber’s Legislative Breakfast, held each January, provides a lively discussion of local legislative and political issues, while the annual Excellence in Education Awards, held last month, honor the county’s best teachers.
“Aside from these events, we also hold an education forum, an economic development forum, a monthly Business Builders Breakfast, after-work networking mixers and multi-chamber events that facilitate interaction with other smaller chambers in the county,” Cline said. “This year, we added new-member orientation events that take place in January and July.”
From an advocacy standpoint, “we’ve been urging [elected officials] to pay closer attention to transportation infrastructure in Anne Arundel County,” Burdon said. “It’s critical from the standpoint of economic development.”
The chamber is also an advocate for the concept of a shared environmental responsibility, he said. “We’re all in the same boat, businesses as well as residents.”
And when it comes to education, “we’ve been very concerned for a number of years that we’re losing the top 10% of our high school graduates to out-of-state colleges and universities, and very few of them return,” Burdon said. “We don’t feel the University of Maryland is doing enough to encourage them to stay in the state.”
The trend dates back at least to the Gov. Parris Glendening administration, Burdon said. “They can’t get regular admittance to the state university, so they wind up in the northeast or down south.”
In other words, local jurisdictions make a significant contribution to these students’ education, but don’t reap the benefit when they leave the state for higher education and decide to work or create businesses elsewhere.
“Rather than trying to attract top-flight students from around the nation or the world, we’d like to see the university system get back to its roots and pay more attention to students from the state it was set up to serve,” Burdon said.
Party, Party, Party
AAACCC’s centennial celebration will last throughout the year, said Cline, with the largest event taking place May 16 at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.
“It’s not a formal sit-down event, but a party celebration organized as a walk through the decades, with great food, an open bar, and the Dan Haas Band providing live music,” she said. “We’re planning to highlight our history through technology rather than speeches. It’s a celebration of 100 years, not an anniversary.”
As part of the festivities, chamber members have been invited to purchase one of 100 footballs that will be dropped into the stadium by helicopter, with three footballs chosen at random for prizes that include $2,500, two round-trip tickets from Southwest Airlines, and a U.S. Naval Academy tailgate-game package.
In a lead-up to the main event, chamber officials scheduled visits to nine of the organization’s oldest member companies to deliver champagne and balloons to thank them and recognize their longevity.
Those companies consist of Tilghman Co., which joined in the early 1960s, BG&E, which joined in 1968, and the list of companies that trace their membership back to 1972: Katcef Brothers; Mullen Sondberg Wimbish & Stone; the Annapolis Sailing School; Anne Arundel Medical Center; the USNA Alumni Association; Annapolis Waterfront Hotel; and Watermark.
AAACCC’s year of celebrations continues with its involvement in the week-long Congressional Medal of Honor Convention taking place in Annapolis in September, as well as the commissioning of the U.S.S. Sioux City, the U.S. Navy’s 11th vessel in the new Littoral Combat Ship class, at the U.S. Naval Academy later this fall.
While Burdon is gazing toward his retirement, he’s also enjoying the reminiscing that comes with that milestone.
“We’re proud to look back on a rich history and recognize a lot of the great accomplishments that grew out of this chamber, like the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., the Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau, Leadership Anne Arundel and the Annapolis Regional Transportation Management Association, among many others,” Burdon said.
“We’ve given birth to a lot of very vibrant organizations just over the past 20 years,” he said, “and we’re looking forward to staying involved in our efforts to make an impact on the business community and in the quality of life in Anne Arundel County.”