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Commercial centennial Focus changes for chamber, marking its first 100 years

February 22, 2014
By Brittany Cook - Staff Writer ( , The Advertiser-Tribune

With the Seneca Regional Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Services centennial celebration later this year, the chamber is looking back on its past 100 years and what the chamber has been able to do for the community.

The Tiffin Chamber of Commerce was chartered Sept. 10, 1914. The original members included Edwards Porter, the first chief of staff at Mercy Hospital; Harvey Rosenthal, the owner of the Harvey Store downtown; and Joseph Ewald, an undertaker and furniture maker.

When it was created, the chamber functioned more as a quasi-government organization involved in "everything and anything," said current chamber president and CEO John Detwiler.

"It was a very different organization as it is now," he said. "Back in the day, these organizations were basically purely economic development organizations dealing strictly with industrial attraction."

The organization also was comprised of committees, with no paid executive at the head.

In the hope of historic preservation, the chamber collected articles from the Tiffin Tribune and Daily Advertiser about the early days of the organization.

Detwiler said through the history of the chamber, it is possible to see the links from a hundred years ago to today.

In the 1920s, projects such as approving tax laws, making streets passable after snow, purchasing better equipment for the police department and cutting operating costs were prominent.

Also in discussion was bringing industry to Tiffin in the form of Webster Manufacturing and the construction of the Benjamin Franklin Highway in 1925.

New parks also were a common denominator among discussions then and now. In the 1920s, a park called Hedges was just being built. Now, there is Leadership Park being erected in the downtown.

Detwiler said the chamber also had a hand in erecting the Tiffin Airport in the location it exists today.

"You just have to laugh when you look at some of these, because we face the same issues," Detwiler said.

There also were differences between then and now, including the attempt to build a canal from the Great Lakes to the Ohio River. Although very popular in the 1920s, the plan was discarded in the mid-1930s.

The chamber also was involved in the 1926 issue of the city receiving a "flood of unordered neckties."

"They got involved in virtually everything," he said.

In 1963, the Tiffin Chamber of Commerce was rechartered into the Tiffin Area Chamber of Commerce. It started to serve not only Tiffin, but most of the county.

"(It signified) that the footprint became a little bit larger," Detwiler said.

The chamber changed again when Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corp. was created in 1983. It became the area's economic development organization, while the chamber's function changed again.

"I think that probably signified the really significant change from purely economic development to promotion of the business community and servicing the business community," Detwiler said.

When the organization took over visitor services, it was rechartered again.

"The chamber has changed really from a purely economic development organization into a promotional organization selling the attributes and the benefits of this community to itself as well as outsiders," he said.

In the past decade, he said, many of the chamber's partners have taken an active role to make the community grow.

Industries are always looking to hire, and events such as the Job Fair and the Glass Show draw people to Tiffin.

Detwiler said there also has been visible business growth in the downtown just in the past three years. New businesses have come into Tiffin, including Bunky's Bicycle Service, Phat Cakes, Bailiwick's Coffee Co. and Phoebe's.

"If you stop and think about how that environment has changed in just three short years that landscape really has changed," he said.

Detwiler said the chamber's work is completed between him, Director of Internal Operations Deb Martorana and an "army of volunteers."

"It never gets dull, and it's really never easy because you have to amass a group of people to get things done," he said.

The chamber has had much success with its Shop Local program and sold more than $17,000 worth of Chamber Bucks in December, Detwiler said.

Chamber Bucks can be used at businesses that are members of the chamber, and Detwiler said that money stays in the community, provides a member benefit and generates taxable revenue for the county.

With the move to its new office in March 2011, Detwiler said the location has provided more opportunities to make the organization grow, but it is not necessary to do their job right.

"We could do (our job) out of a boxcar, because other than a location for people to come and get their information, if we're doing our job correctly and properly, we can do it almost anywhere," he said. "It's not a sense of place, but what are the results that we've been able to achieve."

In the future, Detwiler said he would like to have the community be a "magnet" for outsiders with jobs available to everyone.

"We would certainly hope that, when we're finished here, that this community has grown and prospered to an extent that we couldn't even imagine," he said.



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