Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce History
Naperville was first settled in 1831 by Captain Joseph Naper and his brother,
John. In 1857, the Village of Naperville was incorporated and became a city on March
17, 1890. From a population of 2,600 in 1900, Naperville has become one of the fastest
growing communities in the Midwest with a current population of 145,000. Over this
span of time, Naperville has expanded brilliantly into a city of overwhelming economic
growth. Instrumental in the city’s growth over the years has been the Naperville
Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber of Commerce was originally founded in 1913 as the Naperville Association
of Commerce. Through the commitment and involvement of its Members, the Naperville
Area Chamber of Commerce continues to provide business leadership for the benefit
of the Naperville community. Among the Chamber’s many accomplishments over the years,
the following are indicative of the influence the Chamber has had in Naperville.
Chamber historical highlights include:
In 1917, The Naperville Association of Commerce worked to improve the city’s
streets and sidewalks in order to ‘get out of the mud,' worked to improve the state
highway running through Naperville, and supported the Sanitarium Development (predecessor
to Edward Hospital). The Association was also approached about letting women join
the organization during this year. However, this request was tabled in order to
avoid the issue.
The year 1918 saw the Association of Commerce Membership reach 65 Members as
the population of Naperville grew to 5,917, making Naperville the largest city in DuPage County. During this year, the Association worked to keep street alleys clean
in downtown, fought against freight rate increases, and appointed a transportation
committee to correspond with the County Superintendent of Roads about improving
the highways leading into Naperville.
In 1919, the Association passed a resolution asking the City of Naperville to
offer free electrical power to any new industries considering locating in Naperville.
In 1920, the Association of Commerce met with Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad
to discuss the purchase of Burlington Park to be designated a Forest Preserve. This
year also saw the Naperville Association form the Building and Loan Association
in order to increase housing availability in the city.
In 1922, a committee was created to study the water supply situation in Naperville
“which is serious and needs prompt attention.”
In 1923, the improvement of Postal services and the need for more street signs
in order for visitors to find their way more easily through town were addressed
by the Association.
The year 1924 saw the Association of Commerce sponsor the City’s July 4th celebration
and help fund the Naperville Municipal Band. Membership dues for 1924 stood at $2.00
In 1925, a recommendation for the restructuring of city addresses was made by
the Association. The organization also financially supported the beautification
of riverside property in Naperville.
In 1926, the Association of Commerce recommended the formation of a Naperville
During 1927, the Association raised money for a clock set and bells for St. Peter
and Paul Church. Membership dues were raised this year to $5.00 per Member.
In 1928, Naperville saw its first Dollar Day Sale thanks in part to those at
the Association of Commerce. During this year, the Association planned for a Centennial
Celebration in Naperville, suggested an airport be established in the city, tried
to replace the Washington Street bridge, and worked with a group in Chicago to prepare
for the World’s Fair celebration in 1933.
In 1929, the Association worked to establish a paved Highway going south (IL
59). The organization also proposed the establishment of a Naperville Park District
again, proposed the purchase of Von Oven Quarries for swimming, and planned the
start of a Community Chest (United Way).
In 1930, the Association worked on addressing the unemployment in Naperville
and raised money for the city’s Centennial celebration program. The road committee
was also able to get Chicago Avenue paved from Lisle to Naperville.
In 1931, the Naperville Association of Commerce saw its Membership fall to 48.
During the year, the Association sponsored several events to raise money for the
Naperville Relief Society.
During 1932, the Association worked to bring manufacturers to Naperville and
decided to lower its Members’ dues from $5.00 to $2.00 per Member.
In 1934, The Naperville National Bank was established with the help of the Association
In 1935, the Association held a Membership drive which helped raise its Membership
from 47 Members in January to 122 by the end of the year. During the year, the organization
also worked to lower city electric rates and to obtain a movie theater.
In 1936, the Naperville Association of Commerce helped bring a new post office
In 1938, Membership dues were raised to $25.00 per business and $5.00 per person.
This year also saw the first part-time secretary hired by the Association of Commerce.
By 1947, the Naperville Association of Commerce had changed its name to the Naperville
Chamber of Commerce. During the next few years, the Chamber was instrumental in
putting together the city’s Fourth of July and Christmas programs.
In 1958, the Chamber of Commerce endorsed a plan by the Burlington Northern Railroad
to establish the Burlington Industrial Park and worked to solve the commuter/downtown
In 1961, the Chamber helped organize the Downtown Retail Council. The Greeter
Service was also started during this year.
In 1962, downtown rezoning was supported and a new Industrial Committee was formed
to help attract new companies to the area..
In 1964, the first full-time Executive Director of the Naperville Chamber of
Commerce was hired. The Chamber also helped settle Bell Labs in the area and started
publishing the official Chamber bulletin, “Napernotes.”
In 1965, the Chamber helped set up the Downtown Development Committee, joined
the US Chamber of Commerce, and began publishing an annual Membership directory.
In December 1966, the Naperville Park District was finally organized with the
help of the Chamber.
In 1967, the Chamber moved its offices from 5 W. Jefferson to 232 S. Washington.
In 1968, the Chamber changed its name to the Greater Naperville Area Chamber
of Commerce, revamped its organizational structure, and revised its fiscal year
to run from January to December. An Executive Committee was formed which included
the Chamber President, president-elect, treasurer, and the vice-presidents.
In 1969, to the great dismay of many Naperville children, the Chamber studied
the possibilities of a 12 month school year. In 1969, the Chamber also petitioned
for annexation of properties between Naperville and Lisle, along Ogden Avenue.
In 1970, a new logo and better ways to sell the Chamber to the community were
discussed. The year also saw an 'Ambassadors Club' proposed, with the intent of
meeting having individuals 'sell' the Chamber.
In 1971, the Chamber approved the Park District Bond Issue Referendum to improve
recreational and park facilities in the city. An Industrial Commission was also
formed to encourage industrial development.
In 1972, the first Membership Director was hired at the Chamber. During the year,
the Chamber helped bring an Ambulance Service to Naperville.
In 1973, the Chamber discussed bringing a mental health and family counseling
center to the area and became the branch office for the Fox Valley Chapter of SCORE.
In 1974, the Chamber voted against having the Lisle Chamber join the Naperville
Chamber, organized a Trade Fair for the spring of `75, began an effort to attract
new commercial and research industries to Naperville and supported the proposed
downtown re-development plan sponsored by CAN/DO and the City of Naperville.
In 1975, in an attempt to help solve parking problems in the downtown area, the
Chamber suggested issuing parking tokens for meters in downtown Naperville.
In 1976, the Chamber helped coordinate a Business Industry Education Day, supported
a health insurance program for its Members, and started a Building and Development
During 1977, the Chamber supported an eastern north-south bypass road (Naper
Blvd.), published a Community Events Guide and adopted a 'Spirit of Cooperation'
resolution designed to help City Council and the Chamber to work together to develop
orderly growth in our community.
1978 was the year the Chamber of Commerce supported a Tollway Interchange at
IL 59 and held the first ChristmasFest in downtown. The Chamber also helped Kroehler
employees to find new jobs.
In 1979, the Chamber office moved back to the downtown area. While there, the
Chamber opposed the Historic District in the Central Business District.
In 1980, the Building and Development Committee began work on trying to get a
larger post office built in Naperville. The Chamber also supported comprehensive
zoning and opposed the city purchase of the Kroehler buildings.
In 1981, the Naperville Jaycees took over the Chamber’s responsibility of coordinating
the Labor Day “Last Fling” celebration.
During 1982, the Board of Directors opposed the creation of a Historic District
and supported expansion of the Springbrook Water Treatment Center. Business After
Hours were also started during this year.
In 1983, The Chamber of Commerce, along with North Central College, sponsored
the first Community Leadership Program. The Chamber also moved its offices into
the Sun Building at 9 W. Jackson and purchased its first computer.
In 1984, ChamberNet, a computer-based referral service for Chamber Members and
the public was organized and Chamber Membership reaches the 500 Member mark.
Throughout 1985, the Chamber of Commerce opposed the City of Naperville’s restriction
of building permits because of a perceived lack of water. Eventually the dispute
was taken to court where the courts ruled against the city. Also during this year,
a business retention program was started and the Chamber helped Naperville be named
the 14th Certified City in Illinois.
In 1986, the first two-day Business Expo was held, Membership eclipsed 900 firms
and the Chamber supported the construction of a parking deck in the downtown area.
During 1987, The Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce became one of the largest
Chambers in the State of Illinois as its Membership reached 1,000.
In 1988, the Chamber started the Small Business Council and continued fighting
against impact fees on the city and county levels.
In 1989, the Chamber of Commerce formed a partnership with the DuPage County
Convention and Visitors Bureau, lobbied for the widening of Route 59, and produced
its first video about the Naperville area.
In 1990, The Chamber published its first Visitor’s Guide, organized the Small
Business Showcase and started 'Good Morning Naperville,' a monthly breakfast.
In just one day in 1991, the Chamber held 'Calling for Commerce,' a Membership
blitz, and gained 60 new Members in only an eight hour span During the year, the
Chamber also helped fight legislation trying to significantly increase business
property taxes in DuPage County.
In 1992, the Chamber worked on an Employer Trip Reduction Program and changed
the newsletter’s name to “Opportunities.”
Throughout 1993, the Chamber of Commerce worked with the City of Naperville to
focus on important economic development issues. The Chamber also changed its logo.
In 1994, with the help of its Health Care Council, the Chamber was allowed to
offer its Members a cooperative health care purchasing program. The Chamber also
moved to 131 W. Jefferson.
In 1995, the Chamber established a home page on the Internet, received a $10,000
grant to initiate a drug-free workplace program for Chamber Members, and with the
help of AT&T, offered discounted long distance telephone rates for Chamber Members.
In 1996, the Chamber of Commerce started the year off by creating a vision statement,
adopting a new mission statement and rewriting its goals. The year also saw the
Naperville Chamber and Jones Intercable help those victims of the Flood of ‘96 by
holding a Flood Relief Telethon. In addition, Tech Show ‘96, a technology exposition,
was held for the first time.
In 1997, the Chamber announced its 2,000 by 2000 campaign. With a Membership
of 1,200 the Chamber needed to add 30 Members every month to achieve this number
by the end of the financial year 2000. An Employee Assistance Program was also introduced
as a result of a partnership with Linden Oaks Hospital, and the first Leadership
Academy was launched.
1998 was the very first Small Business of the Year Awards event. The winner was
Hitchcock Landscape Design Group.
In 1999, from his hospital room at the Mayo Clinic, Walter Payton gave an inspirational
address via telephone to an audience at Expo ’99. The Chamber introduced the International
Council to meet the needs of Members focused on the global economy. Membership reached
over 1,700 this year, on target for 2,000 by 2000.
In 2000, The Chamber reached its goal of 2,000 Members. The Chamber survived
the Y2K scare and made great strides in technology upgrades, mainly computer software,
to meet the ever-increasing demands of serving its Membership.
In 2001, the Chamber helped in the formation of the Downtown Naperville Alliance,
a new organization designed to meet the marketing and infrastructure needs of downtown
businesses and property owners. Once again it upgraded its software and hardware
to meet the ever-increasing needs of its Membership. The Chamber participated in
President Bush’s $1.35 million tax relief coalition. It also introduced the popular
Mentor-Protégé Program, in response to the needs of its Membership.
2002 saw noted speaker and author, Jack Canfield, creator of the popular “Chicken
Soup for the Soul” books kick off a highly-successfully series of “Peak Performance”
programs. The South Chamber Alliance, designed to service our growing Membership
in the southern region of Naperville and surrounding communities, was launched.
In 2003, the Chamber made plans to move from its current suite of offices to
an expanded headquarters in the new Main Street Promenade building being constructed
on Main Street downtown. We increased our legislative advocacy efforts on behalf
of our Members, working closely with local, state and national lawmakers.
2004 was a year of change for the Chamber. In February, the Chamber moved into
its new office space to 55 South Main Street in the Main Street Promenade. As part
of that move the Chamber rented office space to six tenants and began a working
partnership for building management; the Chamber also received generous donations
for the Fund the Future Campaign to cover moving expenses and capital investments.
In May, the Chamber’s marketing department implemented a new logo and tagline. The
Chamber also successfully launched a new website which enhanced marketing capabilities
for our Members and community. The Chamber was recognized for its excellence with
three prestigious ACE Awards.
In 2005 the Board approved and implemented a new membership model, Business Connect,
which significantly changed the ‘one size fits all’ Membership culture. Additionally,
the Naperville Area Chamber Political Action Committee (NACPAC), a separate organization
responsible for advocating and furthering the legislative agenda of the Chamber,
was approved, organized and began its fundraising efforts. To celebrate the 175th
anniversary of Naperville, the Chamber created an entirely new flagship coffee table
book, 175 Years of Success. The Chamber continued to be recognized for its excellence
in communications with another series of ACE awards and received high scores and
honors for other programs, publications and events.
2006 was an exciting year for the Chamber when it was awarded 5-Star Accreditation
from the US Chamber of Commerce. This made Naperville the only Chamber with such
distinction in the State of Illinois. In partnership with CBS-2, the Chamber hosted
a Forum for Candidates of Governor held at North Central College and was broadcast
2007 marked the end of an era when Mike Skarr announced his impending retirement
at the end of the year. The Chamber Board embarked upon an ambitious 2020 Visioning
process which took a full year to complete, resulting in a new Vision and Mission
and a Strategic Plan to take the organization through 2020. The Chamber Board formed
a search committee for a new CEO. The Chamber stepped up advocacy efforts with the
highest number of delegates in Chamber history traveling to Washington, DC for the
annual Business Summit. Chamber Member, My Chef Catering, was awarded U.S. Chamber
Small Business of the Year during the summit.
2008 was a busy year of transformational change for the Naperville Area Chamber
of Commerce. With the support of John Calamos Sr., the Chamber hosted two economic
forecasts during difficult economic times. General James L. Jones (Ret.), later
named President Obama's National Security Advisor, advised the Chamber on the importance
of implementing a new national energy policy. The Chamber scored a number of advocacy
wins, including the passage of a municipal gas tax rebate program for manufacturers
In 2009 the Chamber named longtime Naperville resident and former Chairman of
the Board of Directors, John Schmitt, to succeed Richard Greene as President & CEO.
In April's local elections, the Chamber's Political Action Committee (NACPAC), was
involved in a record number of races and offered grassroots support to 18 candidates.
In 2010, the Chamber played a major role in helping to advocate for and stabilize area businesses in the wake of the recession. By supporting the reform of the DuPage Water Commission and eventual repeal of its sales tax, Naperville’s taxpayers, businesses and consumers were protected from excessive expenses. The Chamber took a leadership role in the campaign to overcome the objection of neighbors in support of Navistar’s move to Lisle. Navistar’s relocation secured our region’s economic future and will support several thousand jobs annually.
Excellence was the goal in 2011 as the Chamber submitted for re-accreditation by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber underwent a comprehensive review of all aspects of the organization, including its financial reporting procedures, governance and bylaws, membership offerings, program development, government affairs and communications to complete its application. The hard work paid off. In November the Chamber was awarded 5-Star Accreditation, the highest level possible, making Naperville one of only 75 chambers in the nation to achieve this elite status. Outside of accreditation, the Chamber had a successful year of membership, with 280 Members joining. The chamber hosted 53 ribbon cuttings, 401 events, meetings and seminars with total attendance exceeding 7,500!