CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE IN IMPERIAL COUNTY
BY WAYNE COMPTON, COMMERCIAL SECRETARY, EL CENTRO CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
IN EVERY community there are a certain number of enterprising, broad gauged citizens who possess that fine inherent
quality of constructiveness which takes a delight in creating something good and worth while, and of such are successful
chambers of commerce composed.
Someone has said that "dreamers are the saviors of the world." The author mightly aptly have added "and
the builders as well." For every progressive man is more or less of a dreamer. He has visions of greater and
better things to come, and these "visions" are nothing more or less than constructive dreams. Frequently
he is called impractical and no doubt rightly so at times, still many an impractical dream has turned out to be
a wonderful reality. Particularly has this been true in this fertile Valley, where our bounteous crops and prosperous
cities are ever present monuments to the men who dared to dream of an agricultural empire rising from the forbidding
sands of the desert. The story of the wonderful transformation which has taken place here in less than two decades
has been fascinatingly described elsewhere in this volume, and the writer has no desire to attempt a reiteration,
but so closely has the work of our chambers of commerce been identified with this transformation that a reference
now and then may be pardonable.
To recite in detail the history of the various commercial bodies of the Valley would be to chronicle the history
of the Valley itself. From the time the first cluster of tent houses on the site of the Valley's oldest city began
to take on an appearance of village dignity up to the present day the development of this great delta region of
the Colorado has been the thought uppermost in the minds of the men who have given so extravagantly of their time
in carrying on the work of the chambers of commerce to the end that there might be created here, not only cities
and thriving rural districts to be proud of today, but that there might be handed down to posterity an empire built
on the endurable foundation of unblemished social worthiness
The career of a chamber of commerce in a small town is always one of extremes of fortune. Either the chamber is
vigorous, with a balance in the bank, or it is in the dumps and exists in name only, depending on how recently
the process of rejuvenation has been applied, but once let an organization be formed and it never entirely dies.
True the signs of life may at times be difficult of detection, but let a matter come up which is vital to the interests
of the community and the resurrection will be prompt and effective. The reason why a commercial organization never
entirely dies is that it is the only instrumentality through which a community can express its opinion without
laying itself open to the criticism of favoring some special interest. And so it has been in Imperial Valley. Our
organizations have prospered and become quiescent, functioned enthusiastically for a time and passed into somnolence,
but have never died, and be it said in all their varied careers, never took a backward step. So, no matter how
soon the enthusiasm of the get together banquet wained, the community was the gainer. This state of affairs is
bound to exist until the time comes when the little city outgrows its village clothes and becomes sufficiently
large and important to support a paid secretary and maintain a creditable headquarters. It takes money to make
the mare go, and this is especially true as respects chambers of commerce.
On account of the peculiar topography of the country and what would appear to be an unusually favorable arrangement
in location of the Valley towns, several attempts have been made to organize on a firm foundation an Imperial Valley
Chamber of Commerce, having as its directors a member selected by the respective local chambers and for its object
the effective co-operation and co-ordination of all Valley interests. At first glance this would appear easy of
accomplishment and, without argument, the thing to be desired as a practical proposition. However, it is unworkable,
as has been demonstrated, by the failure of more than one earnest attempt at that kind of co-operation. The plan
is impracticable chiefly for the reason that Imperial Valley towns, in common with all rapidly growing western
cities, have an intense and pardonable pride in themselves and, inasmuch as the main office of a Valley chamber
can be located at but one place, the situation has always proven a source of extreme humiliation to the unfavored
communities, regardless of the fact that the office should be located in the spot most likely to produce the best
results for all. The original Imperial Valley Chamber of Commerce, beset though it was with difficulties insuperable,
did a valuable work for the Valley, as have its numerous successors, all now passed into the realm of good things
that could not live. Many of the ablest men of the county were, at one time or another, earnest and enthusiastic
workers in the Valley chamber, and the chamber in its day played a big part in shaping the destinies of our incomparable
Valley, thereby justifying its creation by the test of good works. The Imperial Valley Chamber of Commerce was
finally absorbed by the office of the county development agent, an office created by the county board of supervisors
and supported by taxation. The first county development agent was Arthur M. Nelson, who led the first contingent
of Liberty boys to Camp Lewis, American Lake, Washington, where he is at the present time. Nelson made an efficient
publicity agent, and his going was a decided loss to the Valley. Since his departure the development agent's office
has remained unfilled.
Coming now to the chamber of commerce situation as it exists at the present time, the spring of the year 1918,
we find practically all of the Valley towns with active organizations. The great war in which the United States
is engaged has brought serious responsibilities to all commercial organizations undreamed of in times of peace,
and the chambers of commerce in Imperial Valley have responded patriotically to the call. The chambers of commerce
of America, taken collectively, are the national stabilizers, and it can be said that each individual chamber acts
as such for its respective community; certainly this is true with the Valley chambers. The directorates are composed
of level headed men, who, when something comes up vital to the welfare of the community, whether that something
originates in the national capital at Washington or with the local board of city trustees, consider the matter
intelligently and then act with the full knowledge that they are expressing the sentiment of the people affected.
The desires or opinions of individuals expressed separately have, as a rule, but little force; express them through
the local chamber of commerce and quick action usually results.
Due to the fact that the great irrigation canals which furnish the all important water to our ranchers, reach Imperial
County by dropping down into Lower California, Mexico, together with the fact that the Colorado River, the source
of that water, constitutes the boundary line between California and Arizona, has made it necessary that this section
secure official recognition at Washington more frequently than any other section of the State, and in securing
this recognition our chambers of commerce have rendered invaluable assistance. Not only have their co-operation
been sought at Washington, but they have been called upon only recently to take a stand in regard to certain undesirable
conditions which had been created affecting the moral welfare of the Valley. The response was immediate and effective,
and the saving to the people resulting therefrom was great indeed, viewed either from a moral or financial standpoint.
Remove the chamber of commerce from the community and you strangle the tap root of progress.
While, as has been stated, the chambers of the Valley are functioning to the best of their ability, only one so
far has reached that stage of opulence permitting the luxury of a secretary who spends his entire time in the conduct
of the chamber's affairs. El Centro being the largest of the Valley towns, and the railroad center of the Valley,
finally, two years ago, emerged from the stage of spasmodic reorganizations of her chamber of commerce and decided
to establish an organization with stability and dignity enough to be a credit to the Valley's metropolis. Accordingly
several of the business and professional men of the city who had made a success in their various lines, took the
matter up, spent their time and money in raising a sufficient fund to guarantee at least one year of existence,
elected progressive citizens, with Mr. A. L. Richmond as president, to direct the affairs of the chamber, engaged
Mr. Don C. Bitler, a newspaper man, as secretary, and launched forth to "do things" for El Centro. For
the first time in the history of any Imperial Valley city the end of the year saw the chamber financially a "going
concern," which was the source of great satisfaction to the men who had given so liberally of their time in
directing its affairs, and, best of all, the chamber had become recognized by all, except a few alleged business
men with cobwebs on their merchandise, as an indispensable asset to the community. At the end of the first year
Mr. Richmond retired as president and Mr. F. B. Fuller, president of the El Centro National Bank and a pioneer
of El Centro, was elected to take his place. Soon after this Mr. Bitler resigned as secretary, returning to the
newspaper field, and Wayne Compton, who had had charge of Imperial Valley's interests at the Panama-Pacific International
Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915, and the commercial publicity for all of Southern California at the Panama-California
International Exposition at San Diego in 1916, was offered the commercial secretaryship. He accepted the offer
and still holds the position.
At the expiration of Mr. Fuller's term as president, so faithful had he been to the interests of the chamber that
he was unanimously chosen to succeed himself over his very earnest protest, and so the El Centro Chamber of Commerce
enters auspiciously upon its third year of vigorous activity.
Because of its location, El Centro (Spanish for "The Center") is naturally the clearinghouse for business
in Imperial Valley, and it naturally follows that, while the chamber of commerce, strictly speaking, is an El Centro
institution and supported by El Centro money, it is the fountain head for Valley information. Faithfully and regularly
its eleven directors meet every Thursday night, and the amount of important business handled at these meetings
is a revelation to anyone who has never sat through a meeting Space does not permit a recitation of the big things
this organization has done and is doing for El Centro and the Valley.
The El Centro Chamber of Commerce has already become recognized as one of the most active and important in the
West, and its usefulness has just begun. With the rapid development of the Valley and consequent growth of El Centro,
accelerated as it will be by the coming of another railroad, now building, will in the next decade take its place
among the leading organizations of its kind in America.