In 1954, when the current day Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber was launched under the name of The Twin Cities Area Chamber of Commerce, the organization engaged heavily in community planning, tourism and destination attractions, multi-modal transportation concerns, and industrial and retail development.
During the 1960's, those were the same core targets throughout the northern end of Berrien County. Teaming with state and county planning agencies, developing ways to get people and products in and out of the region, capturing a larger share of travelers to our shores, and building factories and storefronts were high priorities for Chamber and business leaders.
The 1970's proved to be a decade of expansion and diversification for the Chamber, its elected leaders and the entire community. Retail districts pushed out of core cities and into the townships. Manufacturing plants continued to grow or were launched anew. Chamber Ambassadors were busy with a myriad of ribbon cuttings and groundbreakings.
The Decade of the '80's saw Chamber personnel re-creating the agency and developing methods to counteract the economically driven consolidations. It became increasingly evident a transformation would be needed to re-tool the organization and the community itself.
Thus, in 1989, the community's largest corporate citizen led the charge to formulate a new approach to economic development and the Community Economic Development Corporation was placed side-by-side with the Twin Cities Area Chamber of Commerce. A short time later, the two entities "merged" to create today's Cornerstone Alliance. While streamlining the organization, their very charters and state licensing forced each to maintain separate financial resources.
Concerned in the early to mid-'90's that Chamber of Commerce terminology and service was underemphasized, the agency was renamed Cornerstone Alliance and Chamber Services. The organization had been vital and active, but with no direct reference to "Chamber" activities questioned the continued ability to succeed in typical Chamber roles.
In December of 1996, recognizing the value of a stronger Chamber of Commerce presence in the community, the Cornerstone Alliance board of directors voted to create an independent board of directors charged with operations of a more autonomous Chamber.
That action empowered the Chamber to further expand efforts on member networking, regulatory and legislative relief on business issues, and on a strong "Shop Local" campaign to capture more of our effective buying income.
Our corporate name has changed from time to time. Our leadership has stepped up and retired. Our day-to-day duties and efforts have evolved. However, the mission has remained a constant drive to promote business and enhance the quality of life for the community.
In June of 2017 the Chamber became owners of it's own space located downtown St. Joseph in the heart of the business district. Our members and community partners now have a convenient place to work and hold meeting making the chamber the true hub of the business community.
November of 2018 saw the signed affiliation agreement between the Cornerstone Chamber and the Greater Bridgman Area Chamber and Growth Alliance (CGA), adding an additional 100 members, a second office in Bridgman, and laid the beginning stages for a more regional based chamber in Michigan's Great Southwest.
As we continue to create partnerships and enjoy unprecedented levels of membership participation in networking events, it is increasingly clear that these are, in fact, the good old days!