The Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce is the direct-line successor to organizations which have been serving the trade, manufacturing and civic interests of the city since 1880. The first civic business organization in Topeka was the Board of Trade which assumed the task of putting Topeka “on the map.” Col. Cyrus K. Holliday, father of the Santa Fe Railroad and then president of the Excelsior Coke and Gas Company which supplied the city with its street lights and the residences that could afford gas, served as president. J.G. Slonecker, who served as secretary, was a rising young lawyer, whose civic pride was well known, but whose acumen as a source of conservation ideas was worth much in the selection of the kind of capital and industries Topeka most needed. The Board of Trade sometimes met under the shade of the cottonwood tree in front of Guilford Dudley’s private bank between Fifth Street and Sixth Avenue on the west side, and sometimes in the banks or offices along Kansas Avenue. Holliday and Slonecker, both practical promoters, were instrumental in developing the infant organization to the stage where it was deemed advisable to incorporate in 1886 for the “purpose of encouraging commerce and manufacturing interests and for procuring such laws and regulations as may be necessary for the benefit of trade and interests of the city.”
In 1886 when the incorporation took place, John R. Mulvane was president. In 1896 the club sold shares of stock for $12 as a means of raising funds to promote the commercial interests of the city. Two years later, the Board of Trade had more than 200 members. The name of the Association was changed to the Commercial Club in 1899 and headquarters were established at 627 Kansas Avenue.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s, the organization followed the pattern of other commercial clubs and became a “booster” club that celebrated the growth of the city each year. In the early 1900’s, Topeka’s business community included meat packing plants and manufacturers of flour products, printing plants, planning mills, mattress factories and clothing mills, with a combined payroll of $14,490,272.
Never a static organization, the name was changed again to the Chamber of Commerce in 1916 under the presidency of W.W. Webb. By 1939, the Chamber moved to the B.P.O.E. Building at 122 SW Seventh Street. Gradually as the organizations’ membership rolls ran into three, and then four, figures the work was divided among a dozen or more major committees. The Chamber of Commerce served as the organizing force for practically all major observations and civic campaigns in the city.
Through the 20th century, the Chamber continued to work to improve the business climate in Topeka and Shawnee County. Community leaders stepped up to lead the organization; the offices moved to buildings at 715 SW Harrison and 722 S Kansas (1968), then eventually to 120 SE Sixth Avenue, Suite 110 (1987).
In 1979, the Chamber broke ground for the Topeka Industrial Business Park near Highway 75 and Lower Silver Lake Road in north Topeka. The Chamber celebrated its 100th Anniversary at a membership gathering in May 1980 at the Dickinson Theatre (NW corner of Eighth and Quincy) in downtown where a new slide show promoting Topeka’s attributes for business growth and visitor attractions was introduced.
In 2001, the Growth Organization for Topeka (GO Topeka) was formed to develop, promote and initiate activities that transform Topeka/Shawnee County into a world class community of choice, creating prosperity for business, labor and management. GO Topeka officially became a subsidiary organization of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce and operates with its own board of directors. GO Topeka holds a contract with the Joint Economic Development Organization (JEDO) to implement the community’s economic development efforts. JEDO is responsible to allocate dollars generated by a half-cent sales tax for economic development and street improvements that was approved by the voters in 2004.
In 2012, the Chamber of Commerce had 1,100 member firms and more than 1,700 active members. Programs include member services and events, government advocacy, leadership development, young professional development, and marketing and communications efforts to promote the Topeka and Shawnee County area to area residents and businesses regionally and nationally. GO Topeka’s economic development efforts since 2009 hace generated 3,400 n=new and retained jobs and $728 million in capital investments. Downtown redevelopment, riverfront development and implementation of goals and strategies from Heartland Visioning, a community-wide grass roots organization, are primary focuses of the business community-at-large.