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WRM Brother Chris Mead Spotlighted in WSJ

While WRM is away in India, we’ve been inviting a number of guest bloggers to add their two cents to the Via Meadia converstation. One of these guest bloggers is Chris Mead, WRM’s brother and Senior Vice President of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives. He has been dominating the media while his brother is away. A piece in the Wall Street Journal discusses his upcoming book on Chambers of Commerce and the role they have played in shaping America:

It was the chamber in Atlantic City, N.J., he says, that created the Miss America pageant, while the St. Louis chamber helped pay for Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic. That’s why his famous plane was called the Spirit of St. Louis.

Then, too, the downfall of gangster Al Capone was engineered by the Chicago Association of Commerce, which collected financial information leading to his arrest. Elliot Tiber, president of the White Lake-Bethel, N.Y., Chamber of Commerce, had the permit for the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, the 1969 music festival. […]

Why would anyone subject himself to this for a book that might never get published? Walter Russell Mead, Mr. Mead’s older brother and a humanities professor at Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., has one explanation. While many history books are centered on powerful presidents and painful episodes like war and slavery, little has been said about the moderately powerful local folk who did much of the heavy lifting on main street.

“It turns out these totally anonymous people [at chambers] were actually big drivers in how this country has grown,” he said.

Read the whole thing.

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  • a nissen

    Is this like Sherlock Holmes brother?

  • Jim.

    Hats off to people with harmless intellectual obsessions, and constructive industrious obsessions… America could use a whole lot more of them. They’re where almost all real progress comes from.

  • Frank Arden


    I was once the youngest board member on the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce in the early-to-mid-eighties (a young corporate banker, you understand).

    As I recall, Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., as commander of the local Hunter AAF/Ft. Stewart complex was also on our chamber’s board as the military was (and remains) one of the five legs of economic impact to our local economy.

    About that time the sad consensus was that Savannah was floundering in the backwaters in the marsh of economic growth especially when compared to our sister city, Charleston, and thus, we started to make changes to turn it around.

    I was also deeply involved in the Savannah Jaycees, which became the non-partisan manpower political arm to advance several non-partisan referenda that removed county inventory taxes and added a sales tax for roads, education, and other things that were in the interest of Savannah’s growth potential and consistent with its identity.

    Looking back, the effort was most successful and I think the organizational opportunities offered by our Chamber made it possible although I never, ever, thought the CofC “Staff” ever understood a damn thing about local politics. No matter.

    In 1986, I was in New York upon the invitation of CBS News that had sponsored my Leadership Savannah class for a gracious visit to reveal whatever it was it thought we needed know before we returned to our provincial southern origins.

    Our class was held one morning on the CBS Sports set where “The NFL Today’s” Brent Musberger, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder and Irv Cross held court on every Sunday NFL afternoon.

    The night before, after an evening of refusing acts of leisure invited by strangers along 42nd Street near the PATH bus station with the certainty that I would spend the rest of my life soaking in a vat of penicillin had I accepted the offers, I, instead, ate a hamburger and went back to the Hilton.

    I would be late to the class the next morning. A friend and I had made an extra-curricular appointment at 7:30 am with Andy Rooney through some mutual contacts in Savannah.

    To fully document the meeting would be interesting and fun, but the point I want to make is that crusty old liberal, Rooney, had little regard for local Chambers of Commerce. He didn’t think much could be accomplished without the central and professional planning that was the province of government.

    I was offended, but I gave him the Savannah T-Shirt and pralines anyway and asked him to autograph one of his books for my wife.

    Chris, what I’m saying in a roundabout way is that I want to read your book. I can testify to what our local chamber helped us organize to do for Savannah twenty-five years ago.

    Today, the Port of Savannah is the fourth largest container port in volume and it is the fastest growing port in the United States. The Savannah Economic Development Authority (SEDA) developed the first pre-permitted industrial park in the United States. Wal-Mart and Home Depot hold more than three million square feet in distribution facilities, to name a couple, as I write.

    Local men and women were the catalysts who had the vision for this community and provided the political leadership, and our local Chamber was the facilitator of those efforts and provided a place to come together to get done together the business of this vision and effort.

    If I’m not mistaken, that is the theme of your book.

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