By Audra Distifeno for TCAJoB
A century ago — when the Titanic set sail, Fenway Park opened and the first city-owned streetcars took to the streets of San Francisco — local visionaries launched the Pasco Chamber of Commerce to support business and agriculture and improve the quality of life for its residents.
Though details of its early history are hazy, one thing is clear: for the past 100 years, the Pasco Chamber has continually dedicated itself to help grow industry, agriculture and business through strong partnerships.
“The Pasco Chamber has always been involved in agriculture. That’s its foundation,” said Ed Ray, a local businessman and past Chamber president. “The Chamber’s role has been essential in Pasco’s growth.”
Ray noted significant decisions that impacted Pasco several decades ago, including the creation of irrigation.
“I had just moved to Pasco when they turned the water on,” he said. “So I have seen all of the development of the Columbia Basin Project during my lifetime.”
In fact, it was in his early years that the City of Pasco, with the help of the Pasco Chamber, purchased the Pasco Airport and the Pasco Industrial Park, an area now known as Big Pasco, from the government, Ray said.
They paid about $800,000 — a drop in the bucket compared to its current value of “millions and millions,” said Ray.
“At that time, the local people raised money for advertising to get the favorable votes on the purchase by the City,” he said.
That has been a great bargain for Pasco, Ray said.
“It pushed Pasco, and without it, Pasco wouldn’t be where it is now,” he said.
Ray believes the airport and industrial park, along with agriculture, are the two driving forces of Pasco.
Eventually, buildings from the airport were taken to start Columbia Basin College, an undoubtedly successful institution with a current enrollment of 6,684 students.
Ray remembers that when he arrived to the Tri-Cities from Washtucna more than 50 years ago, the “east” side of Pasco was run-down and “you had to stay out of it.”
Now it is integrated into a community,” said Ray. “That’s probably one of the finest accomplishments of Pasco, along with the schools teaching English and integrating all people in the community. The schools have done such a tremendous job.”
The company that Ray and his wife, Shirley, purchased in 1948, the Dunning Insurance Agency, was originally founded in 1913 as the Cox Investment Company. It was one of the first members of the Pasco Chamber after the organization’s creation.
“We continued as members of the Pasco Chamber. I was on committees for agriculture and industry development as it pertained to agriculture,” said Ray, who changed his business name to Dunning-Ray in 1956. It was sold to Conover Insurance in 1983. Ray’s family also farms hay, Fuji apples and cherries.
While serving as Pasco Chamber president in the early 1980s, the Chamber was in charge of the Humpyard Dedication with Northern Pacific Railroad, another boon to area growth, said Ray.
“We also cooperated strongly with the dedication of Ice Harbor Dam,” said Ray. In fact, then Vice President Lynden Johnson was the featured speaker at the dam’s dedication ceremony.
“I remember meeting him when he got off the plane at the Pasco Airport,” said Ray.
At the same time, the Pasco Chamber of Commerce continued to work with Kennewick and Richland on the development of Hanford.
“The Pasco Chamber testified at several political hearings in favor of the N Reactor,” said Ray. “That was a big development for peace-time use of nuclear energy for power.”
He adds that the City of Pasco has been very “forward-thinking” in looking for development, particularly for agriculture-related processing plants and industry that supports farming operations in the Columbia Basin.
“So, at the end of a day when my wife and I first moved here, the slogan was ‘Keep your eye on Pasco,’” said Ray. “It still stands.”
And, he said, the Pasco Chamber has come alongside numerous entities to ensure that Pasco continues to boom. The city has seen unparalleled growth over the past 10 to 15 years.
Colin Hastings, the Pasco Chamber’s new executive director as of December, said the Chamber’s mission – “to bring area businesses together with each other and the community to achieve economic security and an overall exceptional quality of life” – will continue. But he plans to take it a step further and provide members concrete rewards.
“One thing we’re shooting for is to provide tangible value to our members,” he said. “Of course, we’ll continue networking and increasing visibility for them, but there are opportunities we’re exploring that offer money back into members’ pockets.”
For example, the Pasco Chamber of Commerce recently secured a partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that offers a 26% savings for its members through FedEx.
“For businesses that utilize FedEx, that’s a very significant savings,” said Colin. “Many more opportunities like this are out there and we’re exploring them for our members.”
Another of Hastings’ goals is to increase membership from its current 373 members, an objective that will likely be met through the newly-formed “Past Presidents Round-Table Committee.”
Not only will the group recruit new members, it is tasked with determining and funding a legacy project as part of this year’s Centennial Celebration. The Celebration will culminate with its Sept. 22 Sunshine Ball. The annual meeting will feature historical displays and honor past members at the Pasco Red Lion Inn.
A Centennial Golf Tournament, which will become an annual event, will also be launched during the year-long Celebration. Another legacy piece will be a printed membership directory distributed to Chamber members.
For more information about the Pasco Chamber of Commerce, call the Chamber at 547-9755 or go to the website at pascochamber.org.