A History of Promoting Business in Biloxi
For over 100 years, the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce has turned the wheels of business and industry in the city in a way that has reverberated across the region. The Chamber has always been important in Biloxi and for that reason has enjoyed a membership of leaders in business, government and the military.
Organizing in 1893 as the Iroquois Business Club, a group of businessmen, merchants, seafood processors and hoteliers changed the name a year later as the Biloxi Commercial Club. Around 1919, the group opted to become the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce.
Records indicate great effort on the part of the early Biloxi Chamber to promote the city as a tourist mecca. Many approaches were used to market the area including promotion of the area as a health spa because the water was more healthful in Biloxi. The city boasted some beautiful hotels, had a bustling train station and of course there was the lure of the shore.
Leaders of the Biloxi Chamber helped the city through the Great Depression, mostly by relying on extended credit. In some cases a barter system emerged. Of course, the saving grace was the fishing industry, which kept Biloxians going with a large and inexpensive supply of mullet, then forever known as Biloxi Bacon.
In the early 40s, it became apparent that Biloxi needed a year round economy, one not totally reliant on the tourist and fishing seasons. A.J. (Tony) Ragusin, Manager of the Biloxi Chamber led the members in an intense effort to bring a military installation to Biloxi. A massive public relations effort and the combined efforts of all elements of Biloxi’s citizenry resulted in the creation of what would become Keesler Field, an army air corps center.
Today, Keesler Air Force Base is home to the headquarters of the Second Air Force, The 81st Training Wing and the 403 Air Lift Wing of the Air Force Reserve. The Biloxi Chamber of Commerce is still responsible for maintaining the best possible relationship between the community and the military.
The Chamber has continued to grow over the years and has done much for the community. In the 60s, the Biloxi Chamber was a major factor in the coast wide effort to save Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island. At the end of the decade the Chamber helped the city clean up after devastating Hurricane Camille.
In 1988, the Biloxi Chamber chose to join other local chambers in the creation of a community wide chamber. Hence, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce was formed and now includes the Biloxi Chamber, the Gulfport Chamber, the Long Beach Chamber and the Pass Christian Chamber. These local chambers have local leadership, raise their funds locally and spend those funds on a program of work that benefits their own community. Because of economies of scale and the impact of strength of numbers in such forums as the state legislature, these local chambers benefit from the administration of a coast wide chamber.
Today, the Biloxi Chamber is guiding the phenomenal growth brought by casino gaming. Working with city officials, developers, casino operators and small businesses, the Chamber remains in the forefront of all major events in the city. The Chamber’s progressive leadership approach on such issues as improved transportation infrastructure and a school bond issue has had a positive impact on the quality of life in Biloxi. The Chamber also is deeply involved in the development of new small businesses in the city.