The Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership was officially established as the Ocala Board of Trade on July 22, 1887. Earliest records available show that a meeting was called, the exact date unknown, and some 25 persons, mostly merchants, met in Ocala to discuss the feasibility of organizing a Board of Trade. There are many locally historic names from the first Board which was led by John F. Dunn, serving as the first president. Other founding members of the Board of Trade who developed the charter included: Louis Fox, C.L. Bittinger, Mr. Frazier, and Charles Rheinauer. The Board of Trade was focused on finding solutions to improving the business climate, economy and quality of life in Ocala and Marion County. A few of the issues that they dealt with in their first few decades were the devastation of the citrus industry from winter freezes, developing roads, education, and attracting tourists.
In 1919, influenced by a growing national trend, the Board of Trade became the Ocala Chamber of Commerce. Two years later became the Marion County Chamber of Commerce and in 1957 it was reorganized to become the Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce, Inc.
In 1955 the Committee of 100 was formed with the mission to secure new industry and assist existing industry with plans of expansion. The Committee merged with the Chamber of Commerce in September of 1956 and in 1958 was designated as a separate non-profit organization. It separated from the Chamber of Commerce in 1965 though it was still housed at the Chamber building. The Committee became the Industrial Development Council in 1980 and then Ocala/Marion County Economic Development Council (EDC) in 1986. On October 1, 2012 the Chamber of Commerce and EDC officially merged and a new organization was formed as the Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership (CEP).
The Chamber & Economic Partnership, over its 125+ year history, has been instrumental in the origination and facilitation of many economic and community initiatives. The following entities, initiated with the CEP and its committees, were the forerunners of present-day activities and organizations:
Founding Board members and other business leaders initiated movement to establish a community hospital resulting in what is today Munroe Regional Medical Center.
Began Florida Marketing Committee in 1915—from which slogans Kingdom of the Sun and Ocala, the Friendly City were created.
Recruited for films as early as 1920, with the Economic Development Council taking over the function before becoming the Film Commission of Real Florida.
Staged first purebred breeders sale in 1944 that continues today.
Started the Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1944, known today as the Ocala Jaycees.
Started first Community Chest campaign in 1944 and in 1960 established the Community Fund to support charities serving the community, leading to the founding in July 1961 of United Appeal of Marion County, which is today’s United Way of Marion County.
Agriculture Committee began a two-day Farm Frolic in 1975, which is today’s Southeastern Youth Fair.
Initiated Crime Stop in 1987, which we know as Crime Stoppers of Marion County, Inc.
Initiated the concept and supported legislation establishing the Florida Agriculture Center and Horse Park Authority
While serving as the official visitor center for both the City of Ocala and Marion County, staged a campaign securing passage of the ‘bed tax’ which resulted in today’s Tourism Development Council and the Ocala/Marion County Visitors & Convention Bureau.
The Chamber & Economic Partnership has always been at the forefront of our community’s issues and continues to incubate and develop additional programs, activities and initiatives to positively impact the economy and preserve our community’s quality of life.