By Howard Koplowitz
When the Queens Chamber of Commerce opened its doors 100 years ago, the borough was mostly farmland and known for its baking and movie industries.
As the chamber celebrates its centennial this year, its 1,200 members are from a variety of sectors and the organization is exploring international connections to expand.
“You’re looking at the growth of the borough — pre-airports and pre-subways,” said Jack Friedman, the chamber’s executive vice president. “It’s really quite fascinating.”
Friedman noted that at the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the visitor’s information booth was run by the chamber.
Now the borough is a cultural hub, in part thanks to its two airports, but Friedman said Queens is lacking a convention center and should work with the city Convention and Visitors Bureau to keep travelers in the borough.
“Tourism is an untapped market for this borough,” Friedman said.
The chamber is gearing up for its centennial celebration, planning to hold a news conference Friday to announce it will donate money to PS 100, at 111-11 118th St. in Ozone Park, and the 100th Precinct Community Council in the Rockaways.
The organization will also donate 100 USB flashcards to an undisclosed Queens library that has been open for more than 100 years.
The exclamation point on the festivities will be the chamber’s $275-a-head black-tie gala Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. at Terrace on the Park.
“The party to kill all parties, because we earned it,” Friedman said during an interview at TimesLedger Newspaper’s Bayside offices earlier this spring. “We’ve had an exciting year so far.”
Friedman said the chamber has been advocating for national chains to come to downtown Jamaica and predicted new management at the Shops at Atlas Park would reinvigorate the shopping center.
The chamber has not taken a position on whether it wants mega-retailer Walmart to open a store in the borough, but Friedman said the organization has concerns about the wages it pays.
Friedman also said the borough needs to keep its manufacturing zones, noting that Queens has turned into a service economy.
“We don’t make anything anymore,” he said. “We used to be known as the baking capital of the world.”
Friedman recently visited China, where he looked at ways for borough business to expand in the growing nation.
But Friedman said he discovered that it would be difficult for Queens companies to gain a foothold in Asia because of cultural and governmental challenges, noting it is common practice to have to pay the Chinese government under the table to set up shop there.
“I’m just not used to that world,” he said. “You can’t do that by yourself.”
A few Queens businesses have had success in China, with Crystal Windows opening a plant in Suzhou and Victoria Cruises operating ships on the Yangtzee River.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.