A Brief History of the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber

The history of the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber (BWCC) begins as a tale between two cities: Baltimore, Maryland’s port city; and, Washington, District of Columbia, our nation’s capital and one of the most important cities in the world.

The city of Laurel, Maryland is located almost equidistantly between these two cities, and while it is entirely located within Prince George’s County, it is contiguous to Anne Arundel and Howard counties, and proximate to Montgomery County. For that reason, the city has always had a regional influence.

Ann Musgrave
Ann Musgrave

Formal application was made to U.S. Chamber of Commerce on April 16, 1948 and signed by Sol Lazerow, Chamber President, and C. Phillip Nichols, Secretary, with 98 active members and 6 associate members.

The Chamber was managed by volunteer leaders from its inception until Kenneth V. Duncan was hired as the first paid Executive Director. Duncan resigned in 1972 to become the Chief Administrative Officer for Prince George’s County and was followed by H. Joseph (Joe) Edwards who was named Executive Vice President. Edwards served from 1972 until 1983, when he resigned to begin work as the President/CEO for the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation, which he founded under then-County Executive Parris Glendening (who later became Governor of Maryland). G. Mitchell (Mitch) Julian came to the chamber in 1983 and served until the end of 1988 at which time Walt Townshend came as President/CEO. Mr. Townshend is now the longest-serving executive in BWCC history, being at the helm since January 1989.

The original name of the organization--Laurel Chamber of Commerce-- was changed to Greater Laurel Area Chamber of Commerce when Joe Edwards came on-board. The name was once again changed to Baltimore/Washington Corridor Chamber on January 14, 1987, to more accurately reflect the regional service area and multi-jurisdictional issues being addressed by the business organization.

The BWCC has long been a “serially-entrepreneurial” organization, starting a number of affiliate organizations. Over its six decades of existence, the BWCC has always believed that government and private enterprises can and should work together whenever possible, employing the best practices for each. 

Highway Information Centers on I-95 NB
Highway Information Centers on I-95 NB

As the American Bicentennial approached, the Chamber realized there were no highway information centers in Maryland to welcome visitors. Using office trailers with handsome facades built on the front, it used volunteers and CETA employees to welcome visitors at the rest area on both northbound and southbound I-95, between Washington and Baltimore. Ultimately the State of Maryland asked the chamber to establish a non-profit corporation to operate the facilities under contract to the State of Maryland. During seventeen years of management, the Corridor Information Centers, Inc. welcomed over 5 million visitors, developing millions of dollars in revenue for Maryland’s businesses and attractions. These are still the most visited highway centers in Maryland and are now operated by the state government’s Office of Tourism Development.

Corridor Employment & Training Center
May, 1989 opening of the Corridor Employment & Training Center (CETC).  Cutting the ribbon is then Prince George’s County Councilman Frank Casula; on left is Congressman Steny Hoyer; to right is Laurel Mayor Dani Duniho.

Likewise the BWCC partnered with the State of Maryland and the Private Industry Council to develop the Corridor Employment and Training Center in 1989. This was a one-stop employment center for under-employed and employees in transition. It was the precursor for what is now the “one-stop” shop used by the State of Maryland and many other states across America and was transitioned to the state of Maryland after seven years of operation by the BWCC.

Another affiliate, the Corridor Transportation Corporation (CTC), a non-profit entity with a separate Board of Directors, was developed by the BWCC in 1987 and began its first transit services on May 15, 1989. The Chamber got involved in the transit business because employers needed a means for employees to get to suburban locations, contrary to the paradigm of the day, which was a suburb-to-city transit focus.   The Corridor Transportation Corporation (CTC) has enjoyed numerous successes, growing to a ridership approaching 2 million passengers annually, and serving the region from Glen Burnie to College Park, Burtonsville to Fort Meade. The BWCC has been the ONLY Chamber in the United States to manage a fixed route bus system. 

The BWCC provided under contract to CTC from May, 1989 until January 1, 2010 the personnel to manage its operations. The CTC is now known as Central Maryland Regional Transit (CMRT) and is developing a strategic plan to become a public entity as an instrumentality of the state of Maryland. It is still co-located with the BWCC.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer
Baltimore Sun article pictures Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who inaugurated the regional bus system commencement.  The BWCC is the only chamber in America to conceive, develop and operate a fixed-route transit system.

Another affiliated organization, the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber Foundation (Foundation), was formed in 1982 and established principally for supporting educational opportunities for students in the Baltimore Washington Corridor. 

The Foundation has each year offered a number of post-secondary scholarships to students at selected area high schools in Anne Arundel, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, as well as administering and presenting scholarships established through the Foundation as memorials or tributes to business colleagues, civic leaders and/or family members.

The BWCC Foundation sponsored the first Mathematics Symposium in 1993 in partnership with the National Security Agency. That partnership exists to this day, and has now been expanded to include a strategic alliance with the Maryland Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM) and many corporate sponsors throughout the region.

2001 Mathematics Symposium During the 2001 Symposium, corporate partner and national engineering firm PBS&J took upon itself the challenge that teachers had long stated: “Give us real-world examples of mathematics as used in the workplace.” The result was a 100+ page book providing over fifty examples of mathematics problems found in the work of engineers. The success of the book led to its production as a CD-ROM, shown in the illustration. 

In October/November of 2001, the Foundation and BWCC members welcomed nine (9) entrepreneurs from Russia. Community Connections was a grant by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs, used to bring Russian business entrepreneurs to the U.S. for a month-long immersion into the American system of free enterprise. The Russians stayed with host families and were also hosted by businesses that were closely related with the guests’ business enterprises in Russia. The Foundation was the first Chamber-affiliate in the United States to receive such a grant.

The BWCC Procurement Fair was first held in 1991 and has grown year after year and is now in its 21st year of operation.

The first Chamber Trade Show was held at the Laurel Shopping Center and was called “Laurel Showcase” in the late 70’s. The BWCC now hosts an annual Business-to-Business Showcase and Tasting.

The first Chamber logo was designed by Ted Metzger of Visual Technics, Inc. The current logo was designed by LMD.

When commercial energy purchasing was deregulated in Maryland in 2004, the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber (BWCC) partnered with CQI Associates to establish a money-saving Commercial Energy Purchasing Cooperative for members. Since 2004 the BWCC- CQI Energy Cooperative has helped hundreds of businesses realize long-term budget stability and savings. Members who have participated in three-year contracts have saved over 20% --compared to the prevailing standard offer service rate.

In 2007, and continuing today, to offset soaring energy prices that left homeowners scrambling to find ways to lower their home electric bills, the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber (BWCC), through its partnership with CQI Associates started offering members a free residential energy cooperative to help them save money.

Other organizations the Chamber is responsible for founding include the Prince George’s Conference and Visitors Bureau, formerly known as the Prince George’s Travel Promotion Council; the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation, the Prince George’s County Private Industry Council (now known as the Prince George’s Workforce Services Corporation); and, the BWI Development Council.

Geography and People Create a Regionally–Focused, Progressive Entity