As the Ahwatukee Chamber of Commerce heads into its second quarter-century, local Realtor Chad Chadderton got together with two other local residents who formed the nucleus of its founding last week.
Both Ahwatukee Foothills News founder and former publisher Clay Schad and local accountant Tom Greninger comprised the other two partners who worked with Chadderton to create the Chamber in 1994.
The roots of that formation, however, date back to 1989, by which time the number of businesses in Ahwatukee had grown to a community of 13,000 houses and what Chadderton believed were 2,000 businesses based on data he got from the U.S. Postal Service.
Most businesses thought it was time for Ahwatukee to have its own Chamber, Chadderton said, and so he reserved the name “Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce” with the Corporation Commission.
The Mesa and Tempe chambers pushed back, Chadderton recalled and competition for members went to outlying chambers.
During that time, Chadderton said, “Tucson was very helpful” and so he went back to the post office to get the addresses of all those 2,000 Ahwatukee businesses.
Turned out, however, that a postal clerk had made a major mistake: there were only 250 businesses in Ahwatukee, mostly home-based.
“Shelved my research,” Chadderton said.
By 1993, Ahwatukee was showing more applications to the City of Phoenix for business licenses than any other part of the city.
So Chadderton said he “pulled out and dusted off my chamber case and approached Clay Schad, one of my best friends. Clay said he would support a chamber,” Chadderton said, adding he then turned to Greninger, his tax accountant, to help with the paperwork.
Chadderton filed incorporation papers in August 1993, donating space in his real estate office. In April 1994, the newly formed organization hired George del Castillo as part-time executive director.
But this early start was fraught with challenges, Chadderton said and the organization faced financial difficulties and had difficulty signing up members.
In May 1994, Jody Harwood, the manager of the now-gone Grace Inn had joined the hotel’s ownership group, Grace Development, and “became our largest benefactor” by giving the Chamber meeting space at the hotel.
At the first board meeting, Chadderton became president, Harwood vice president and Greninger treasurer. Schad had stepped down from the board for personal reasons and became a member-at-large.
The following month’s meeting, the Chamber board adopted Rocky Point as a sister city. By August, the board had signed up 33 paid members and had its sights set on 117 others with “outstanding potential,” Chadderton said.
Though the group had trouble finding an insurance carrier, it pressed on, holding its first mixer at Grace Inn through the sponsorship of the Associated Press in October 1994.
They ran a contest to determine a logo and in Nov. 1994, held an inaugural banquet with Arizona Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Wayne Anderson and Suns’ longtime marketing director Tom Ambrose as guest speakers along with Councilman Sal DiCiccio as moderator.
Though it still fell short of its goal of acquiring 300 members, the Chamber in 1995 pressed on.
John Donahue became president and Chadderton then learned a surprising bit of family history: Both Chadderton’s dad and Donahue’s father had been police officers in Brooklyn years earlier and knew each other from the job.
Today, the Chamber counts nearly 400 members, though its all-volunteer board and Executive Director Andrew Hayes want to grow that number to 600.
For information on joining the Ahwatukee Chamber, ahwatukeechamber.com or 480-753-7676.