The East Texas Chamber of Commerce, an organization of businessmen that represented every type and size of business in East Texas, was founded in 1926 in Longview. The chamber was governed by a board of directors with a president elected annually. An executive vice president and a staff were employed to manage the business of the organization. The organization served seventy-one East Texas counties as well as Caddo Parish, Louisiana, all located in the area between the Red River and the Gulf of Mexico and extending from Shreveport, Louisiana, in the east to Dallas, Austin, and Houston on its western edge. The region was divided into six districts and included the metropolitan areas of Houston, Dallas, and Austin, as well as Shreveport, Louisiana. The East Texas Chamber of Commerce long held the distinction of being the largest regional chamber of commerce in the South.
It was originally organized for the purpose of encouraging and aiding agricultural and industrial expansion, but later expanded its work to include various other programs. The agricultural program was effective in bringing about crop improvement and diversification, in developing industrial uses for crops, in encouraging dairying and poultry production, and in land utilization, soil conservation, and pasture improvement. The East Texas Chamber forestry program included soil conservation through fire control, selective cutting, dedication of submarginal land to timber growing, and programs of replanting.
Industrial development was also a major program of the chamber, and for many years its industrial research centered on processing mineral wealth, forest products, and farm crops. However, the organization shifted much of its activity from the 1960s on to bringing new industries and businesses into the area. The chamber published an annual industrial guide, the East Texas Story, which was a comprehensive study of the region with valuable data for prospective businesses. The industrial emphasis also included industrial-relations seminars and annual industrial tours. A program to encourage international trade was initiated in 1953.
The East Texas Chamber of Commerce took an active part in keeping taxpayers informed of the facts of public finance, from national problems to those of local school districts, through a tax letter and other media. On both the state and national levels, the chamber made efforts to aid communication between citizens and legislators through specially arranged meetings as well as published materials. The Public Affairs Bulletin was published until 1972, when it was replaced by a regular page in East Texas, the monthly magazine publication of the chamber. In addition to this, special legislative reports were distributed regularly so that recipients could keep up with the status of various bills.
One of the most active programs of the East Texas Chamber of Commerce was tourist development. This program, begun in 1963, had a part in making tourism one of the thriving industries of East Texas through tourist conferences, exhibits, and publications. To promote the East Texas Heritage Trail and many other area attractions, the chamber published annually the East Texas Vacation Guide and Fun Map. A new program of marketing East Texas bus tours was begun in 1984.
The organization was also actively involved in various programs that benefited the communities of East Texas. The struggle for an adequate highway system paid for by the users instead of local property owners was an emphasis of the chamber, as were such activities as the malaria-control campaign, the drive for the Standard Milk Ordinance, and the fight for proration to conserve oil. The chamber also helped communities by leading them to evaluate and develop their assets and by training their potential leaders. This organization also pioneered in citizenship and career conferences for young people. In the early 1980s the East Texas Chamber of Commerce took a leadership role in the East Texas 2000 Project, a part of the larger Texas 2000 Project commissioned by the governor in 1980 for the purpose of identifying and forecasting changes in the state's population, natural resources, economy, and service infrastructure over the next twenty years, developing and analyzing alternative state policy response, and proposing solutions to long-range problems. As a result of the East Texas 2000 Project, the East Texas Chamber of Commerce published a comprehensive document made up of discussion papers dealing with population, transportation, agribusiness, economics, energy, government finance, relations with Mexico, research and development, and water. In 1988 the East Texas Chamber of Commerce, along with the other regional chambers of commerce merged into the Texas Chamber of Commerce in Austin. In 1995 a further merger with the Texas Association of Business created the Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce.