In 1945, metropolitan Phoenix was a relatively small community of approximately 87,000 residents. Today, it is the 6th largest city, with the 2nd fastest growing population, and one of our nation’s major economic centers. It is important to The Phoenicians that we celebrate businesses who have been in our community for a long time while also welcoming those new to Phoenix. We accomplish this by holding monthly luncheons with renowned business leaders who provide riveting presentations. In addition, we plan monthly trips (adult field trips) to visit businesses and receive behind-the-scenes tours throughout the local area and the state.
History of The Phoenicians
In 1945, the population of Phoenix was spread across only 13 square miles. The Chamber of Commerce had no full-time experienced management, and the business community was starting to respond to a surprisingly rapid migration of new neighbors. Even then, however, no one could have predicted that Phoenix would become a hub of twenty-two communities that comprise nearly 900 square miles called “The Valley of the Sun” and a population of more than 4,500,000 people.
The Phoenicians’ story began with the Chamber of Commerce’s reorganization in 1944-45, under the direction of its volunteer Presidents, Claude Quebedaux and Herb Askins. They, and other interested businessmen, asked local merchants to make an investment into the city’s future and to provide funding for a full-time professional manager. Lewis E. Haas, previously General Manager of the San Francisco Chronicle and Manager of San Francisco’s Chamber, was called upon to assist in the preparation of a suitable job description. The position was so enticing that Lew accepted the job himself, and serviced as top executive until his death in the early 1960s. It was his vision, professionalism, and leadership that successfully guided a small community toward the destiny it now enjoys.
Upon acceptance of this new job, Lew inherited two active volunteer committees: The Thunderbirds – who are still active in Phoenix and sponsor the Phoenix Open – and a group of airplane buffs and owners who were intently concerned about the development of Sky Harbor Airport. This group was called the Aviation Committee. Lew knew that Arizona needed some cohesive leadership to unite the state’s cities and towns into an economic bond of mutual assistance. Thus, the idea of taking Phoenix to other communities was conceived under Lew’s slogan “What is Good for Arizona and its Communities is Good for Phoenix.” This was the beginning of a statewide visitation program for businessmen. Because roads in those days were less expedient than airplanes, the Aviation Committee was asked to perform double duty and assume the new job of “economic ambassadors.” Shortly thereafter, the Inter-City Committee was formally recognized, and businessman Martin E. Wist was installed as its first chairman.
Some of the earliest trips taken by the Inter-City Committee were aboard converted C47s owned and operated by Arizona Airways – later to merge with Monarch and Challenger Airlines into Frontier Airlines. Typical early trips were lunch in Prescott followed by visits to Kingman and Bullhead City, then on to Flagstaff, with dinner in Springerville, then back to Phoenix. The committee also made trips to Mexico to build upon economic friendships of Phoenix across the border. Not all trips were made by airplane. The continued interest of committee members in road construction throughout the state is recognized as an influential factor in the development of the state’s highway system with Phoenix as its hub. Lew actively used his genuine interest in Arizona’s growth to promote a mutual attitude of friendly cooperation between cities.
The visitation program has enabled the valley-wide business community to expand to new horizons everywhere. In addition to its frequent trips to Arizona’s cities and towns, the committee has periodically traveled outside of the state, including to Hawaii, Florida, and Washington D.C. In addition to several trips to Mexico the committee has also visited Calgary, Alberta.
In 1981, committee members voted to change the name to “The Phoenicians,” inspired by the striking similarity of the committee’s objectives to those of the ancient Phoenicians (2500 B.C.) who pioneered new trade routes and promoted world commerce.
Nearly 35 years later, The Phoenicians began a new journey when, in 2017, they set out on their own, away from the Chamber of Commerce. The history of The Phoenicians will continue to be written with each business visit and newly found friendship. Our journey began in 1945 as a group of businessmen who traveled between Arizona’s cities. As Phoenix has grown, so have our endeavors. We continue to keep an eye on the economic landscape of Phoenix and beyond and we look forward to continuing our impact on this great city and state!