By Baylee Pulliam
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
There’s a lot of weight resting on the shoulders of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce.
It’s a uniter — linking businesses, professionals and developers. It’s also an organizer — often helping to sound the charge in the battle to improve the local economy, and thereby the community and its perceptions.
Wow. Where to begin?
Fortunately for current president Kyle Morey and his team, they can draw from the past to help shape the chamber’s future. Last week, former board chairmen — a veritable “who’s who” list of the Madison County business community — assembled at Anderson Country Club to discuss their terms, the strengths and weaknesses of the chamber’s current plan of action and ideas for moving forward and spurring growth.
Be positive and spread pride
General Motors, once a huge employer in Anderson and Madison County, closed shop here years ago. But speaking with many locals, you’d think it happened yesterday. It’s time to “get over it,” advised Marj Shell, who served in 2001.
Rather, the chamber should focus on positive developments in the local economy. For example, the rash of commitments last year from companies — such as the one from major Honda plastic components supplier Greenville Technology, Inc. — which totaled about 1,110 new local jobs and $217,078,350 in expected development.
Spotlighting the positive can improve the community’s view of itself, and in turn, potentially draw interest from future developers who see the county as upward bound.
“We lack hope when we give up,” Morey said. “It’s time to be a part of the solution, not the problem...Stop whining and do something about it!”
Focus on youth
About 57 percent of high school graduates go on to a four-year college. That’s good, except they don’t stay here; Only 16.6 percent of area residents have the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree.
One key to boosting economic growth could be plugging the ‘brain drain’ by engaging the county’s youth. The chamber hopes to tackle that through mentoring and networking initiatives, and by providing free Student2Pro membership to at least 1,000 students from Anderson and Purdue universities and Ivy Tech Community and Harrison colleges.
Later this year, it will also launch the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, which unites over 30 community partners to teach 72 high school students about “establishing a business, social movement or enterprise.”
Take a stand
The chamber needs to have an active voice in the local discussion, said 1986 chairman Meredith Church.
For example, she said, on revitalization projects such as the proposed Mounds Lake Reservoir, which the chamber did last month with a formal backing statement.
The chamber touted the 2,100-acre project’s potential to create “prime real estate around the reservoir, higher property values, flood control, and a central Indiana water resource,” in addition to opportunities for quality of life activities such as boating, trails and fishing.
“They (the chairmen) were adamant that we get behind this,” said chamber executive vice president Angela Barbosa.
The chamber aims to galvanize a public policy committee, and publish six statements supporting the voice of Madison County business community. It also plans to build relationships with the key opinion leaders in each of the seven counties surrounding Madison, who could potentially “impact the county’s bottom line.”
Not only is it important for the chamber to voice its own opinions, but it also needs to create venues for others to voice theirs.
That’s something the chamber does well, according to the Indiana Chamber Executives Association 2013 Excellence in Communication Awards, which earlier this month ranked Madison County among the top 15 in the state for its efforts in communication.
“The hard work and dedication of the professionals leading the Madison County Chamber are apparent through the works submitted for review by the judging panel,” said Shelli Williams, president of the Association.
Namely, the chamber’s innovative ideas, including its signature FAB (Females Active in Business) program, which links local women business leaders via its monthly luncheons. That program has “generated not only local but regional interest and routinely draws attendees from a 30-mile radius to attend,” the Association said.
“It is a testament to the vision put forth by our board of directors in conjunction with the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-to-work attitude by staff,” Morey said, specifically Barbosa, who’s a key driver behind FAB.
Find Baylee Pulliam on Facebook and @BayleeNPulliam on Twitter, or call 648-4250.