Forum outlines merger goals of Wabash County Chamber and Economic Development Group
By Chelsea Boulrisse for the Wabash Plain Dealer | Indiana Economic Digest
The first of two forums this week was held on Wednesday evening to answer questions surrounding the potential merger between the Wabash County Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Group of Wabash County (EDG).
The forum was facilitated by Emily Boardman from the Chamber-EDG Transition Board, which was put in place to handle the logistics of the potential merger and creation of Wabash County Business Alliance, Inc.
Approximately 15 people attended Wednesday evening’s forum as Boardman went through the packet of frequently asked questions and elaborated on the vision of the crossover and the motivations behind proposing it in the first place. Should the merger happen, Boardman believed that this could set a precedent for other small towns to follow suit.
“Wabash County will be the model for small town America making a relevant impact on the global community by offering vibrant cultural experiences, enriching lifestyles and growing economic opportunities while building on their heritage,” Boardman said, reading from the vision statement.
Boardman also noted that the Chamber and EDG had some services in common and combining them under one voice would strengthen both sides.
“Our community has had a lot of success and a lot of momentum in the last 18 to 24 months,” Boardman said. “All those extra things require extra time outside the normal course of business. The new organization we hope would strengthen the resources to support those meaningful projects as they come along.”
Keith Gillenwater, president and CEO of EDG, was also present at the forum and offered some insight into how EDG and the Chamber have changed, namely following the recession. In the beginning of the event, he noted that EDG took care of bringing businesses to an area while the Chamber focused more on things like legislation and networking.
“Over the last 10 years, the nature of economic development and Chamber world has started to evolve a little,” Gillenwater said. “We started to see a merger and more of a crossover of what those two organizations have done and focusing more on workforce development.”
One of the business owners present was Brian Hoffman of Hoffman’s Nursery, who explained that oftentimes businesses aren’t fully aware of what EDG and the Chamber do and hoped that the merger would make it more apparent what the groups can offer.
“When this group comes together, if this happens, how will they make it seem that because we joined, things are happening,” Hoffman said. “I think making sure there’s something tangible for business owners to see is important.”
The vote, according to Boardman, will ask the memberships whether or not they want the merger to happen, as well as whether or not they want to accept the new articles of incorporation and by-laws and the new organization’s board members. In order for the next steps in the merger to be taken, both memberships will have to approve it. Boardman stated that proxies would be sent out in mid-May, one per membership, and that in-person voting would also be organized.
In order to get things going quickly after the vote, should it pass, Boardman said they would be considering who to put on the new organization’s board prior to the vote. While at the time of the forum they were unaware of anyone who may be on the board, Boardman said that it would “likely include” current members of the transition board, which is made up of Chamber and EDG members and non-members.
“It’s important work and I feel a sense of urgency to at least move the process along,” Boardman said. “Our board has been meeting frequently because we want to make sure we have things in place as quickly as possible.”