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Groups will discuss streamlining economic development

September 14th, 2012

News Coverage:
Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Groups will discuss streamlining economic development

BARRY ROCHFORD - barryr@fwbusiness.com

Friday, Sep. 14, 2012 at 5:45am

Too many chefs in the kitchen can spoil the soup. Likewise, too many economic-development groups might hamper Fort Wayne and Allen County business expansion and retention efforts as local representatives compete against other areas across the country and around the world for investments.
 
Because of that, Allen County, the city of Fort Wayne, the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Improvement District and the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance will over the next few months explore ways to streamline and reorganize economic-development efforts.
 
The chamber, DID and the alliance have previously considered co-locating with each other to reduce costs, but more recent discussions regarding whether their operations could be integrated go well beyond a desire to simply save money.
 
The discussions, which are still in their “embryonic” stage, officials said at a news conference Sept. 11, could result in a new organization that combines elements of the chamber, DID and the alliance.
 
“I think a number of people came together back in March with the suggestion that there are just too many economic-development tentacles in this community,” Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters said in an interview.
 
Peters, along with Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, alliance board chair Jill Perillo, chamber board chair Mike Christman and DID board chair Charles Heiny will lead the streamlining effort, and they expect to have a recommendation on how to proceed by the end of the year.
 
Peters said New Haven Mayor Terry McDonald and the New Haven Chamber of Commerce will be invited to take part in the discussion, as will other individuals.
 
For examples of how other cities have reorganized their economic-development groups, local officials have turned to places such as St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Lexington, Ky., and Spokane, Wash. Peters said there is no “cookie-cutter” model, but there are some common themes.
 
As for local efforts, it’s unknown how they will play out. “It’s just going to be a process of putting one foot in front of the other,” Peters said.
 
But the ultimate goal, he said, will be “a structure that’s simpler and easier for the public to understand.”
 
The chamber is supported by its more than 1,600 members. It provides networking, education and support services to members, and lobbies on behalf of local businesses.
 
DID promotes downtown events and businesses, and the alliance works to retain existing businesses and attract new investment in Fort Wayne and Allen County. This year, the alliance will receive $250,000 in funding from the city and the county, while DID will receive $150,000 in funding from the city and $50,000 from the county.
 
Combining the organizations could prove tricky. For example, DID oversees the Downtown Development Trust, while the chamber has its own foundation.
 
“So you’ve got a whole bunch of legal untanglings to look at and figure out,” Peters said.
 
Mike Landram, president and CEO of the chamber, said in an interview there is a perception that the three organizations have overlapping functions — particularly among individuals from outside the area. But each entity does have its own unique focus.
 
“There is no redundancy or overlap. Everybody clearly has a position on the field,” he said.
 
But discussions to streamline economic-development efforts may come at an opportune time: the University of Saint Francis announced Sept. 10 it would purchase the chamber building at 826 Ewing St., and the alliance and DID are being led by interim directors.
 
Landram said he welcomes the discussion, which will help the organizations answer the question, “Are we, individually or collectively, working as effectively as we could?”
 
He said: “It’s competitive out there. Everybody’s trying to sharpen their saw, if you will.”

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