The Evolution of a Chamber

The Evolution of a Chamber

January 2018

Writer // Janelle Morrison            Photography // Submitted and JJ Kaplan

 

The Carmel Chamber has served the local business community since its inception in 1970 and has evolved with the growth of the city and changing business culture with each passing decade.

For the last seventeen years, the Carmel Chamber of commerce has been under the stewardship its president, Mo Merhoff. Merhoff became president in 2000 after the retirement of the late Nancy Blondin. Blondin retired in 2000 after serving as the chamber director since 1986.

Blondin’s name is honored through the OneZone Nancy Blondin scholarship, which awards $1,000 a year for four years to children of business owners that are members of the organization. The award was established after her retirement in 2000.

The organization recognized the need to involve and to develop it young professional members and so in 2006 the Carmel Chamber Young Professionals Group, Arrows, was founded. The young professionals group continues to be run by a committee of YP chamber members and is dedicated to connecting YPs under 40 through social networking, professional development, volunteerism and educational events. The group is now known as the OneZone Young Professionals Group after the merger of the Carmel and Fishers Chambers of Commerce.

Recognizing that commerce doesn’t stop at municipal borders, the boards of directors and members of the Carmel and Fishers Chambers of Commerce voted in February, 2015 to merge. The new organization, formed to more efficiently and better promote the business interests of our members, is called OneZone. The organization has approximately 1,300 members and is a significant presence and business advocate in an ever-changing marketplace.
OneZone is a strong advocate for it members in both communities though it has maintained its respective committees that focus on its city of origin’s specific needs and issues. For instance, the Carmel Advocacy Council’s purpose is to develop OneZone’s annual policy agenda for Carmel issues and to make recommendations to the Board of Directors on issues brought by members and those that develop throughout the year requiring the organization’s response. OneZone focuses on priorities and issues at a local, state and even a federal level that impact local businesses. Issues such as education; economic development, mass transit, regional cooperation, workforce development, healthcare and several other topics.

​We asked Merhoff how she and the board members plan to maintain relevancy going forward in the 21st century and what are some of the achievements that she is most proud of throughout her tenure with OneZone.

“One thing that our members are telling us that they want our community to have a bigger voice,” Merhoff said. “When you have a chamber the size that we are, what is wrong with Carmel, Fishers, Hamilton County being a louder voice locally, county-wide and certainly at the state house? Business voice matters because when you show me a thriving city that is strong and vibrant, there’s a strong and vibrant business community within that city. They go hand in hand.”

Merhoff emphasized that OneZone continues to strive to find ways to ensure that the communities that they serve, Carmel and Fishers, are the best places to build businesses and the organization will continue to advocate for zoning ordinances to make it easier for businesses. She also spoke about current trends and what businesses are looking for in the modern era as opposed to twenty years ago.

“Tomorrow’s business doesn’t want the high rise and concrete,” she explained. “They want amenities. They want walkability. They want similar amenities to the ones they have in their residences. That’s one of the reasons why Midtown is so popular and its where businesses want to be.”

Merhoff spoke about the success of the Meridian Street Corridor along U.S. 31 in Carmel between 96th and 146th Streets. Originally when the U.S. 31 Highway Overlay project was studied and approved, in the early 2000s, it grew to become the economic engine for the business community in Carmel.

“To this day, the second largest number of office employees in the state lies on U.S. 31 between 96th and 146th streets. This has been an economic engine that has served Carmel very well. If we want to maintain that marvelous business corridor, we are going to have to change it because business corridors around the country are drying up. Perhaps, in another 10-15 years, someone may want to have a condo on the top floor of those high rise buildings. It would be attractive, especially if there is a restaurant within walking distance. That is just an example of the city’s ability to think forward on the next trend. Lee Fisher, senior advisor for CEOs for Cities, said at our luncheon, ‘You need the speed to skate where the puck is going.’ Carmel has been pretty good about figuring out where the puck is going and getting there.”

Merhoff concluded. “Carmel has forged head with things that have proven to be on the leading edge of what people are after. I think that’s one of the strengths. Business want to be where they have the environment to thrive and that means the ability to show employees all of the things they can do here. Creating places and that not just for people but for businesses and realizing that what they want for their businesses is evolving. One of our major stakeholders said when we told him that we were merging, ‘You can make bold change from divisions; desperation or aspiration.’ In OneZone’s case, merging and becoming a stronger voice was one of the best things that we’ve ever done and the right thing to do for businesses.”

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