OneZone hits the ground running in 2016
Writer / Janelle Morrison
It has been nearly a year since the Carmel and Fishers Chambers of Commerce officially merged into OneZone. I sat with Mo Merhoff and Dan Canan to discuss the goals for OneZone going into the first full calendar year as a united front and what the terrain looks like for their organization after they have cleared the obstacles and hurdles of the merger process.
“Our three main goals were to set a 5 percent growth goal for our first 10 months together,” said Mo Merhoff, OneZone President. “We officially came together as OneZone on February 20, 2015. We set a 10-month budget. We set our member retention objective at over 80 percent. Our third goal was to maintain our event quality and attendance.” Towards the end of the 2015 calendar year, OneZone was well within range to meet their objectives and were at 98 percent of their membership goal. Updated figures will be available after the New Year.
“There was a lot of planning prior to the announcement that there would be a merger,” emphasized Dan Canan, Executive Vice President. “It was nearly two years worth of time put in by the board and the staff. We wanted to make sure that we had all of the critical assistance in place, so that when we announced the merger, the challenges would be minimized. The transition has gone smoothly, and absolutely without question, we believe that the merger was the right thing to do and was the best value proposition for our members.”
“When we merged, one of the concerns was that each community would have its own group representing business issues,” expressed Merhoff. “These groups would deal with those issues and have boots on the ground, representing our members in their respective communities. For instance, if a business in either community or in a particular development is having issues with signage or is dealing with a department in its respective city, OneZone is there to advocate on their behalf.
“When the two chambers merged, we agreed to make certain that we keep those resources available and actions happening. The Business Issues committee assists members located in Carmel, and the Fishers Advocacy Council assists those located in Fishers. These groups develop agendas and business-friendly ideas relative to their respective communities. We are enthusiastic that this year in Carmel, some of the issues that we’ve had on our list for the better part of 10 years are looking to have some legs on them.”
Merhoff spoke specifically about a current protocol in which individuals have only 48 hours to respond prior to a public meeting. “We are pushing for more than two business days before the meeting to respond,” Merhoff said. “Our logic is that if you’re a business and are concerned about something that is coming up on the docket, you need more than 48 hours to respond to that issue.
“The other issue that we are addressing are time limits at public meetings. If you are there representing your business project and are accompanied by your architect, construction manager, your attorney and designer, all of whom are paid by the hour, and have been sitting for two hours of unabated discussion or public commentary, that poses an issue. Most institutions, including the Supreme Court, impose time limits.
“We are also working with the Department of Community Services on some potential changes in zoning in certain parts of the city. We are also pushing for streamlining the process for any new business idea or new development to go from conception to completion as expeditiously as possible. Currently, the process can be somewhat laborious.”
Regardless of the zip codes, OneZone is focused on issues that pertain to businesses, issues that are important to their members and are dedicated to working with each respective city council on resolving these important issues.
In addition to working with the local representatives, OneZone hosts legislative breakfasts at which members can engage in discussions with state legislators about items and issues that are important to the business communities. A area of focus for 2016 is about the workforce in Hamilton County.
“One of the things affecting all of us in Hamilton County is making sure we have available staff to accomplish our business goals,” Merhoff said. “This is a concern for not just the large corporations but also for firms and small businesses. We will be centering an upcoming April luncheon around the topic and the challenges of the workforce.”
A major goal for OneZone this year is to strengthen their relationships with state legislators and state representatives. Having a strong voice and presence at the state level will assist OneZone with their advocacy efforts on topics of concern to businesses in Carmel and Fishers.
Long-term funding for transportation, a continued push for equitable educational funding for high performing schools and a longer-term solution to the discrimination challenge are high priority issues that OneZone intends to address at the state level.
“We want to make sure that we are always advocating on behalf of business interests,” Merhoff stated. “We want a stronger voice for the 1,300+ business entities that we are representing.”
As part of this initiative to engage the state legislature, Dan Canan has created a new committee to the OneZone organization, the Advocacy Committee. This group will deal with topics related to infrastructure, funding, education and other business-oriented issues. Canan will roll out this committee and have the members in place by the first quarter of this year.
“The idea came from surveying our members and discussions with our two mayors, Mayor Fadness and Mayor Brainard,” Canan explained. “Prior to the merger, the Fishers Chamber and the Carmel Chamber both had pretty well established advocacy committees on local issues respective to Fishers and Carmel. However, the merger is giving us the opportunity now to get out there on a state level and champion issues that are important to our members and our communities with our state legislatures and state representatives. That was the purpose of starting this committee.
“We are establishing what this committee will look like, identifying our issues and devising how we can be a strong voice for our members at the state legislature. Our committee will consist of a couple board members and members that represent and give diversity to the committee. We’ll be announcing the members and rolling out our agenda after the first part of the year,” said Canan.
Merhoff concluded, “Now that we have completed our first 10 months and are entering our first full calendar year, we are looking forward to what we can build together as OneZone.”