OneZone’s Value Proposition Expands

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Writer / Janelle Morrison

We sat down with OneZone president Mo Merhoff to discuss new programs and opportunities for members. Since the merger last year, OneZone has continued to expand their menu of offerings and business-centric programs.

“There’s an old chamber saying – ‘If you’ve seen one chamber of commerce, you’ve seen one chamber of commerce,’” Merhoff said. “Chambers are very diverse organizations, depending on the business communities they serve. What we have in common is our belief that strong businesses make strong communities. We interpret that as meaning what’s good for local businesses will be good for Carmel and Fishers.” Merhoff explained Carmel and Fishers are able to market their communities and attract business investment, thanks to enviable infrastructure, high-performing schools, expansive parks and recreational opportunities, arts and cultural activities and an overall appealing quality of life.

One of the things OneZone has done to assist businesses is to focus luncheon programs on topics important to continued community growth. “We want to bring in speakers and topics related to things you need or want to know to ensure there’s a business takeaway.”

A second emphasis has been on being a business information resource. “For example, we want to be the place businesses looking for sign information can call for direction and help.” A third emphasis, Merhoff said, “is advocacy. The first line on our merger collateral piece says ‘A stronger voice.’ We believe Hamilton County has exceptional business leadership, so we asked ourselves, ‘Why shouldn’t we be more vocal at all levels: local, state and federal?’”

Toward that goal, OneZone kept both of their respective advocacy committees in Carmel and Fishers post-merger. Both meet on a regular basis and work toward business-friendly issues. The City of Fishers is in the throes of planning for the U.S. 31 project, so that committee is working with the City to ensure information is shared and local businesses have input.

“The Carmel advocacy committee is focusing on many of the rapid-fire ordinances that have taken place in 2016, many involving legislation to make doing business in the city easier,” Merhoff explained. “OneZone also created a state advocacy committee made up of leaders from both communities who establish our agenda at the statewide level. We are also participating in the Indiana Chamber’s ‘fly-in’ in September, bringing OneZone members to Washington, D.C., to meet with our representatives. We’re anxious to learn what federal-level issues can help us here in Hamilton County.

Meanwhile, we haven’t lost sight of providing engaging activities for people to meet people. While that’s an important part of what we do, it can’t be all of it. The advocacy, the educational opportunities and the events are central to our work as well.

“This spring, we’ve been able to add additional services, thanks to a new relationship with the Indianapolis chapter of SCORE. SCORE is the oldest business mentoring organization in the nation. Vera Bradley, a former SCORE mentee, is only one of their success stories. Our SCORE relationship will provide three things to our members. First, SCORE conducts educational workshops on issues pertaining especially to small businesses. Secondly, they provide one-on-one mentoring from men and women who have experience in start-ups and successful small business operation. Mentoring sessions will be available at the OneZone office.

“Thirdly, SCORE will facilitate small business roundtables. Our roundtables – and we’ve had a very successful one operating for the last four years – are peer-to-peer groups who, over time, build trust and rely on one another for business advice. These are not networking groups. They’re about building relationships with a group of peers, so that the group becomes their own board of directors, in a sense, for one another.”

With the collaboration of SCORE, OneZone is planning to create two new roundtables by year-end: one for women business owners and another for mid-sized businesses. “Finally, chambers can be in a unique position to serve as conveners. When business leaders, government officials and community members collaborate on a shared vision, amazing things can happen. We want to be paying attention to those opportunities, so that we can ensure the strong business environments our communities have created don’t just continue, but expand.”