For Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce, the most important part of any strategic plan is the results. So when the chamber and its community partners began crafting Momentum 2022, he opted for a five-year plan, as opposed to some of the longer-running strategic documents seen elsewhere.
“We chose a 60-month plan because we wanted to have an immediate and measurable impact,” said Pivarnik. “We didn’t call this Momentum 2035 or Momentum 2050 for a reason.”
In its early stages, the plan was guided by a 43-member steering committee that drew from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Among the committee’s findings was a need for enhanced talent development efforts to build out a stronger workforce for the region.
“We put a very heavy focus on development of homegrown talent in Momentum 2022,” said Kayla Bitler, strategic coordinator at the Greater Topeka Chamber. “Some areas of emphasis are ensuring that all children are ready for kindergarten, and that every student has a pathway to college or a career.”
A second leg of the campaign is enhancing “quality of place” in the Topeka region, by building out amenities like pedestrian walkways, expanding access to the city’s riverfront and adding more recreational and residential offerings to the city’s downtown core—a process Pivarnik says is already underway.
“We’re seeing a real resurgence in restaurants and bars,” he said, adding, “If you want a loft in downtown, you’ll have to get in line, because right now everyone wants a loft in downtown.”
The plan calls for the consolidation of the Greater Topeka Chamber and three other economic development groups — GO Topeka, Visit Topeka and Downtown Topeka Inc. — into one umbrella organization, which will be called Greater Topeka Partnership. The organizations will retain their boards and CEOs, and will coordinate through a council including the four CEOs, their chair-elects and several at-large members.
“Bringing together these four groups will enable all of us to perform our work with a type of coordination we haven’t seen in the past,” said Curtis Sneeden, the chamber’s executive vice president. “We’ll enjoy a number of operational efficiencies just by being together under one roof.”
Pivarnik says he brought the idea for the consolidation of the four groups with him from his previous role at the Greater Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, which operates under a similar structure.
“When I was at the Tulsa Chamber, which has 15-plus organizations and brands operating under one umbrella, I didn’t understand how powerful that structure really was until I had to operate without it,” he said. “Personally, I don’t think it’s efficient for cities to have all of these separate convention and visitors bureaus and downtown organizations.”
Pivarnik says he hopes that by 2022, people from around the world will think of Topeka as a city that has undergone a rapid transformation in a short period of time.
“When people hear about Topeka, Kansas, in the future, I want them to think of it as a ‘renaissance city,’ and a magnet for entrepreneurial development and talent attraction,” he said. “We want people from around the world to know about all of the positive things happening in our region.”
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Indy goes global
Indianapolis, with its burgeoning life sciences, technology and manufacturing sectors, has transformed itself into a bona fide global city. To capitalize on its rising status, the Indy Chamber and its community partners spearheaded Accelerate Indy, the metro area’s first comprehensive strategic plan in more than 20 years.
“Accelerate Indy is a strategy for the next 10 years on how to move this region forward,” said Maureen Krauss, chief economic development officer at the Indy Chamber. “It was a truly inclusive process between mayors, economic developers, private business and the philanthropic community—which really says a lot about how things are done here.”
A major leg of the plan calls for fostering talent among startups and entrepreneurs. Accelerate Indy addresses this through the Business Ownership Initiative, which contains the largest chamber-run microloan program in the U.S., and offers business coaching with a curriculum that includes topics like building a business plan and managing financials.
The plan also aims to expand and diversify international trade in the nine-county metropolitan area. This led the chamber and its partners to develop the Metro Indianapolis Global Trade & Investment Strategy, which aims to expand global trade by leveraging the region’s life sciences ecosystem and investing in its transportation infrastructure.
“Indiana is already the number one export-dependent state in the U.S., but the bulk of that trade is concentrated in just a handful of large corporations,” said Krauss. “This plan will help our companies realize the benefits of a diverse customer base, while exploring new markets and technology partnerships.”
To embrace its newfound global status, the Indy Chamber has helped the city send ambassadors to countries like Poland, Hungary and Cuba. It is also trying to get local companies focused on global opportunities through Global Indy, a program that serves as a resource center for businesses looking to advance their international operations.
“By encouraging international decision makers to come here and have dialogue, we’re strengthening our base and helping our economy grow,” said Krauss. “It’s made a big difference building awareness that we have strong assets in our region that are valuable around the world.”
Accelerate Indy helps the region’s largest players, or its “anchors,” expand through the Anchor Revitalization Initiative, which boosts these companies by strengthening supply chain relationships and further developing their talent pipelines.
“It used to be the case that economic development strategies would be focused solely on getting companies to move from other regions,” said Krauss. “We know how many jobs are created by our businesses here in Indy, so we’re trying to figure out how we can help them continue to grow and expand.”
The chamber has used surveying, focus groups and research from local and national consulting firms to formulate a communications strategy that complements the economic development components of Accelerate Indy. The goal, says Krauss, is to better tell the story of the Indianapolis business community.
“Any time we want to tell our story, we want it to be authentic,” she said. “Doing this really deep dive into the components of our story is ultimately going to boost business and talent attraction in Indy.”
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From the winner's circle: Georgia 2030
The Georgia Chamber of Commerce was coming up on its 100th anniversary when it decided to pursue a change of strategy. Prompted by shifting political, demographic and industrial headwinds, the new 15-year strategic plan, dubbed Georgia 2030, was meant to serve as a road map for leaders in business and government to better address new challenges before they become unmanageable.
“Coming into 2016, we were really faced with a state that’s rapidly changing, and we knew we needed to pivot as an organization,” said Kelsey Moore, director of economic development and special projects at the Georgia Chamber. “For much of the state, especially the rural counties, the outlook doesn’t look good, so we set out to empower them to change before some of these predictions become a reality.”
Chamber staff began by pulling data on demographic and economic trends, using subscription software from Chmura Economics & Analytics, as well as the U.S. Census Bureau and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget. They found that, by year 2030, Georgia will have an additional 1.9 million residents, and will no longer be majority-white or Republican.
Armed with their findings, a delegation from the chamber embarked on a tour of the state’s 12 regions, which was organized into a series of sessions held at affiliate chambers and open to the public. Attendees engaged with the presenters using interactive live-polling software, which allowed them to fill out surveys in real-time on their smartphones and tablets to provide feedback about key issues in the state.
“We were selling out and it was usually standing-room only, which honestly came as a shock to us,” said Moore. “For a lot of these communities, no one ever really asked them before what they thought about these issues. They were really appreciative that we weren’t just lecturing them—we were actually listening to their opinions.”
The Georgia Chamber drew upon the survey data and insights gained from the listening tour and synthesized it into a strategic document. The final report found that 76 percent of respondents think the state’s legal environment is too costly for business; 83 percent support advancing dialogue with diverse communities; and 60 percent support expanding Medicaid or implementing a Georgia-specific alternative. Another major finding was that 85 percent of respondents want to see the chamber more actively promote Georgia-made products and services.
“We found that our investors and stakeholders expect the business community to be involved in issues that we weren’t previously involved in, like race, diversity and poverty,” said Moore. “We’ve always been involved in education, but there’s more of an understanding now that if a child doesn’t have enough to eat, he won’t be able to concentrate in class.”
The success of the Georgia 2030 strategic initiative helped the chamber land the coveted Chamber of the Year title at the ACCE convention in Nashville in July.
“It was a wonderful, outside nod to all of the blood, sweat and tears we put in and all of the thousands of miles spent travelling around the state,” said Moore. “Getting that recognition from an international organization really reaffirms the work we’re doing and gives us a boost to keep going.”
Looking ahead, Moore says the chamber plans to use the data and feedback from the listening tour to foster a dialogue with diverse communities about issues like healthcare, education and workforce.
“We received so much great feedback from across Georgia by engaging and conversing with all of our stakeholders and giving them a voice,” said Moore. “We know that if we can show you what the future looks like and start talking about it today, then we have the opportunity to change it. That’s a really positive thing for a lot of our communities.”
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