The Madison Area Chamber of Commerce is coming
off perhaps its most successful year of holding the annual Soup, Stew,
Chili and Brew festival on Main Street, despite undergoing several changes
to the organizations structure and events schedule that still has
the nonprofit entity trying to get its footing.
In its ninth year, the Oct. 15 festival earned more money than ever from
food, beverage and game ticket sales. That was achieved despite a drop
in the number of booth from 27 to 20, according to chamber administrative
assistant Lynda Knoebel.
But the festivals success is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise
troubled year for the organization. Board President Tony Ratcliff, co-owner
with his wife, Laura, of the Ohio Theatre, predicted that 2011 would be
a transforming year for the chamber during his acceptance speech back
in January at the Annual Dinner. As he approaches the end of his one-year
term, he says the year went pretty much as planned, but there were
The biggest surprise was the degree of how much things changed, he said
during a late October interview. So much has happened that Im
sure it has been a little confusing to our members.
by Don Ward
Madison Area Chamber of
Commerces staff is finally in place
after several months of transition.
The staff consists of (from left) Lynda
Knoebel, director Corey Murphy and
newly hired Katie Wood.
The changes actually began occurring in late 2010, even before Ratcliff
took office. They were triggered by the chambers physical move from
Venture Out Business Center on the Madison hilltop to the chamber-owned
office at 301 E. Main St. in downtown Madison, and the August 2010 departure
of the chambers last Executive Vice President, David Collier. He
left soon after the office moved to take a position at Hanover College.
Rather than replace him, the board decided to do some soul-searching by
generating a survey of the membership to see what programs and services
they wanted, and to try and determine which direction we needed to be
going, Ratcliff said.
The survey was circulated to members via the chamber website and emails.
But as for filling any positions, the chamber opted to take the money
and divide it among two part-time employees. Those posts were considered
interim in duration and given to Margo Watkins and Linda Wood. Knoebel,
Watkins and Wood managed the day-to-day operations and membership services
for several months up until the last week of October when a full-time
assistant was hired. Katie Wood, a recent graduate of Indiana Wesleyan
University who has been teaching at Ivy Tech Community College, stepped
into that role on Monday, Oct. 24. Prior to that hire, the Chamber spent
several weeks collecting applications and interviewing candidates for
a Chamber Manager. But then the board decided not to hire
a Chamber Manager.
There was some confusion over the title of Manager,
Ratcliff explained. What we meant was to hire someone to manage
programs, not people.
Now the newly hired Wood and Knoebel will be managing the office under
the direction of Corey Murphy, who became their supervisor when the chamber
merged last summer with the countys economic development office,
Economic Development Partners of Jefferson County.
That merger of staff was a complicated one and took place only after the
boards of both agencies agreed to accept consultant Tom Ticknors
recommendation that the two organizations join forces to save money. Ticknor,
an independent economic development consultant based in Illinois, has
worked with several other chambers of commerce in Indiana and he is highly
regarded, according to Ratcliff. Ticknor reviewed the results of the chamber
survey and other economic factors in an effort to streamline the operating
costs and missions of both agencies. He recommended they share staff and
resources to be specified in a contract to be created between them. The
two boards approved the plan last June.
The two agencies boards, financial books and missions remain separate,
however. Murphy, the executive director for EDP, now directs the chamber
staff via the contract.
In fact, Murphy moved from Madison City Hall into the chamber office during
the last week of October. With him came Kathy Huffman, who directs EcO-15
in Jefferson County and serves as the Work Force Manager for EDP. Funded
by a $38 million Lilly Endowment Inc. grant, EcO-15 (Economic Opportunities
through Education by 2015) provides job-enhancement educational programs
associated with manufacturing, healthcare and hospitality-tourism in 10
southern Indiana counties, including Jefferson.
The two-person United Way of Jefferson County, staffed by co-directors
Larry Cummins and Sheila Coffin, in turn, moved to City Hall, essentially
trading places with Murphy and Huffman, who had been located on the second
Through all of this flux with the Madison Chamber, membership has remained
relatively steady, after having fallen off some when the economy first
dipped in late 2008, according to Knoebel. The chamber currently has 363
members, which is up 5 percent from the beginning of the year, according
to Ratcliff, but down from the all-time high of 410 before the market
By comparison to nearby chambers, the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce
reports its membership level has remained steady at 115 members this year,
said administrative secretary Bret Calhoun. In Oldham County, Deana Epperly-Karem,
the executive director, reports membership at 415, which is up from 395
at the beginning of the year but slightly below the pre-market downturn
high of 420. The Oldham Chamber has set a goal of reaching 430 members
by the end of this year, she said.
Madison Chamber members also have seen many changes in programs this year
that may have been confusing. Consider these changes:
At the beginning of the year, the chamber announced it was
moving its major fundraising event the Tele-Auction, from March to late
October. But by the time October arrived, the event was cancelled. Ratcliff
said it is a difficult event to pull off that requires lots of volunteer
time. He said the chamber board also wanted to modernize the
technological presentation of the event, so it decided to cancel it this
year and perhaps revive it next year. No date has been set.
The annual chamber golf tournament held each May at the city-owned
Sunrise Golf Course has barely broke even financially, according to Knoebel,
and is tentative for next year, she said. No decision has yet been made
about continuing it in 2011.
WIBBY (Women in Business), a once popular monthly luncheon
meeting for women in business, also has not been held on a regular basis
in 2011, but the chamber recently announced it is bringing back WIBBY
The monthly After Hours networking parties also have been
held sporadically this year as opposed to monthly. Whenever a business
wants to host an After Hours event, we are happy to organize one,
Ratcliff said. In fact, an After Hours event was held in late October
at a local law firm that also served as a political candidate meet
The chambers annual Small Business Expo and Awards Presentation,
usually held in November, has been postponed until next March. Nominations
are being accepted, however, for the 2011 Small Business Person of the
Year and Family Owned Business of the Year. But the actual presentation
of these awards will not take place until next spring. Plans are still
being worked out on what type of event this will be. Murphy met with leaders
of chambers of commerce in Carrollton, Ky., and Scottsburg, Ind., in late
October to discuss the possibility of creating a regional business expo
sometime next year.
One bright spot has been the success of the Madison Future Young Professionals
group, which was created under Colliers direction and has continued
to flourish in membership and activities for those in business aged 40
and under. Collier continues to serve on the chambers executive
board, along with Ratcliff, Phillip McKay of McKay Accounting and Kevin
Watkins, the chambers past president and owner of Pets Doc Veterinary
Clinic. McKay will step into the role of president in January.
The chamber also has been successful in providing programs to allow local
political candidates a forum for discussing their platforms for election
to local offices.
The Chambers next regularly scheduled event is the Annual Dinner,
set for Jan. 25 at Hanover Colleges Brown Campus Center. Awards
are presented and new officers installed each year at this well-attended
reception and dinner function. New this year, Ratcliff said, will be a
silent auction of items to be donated by chamber members. Its
a new way to highlight our member businesses and their products and services,
We realize we will not be getting the money this year that we would
have normally raised from the Tele-Auction, but we want to put more focus
on activities that give exposure to our member businesses.
Ratcliff admits it has been what he calls a rebuilding year.
He said the year has gone pretty much the way I expected, but how
they went was unexpected.
Yet he remains positive, adding, We have been in a state of flux
the last three years. But it is a testament to our businesses that they
have stuck with us through all of it. Its a good boost of confidence
that they believe in the chamber.
But after seeing so many changes take place in such a short time, even
Ratcliff and his fellow board members must be quietly wondering: What
Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout.
Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email: Don@RoundAbout.bz.