HENDERSON, Ky. (8/14/13) – A full Chamber vote and some finalized language are the last steps to completing a long-studied merger of the Henderson Chamber Commerce and the four-county economic development corporation Northwest Kentucky Forward.
Henderson Chamber President Brad Schneider, who was also appointed earlier this year to oversee Northwest Kentucky Forward as talks of a merger progressed, presented details of the plan at a Chamber “Brown Bag” luncheon on Monday.
Studies of 20 merged organizations were looked at as part of the proposal, and two were similar in nature to the concept here.
Paramount to the discussion of a merger, Schneider said, was the question of whether it was even worth it to do. He noted that past proposals to merge had been rejected out of hand, and that only the recent departure of Northwest Kentucky Forward CEO Kevin Sheilley prompted the discussion to move beyond the suggestion stage.
“Why would it be good for the Chamber to do this?” Why screw up a good thing,” Schneider said the members of a feasibility study committee asked themselves as part of the process. Of course, NKF board members were faced with the question regarding their regional agency.
Ultimately, the merger was determined to be an idea with promise, though. Schneider said the group conducting the study determined that the two agencies duplicate a number of services, and that Henderson Chamber has the opportunity to lead the region in economic development. He said most other chambers in the counties served by Northwest Kentucky Forward – Henderson, Union, Webster, and Hancock counties – operate as volunteer organizations with little to no staff. He said once the merger is completed, the new unified organization will reach out to those Chambers and invite them to be more involved in determining the direction of economic development. He said embracing regionalism means embracing the philosophy of strength in numbers.
“Regionalism is a growing trend and it is absolutely effective,” Schneider said.
The merged organization would have a series of boards and committees layered throughout, including a “big picture” policy board as well as an investors board made up of the top 21 investors and the four county judge/executives. The policy board would consist of people elected by the day-to-day operations board.
When asked about what would happen to money collected by Northwestern Kentucky, Schneider said the new organization would honor agreements and campaign initiatives through their tenure. One example was the recent “opportUNITY 2016 campaign,” a Northwest Kentucky Forward initiative to raise $5 million and create 500 new jobs by 2016. After the luncheon, Schneider told SurfKY News the campaign is on track to meet that goal. He said almost 150 jobs have been added so far as a result of the campaign.
On the Chamber side of things, Schneider noted that it will mean big changes for the Henderson Chamber as well. Most significant of all is the fact that the Henderson Chamber would essentially be dismantled, including its name. He said a new name for the merged organization would be chosen to distinguish it from either of the two existing organizations.
Before any of that can happen, however, a Chamber-member vote is required to approve the merger proposal. Twenty percent of the Chamber members must file a vote and it must have 60 percent approval to be adopted.
When asked about the plan to reorganize if the merger fails, Schneider said he wasn’t thinking in those terms.
“When I asked my wife to marry me, I didn’t have a ‘plan B,’” he said. “I still don’t have a ‘plan B.’ If you go in thinking about an exit strategy, you’re doing it the wrong way.”
If approved by the Chamber, the merger would be effective Nov. 1.
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