By SHEA VAN HOY
Wendy Dant Chesser knows big things are ahead for the business community of Clark and Floyd counties in the next five years.
By the time 2018 rolls around, two new interstate bridges over the Ohio River should be carrying drivers — and goods — between Indiana and Kentucky. River Ridge Commerce Center will have added thousands of jobs in that time, tied to the Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville by a new connector road. And the city of Jeffersonville will look to continue to capitalize on the opening of the Big Four pedestrian bridge with restaurants and retail.
But as Dant Chesser said Thursday after leading her first meeting as One Southern Indiana’s president and CEO, Southern Indiana leaders have to plan and prepare so all the development “doesn’t just happen to us.”
At Kye’s in Jeffersonville, Dant Chesser and a crowd of about 350 celebrated 1si’s successes over the past year — but the big news was what lies ahead.
Dant Chesser outlined the strategic plan for the organization — which serves as the chamber of commerce for Clark and Floyd counties — meant to serve as 1si’s blueprint for the next five years. Five core values and six focus areas form the base of the plan. The board of directors developed the core values to help guide 1si’s strategic direction and day-to-day operations. They are:
• Collaborative — Working together with partners toward shared outcomes.
• Proactive — Working to initiate change for the better for the business community rather than reacting.
• Resourceful — Applying ingenuity and taking initiative to maximize advantages and overcome challenges.
• Integrity — Adhering to moral and ethical principles and insisting that partners do the same.
• Results-oriented — Focus on measurable outcomes that result from 1si’s actions.
The strategic focus areas are more micro in nature. They are: growth through economic development; serving members through business resource services and programming; championing ideas through advocacy; collaborative partnerships for building a world class environment; community messaging to promote 1si’s strategy; and organizational sustainability, which includes governance and financial oversight.
“We’re trying to benefit all members, investors and stakeholders,” Dant Chesser said. “We can’t be all things to all people. Now [with the strategic plan] we have priorities to guide picking and choosing our activities so businesses can decide what makes most sense for them.”
One of the highlights of the luncheon event was the Economic Development Partner of the Year award given to eight governmental entities or organizations for their role in the development of a heavy haul corridor to connect Ind. 62 to River Ridge Commerce Center and Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville. The $22.5 million project is being funded by the state and several local entities and all received recognition Thursday. The corridor also will have a rail component.
“To say we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity [with River Ridge and the corridor] is selling it short,” Dant Chesser said. “We have the chance to build a center of commerce that’s unparalleled in the Midwest.”
She added that the connector road plays a vital role in the development of business in the east end of Clark County and applauded local and state governments to have the vision to plan to open the road by the time the east end bridge is completed in late 2016.
As for tolling on that bridge and the downtown spans of the under-construction Ohio River Bridges Project, Dant-Chesser said the biggest fear for businesses has passed — the fear of the unknown.
“Now that we know what the tolls are going to be, we can figure out how to deal with it; businesses can be planning for it,” she said.
She said 1si hopes to serve as a conduit of information about the bridges project to its members and help with solutions to any related problems those members bring to the organization. She added that the benefits of building the bridges outweighs the tolling negative.
“We live in a convenience-based society. We want things fast and easy and you have to pay for that,” she said of tolls. “For those who can’t [or don’t want] to pay, there are other options,” she added, noting the Sherman Minton and Clark Memorial bridges, which will not be tolled.
The promise of these projects and of the economic recovery has the business community excited, Dant Chesser said.
“Excitement breeds activity. People want to volunteer and participate,” she said of potential interest in 1si. “Businesses know how all of this will affect them and we want to help businesses get stronger and achieve their goals.”
Dant Chesser’s hopeful outlook was summed up by 1si board chairman Dale Gettelfinger in his opening remarks.
“There is a sense of change [in Southern Indiana],” he said. “For the good.”