Hamilton County’s economic development agency has a new president and a new vision that officials hope will drive growth in its communities.
Former Indiana Department of Commerce Chief Tim Monger took the reins of the Hamilton County Alliance last month after financial woes forced the organization to reevaluate its priorities and make a case to stakeholders for support.
“It was evident we needed to change course,” said Carmel tech firm owner Ron Brumbarger, who was chairman of the Alliance board when the overhaul began last year. “It was time for a reboot.”
Founded in 1992, before Hamilton County’s population explosion, the organization was funded primarily through platting fees paid when land was developed. The county and various municipalities also chipped in.
But as communities like Carmel and Fishers grew, they added economic development expertise of their own. Then, when the economy tanked and the Alliance asked for more money, they balked.
That led to several years of deficit spending that tapped the organization’s reserves—and ultimately, a scorched-earth approach to rebuilding the Alliance. Its longtime president and vice president were let go, and the board began rethinking the organization’s role.
The board engaged experts from the University of Southern Indiana to take the Alliance through a “strategy and visioning” process, Brumbarger said, and the search for someone to take over began at the end of last year.
Monger was selected from a pool of about 100 applicants, said Brumbarger, who led the search committee and now serves as the board’s vice chairman.
Most recently senior vice president of commercial real estate firm Cassidy Turley’s location-advisory practice, Monger has more than 25 years of economic development experience—including a stint as executive director of the Indiana Department of Commerce.
“He’s sat in various chairs around the table for a long time,” Brumbarger said. “He’s well-respected, well-known and a very personable guy. We’re fortunate to have him.”
Monger’s marching orders reflect the Alliance’s newfound vision, which focuses on attracting businesses to Hamilton County. Retention of and support for existing firms is best left to the locals, Brumbarger said.
“In some cases, we were running on a parallel track,” he said. “No one has the money or the time to be duplicative.”
Collaboration is key to successful economic development, Monger said, so making connections with local officials has been an early priority.
“It’s up to us to come together and say ‘where do we want to take this?’” said Monger, 62. “It’s not just showing up and asking for money.”
Shoring up funding is on his to-do list—the Alliance has a budget of about $390,000 this year, down from more than $500,000 in 2012—but results matter when making the case for public and private support. Brumbarger expects the Monger-led organization to be more aggressive about marketing Hamilton County.
“We’re going to reach in the water and grab the fish instead of waiting for them to take the bait,” Brumbarger said. “That’s going to cause some ire and angst. I don’t care.”
Noblesville economic development chief Judi Johnson is excited about the Alliance changes. A member of the search committee that hired Monger, she said he has the experience necessary to sell Hamilton County and give all of its communities a boost.
Case in point: He already has booked a site-selection consultant for a familiarization tour in late May, Johnson said.
“We have great hopes the Hamilton County Alliance will have a larger presence within the community and statewide,” she said. “Tim is a strong presence, and we’re looking forward to his leadership.”