Indy Partnership may reduce role in job recruitment

A merger among local economic development organizations could further diminish the role Indy Partnership plays in recruiting jobs to the city and region.

Indy Partnership, founded in 2001 to represent the 10-county metro area, this week said it will merge with Develop Indy, an economic development group founded in 2007 that focuses on Marion County.

The goal, the groups said, is to save money and more effectively pitch the city and region to businesses in a position to create jobs. The organizations will maintain separate identities but share marketing, fundraising, accounting, human resources and IT functions.

That's an about-face from the strategy economic development leaders touted in 2007, when Indy Partnership agreed to merge with the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership and create a new group, now called Develop Indy, to focus on job creation in Marion County.

The 2007 deal called for Indy Partnership to retain its brand name and sales mission but turn over fundraising and strategy responsibilities to CICP, the not-for-profit group representing CEOs of Indiana's largest companies.

The latest merger deal suggests CICP could not shoulder the fundraising responsibilities it agreed to take on in 2007, particularly as the economic climate soured in 2008 and beyond.

CICP CEO Mark Miles wrote in a Wednesday blog post that the merger of "two mature organizations with nearly identical structures and complementary missions" makes sense given CICP's mandate to "maximize every dollar we receive from our investors" for economic development.

Miles has argued for the combination of several economic development groups with similar missions, including the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, Indianapolis Downtown Inc. and Indy Partnership, since he took the helm at CICP in 2006. That's despite an internal study that showed the mergers would achieve only modest cost savings. Indy Partnership signed on but the other groups opted to stay independent and continue their own fundraising efforts.

CICP also is the parent of three of the state's highest profile business development initiatives: BioCrossroads, TechPoint and Conexus Indiana.

Develop Indy CEO Scott Miller said retaining two separate organizations recruiting new business for the city and region made sense in the 2007 economic climate but just doesn't add up today.

"The best model is combined," said Miller, who will retain his position in the merger. "This should provide more resources to go do the work that needs to be done to improve the economy here."

The deal calls for Indy Partnership and Develop Indy to retain their individual brands and economic-development specialties but operate together out of Develop Indy offices on the 24th floor of Chase Tower.

The merger will eliminate four or five positions at Indy Partnership, mostly through attrition. The group will eliminate its CEO position, two open jobs in its marketing department and an administrative position.

Indy Partnership CEO Ron Gifford, who took the helm in 2007, will leave to become executive vice president for policy at CICP. Indy Partnership's senior director of business development, Scott Fulford, will become executive director.

“We have two organizations with pretty robust operations doing similar work,” Gifford said in an interview. “This lets us effectively promote the Indianapolis region and bring more business and jobs here.”

Indy Partnership has about 10 employees, down from 16 a few years ago. Develop Indy's website lists 16 employees. Develop Indy was known as Indianapolis Economic Development Inc. until May 2010.

The consolidation will take effect at the end of February. The groups plan a joint fundraising campaign to ensure corporate donors don't receive multiple requests to support business recruitment.

Before the merger with CICP, private company donations accounted for 90 percent of Indy Partnership’s resources. The rest came from contributions from the 10 counties in the Indianapolis area.

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