Officials from the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and Develop Indy want to work more closely together, and even might merge the organizations, chamber Chairman John Neighbours confirmed.
"I wouldn't rule out the possibilty they could be merged," said Neighbours, a partner at Baker & Daniels. He told the full chamber board, which has more than 100 members, on Thursday that he has been discussing "collaboration" with Develop Indy, which leads economic development for the city of Indianapolis.
The goal is to save money for corporations that support both organizations, Neighbours said.
Executives from companies like Indianapolis Power & Light, WellPoint Inc. and Eli Lilly and Co. have asked, 'How many checks to do we need to be writing?' Neighbours said. Even before he became chairman of the chamber this year, he said, "People would say that to me."
Neighbours denied the chamber's current search for a successor to CEO Roland Dorson drove the talks. Dorson resigned this spring. His departure stemmed from a rift with Neighbours and Mark Miles, CEO of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, over the region's mass transit strategy, IBJ reported at the time.
One person familiar with the chamber's search process said that Develop Indy CEO Scott Miller is a leading candidate for the job. MIller, 43, is a past president of the business landscaping firm Mainscape. He took the top job at Develop Indy in 2008.
Neighbours said Miller is a "very viable candidate, among many." The chamber's search committee is starting to interview its final pool of candidates, and search chairman John Thompson hopes to make a recommendation by Sept. 15, Neighbours said. He hopes to have a new chamber CEO in place by Oct. 1.
Develop Indy absorbed another economic development organization, Indy Partnership, in February of this year. Indy Partnership, which covers the nine-county metro area, retained its name but now operates with a reduced staff out of Develop Indy's offices on the 24th floor of Chase Tower.
Neighbours said it's not unheard of for a chamber of commerce to play the leading role in hosting and recruiting new companies. Under any scenario, he said, the Mayor's Office would retain control of economic-development incentives.
The chamber and Develop Indy have shared resources in the past. Develop Indy used to be housed in the chamber's office on the 19th floor of the Chase Tower.
Neighbours and Develop Indy Chairman Carey Lykins, CEO of Citizens Energy Group, have been talking about ways to deepen ties between the two organizations for several months. Neighbours said he raised the topic two months ago with Deputy Mayor Michael Huber and Ballard's chief of staff, Chris Cotterill.
Develop Indy is a not-for-profit that functions as the city's economic development arm. Its 20 board members are appointed by the mayor, and it receives a large part of its funding, $1.5 million this year, from the Indianapolis bond bank.
Citing competition with other cities, Develop Indy officials won't reveal how much they currently receive in corporate gifts, but the 2009 tax return shows $517,000 for that year.
The chamber, also an independent not-for-profit , spent $5.6 million in 2009 and had revenue of $4.9 million.
One obvious source of savings would be executive salaries. In 2009, Dorson received salary and bonus of $208,164 and total compensation of $238,370, according to the chamber's tax return for that year, the latest available.
Develop Indy CEO Scott Miller earned $159,133 in 2009, the organization's tax return shows.
The chamber employs 35 people and Develop Indy has 17.