2014 WOMAN OF INFLUENCE: Melissa Cotterill

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Dedicated to improving Indianapolis’ business climate, Melissa Cotterill manages fundraising, marketing and communications, event planning, human resources and more for Indy Chamber.

She’s also become something of a tour guide. This year, she shuttled a group of 100 locals to Nashville, Tennessee, to study city branding and place making. There, they met with community and civic leaders in an effort to better understand the business climate and culture. She also led the first Indy Chamber international leadership exchange, which took 105 to Indianapolis’ sister city of Cologne, Germany.

Cotterill said the mass transit initiative that has gotten so much press really got started after a trip to Denver sparked conversation.

“We try to pick a city facing similar issues [as Indianapolis],” said Cotterill. “The Nashville trip was a good one in terms of the similarities. They are doing some things very well. But it also validated that we are doing some things better.”

The Paoli native admits she didn’t know much about Indianapolis while attending Franklin College as a Pulliam scholar. But since taking a hardhat tour of the soon-to-be Circle Centre mall, she’s been working downtown to make Indy a better place, first as assistant to the executive director of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee and, later, in various roles including interim president at Develop Indy.

She led the merger of the Indy Chamber, Develop Indy, Indy Partnership and Business Ownership Initiative in 2012, a move that saved money and enhanced member services. She also co-chairs a city-wide resident recruitment initiative with other city organizations.

Cotterill knows that chamber membership can be divided into those looking primarily for the benefits of joining and those looking to serve the greater community—in her terms, the “me” members and the “mission” members. She respects both, hoping that the “me” members will eventually become “mission” members. “We’re not just about networking events and discount programs,” she said. “We’re so much more.”

That “more” includes influencing the Indy zeitgeist on issues including transit, education and even the same-sex marriage movement.

“We weren’t taking a stand for or against,” she clarified. “We were taking a stance against writing it into our Constitution and the negative impact that would have on our business community. We looked at it very pragmatically: Is this how we want to spend time and resources or would we rather work on education and other things more urgent?”

The chamber’s stance did lead to the withdrawal of a few members. “But,” Cotterill points out, “more joined because of it.”

Serving on the board of IndyHub, Cotterill enjoys working with the next generation of community leaders. She was also recently chosen as one of six Franklin College alumni to serve on a new Professional Partners Advisory Council.

“I owe a lot to Franklin,” she said. “I’m eager to help. We want to see Franklin alumni rally and support each other the way Wabash and DePauw do. We have a little jealousy issue there.

“Selfishly,” she added, “I’m also using it as a way to convince them that they should move to Indianapolis.”•

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