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Ballard is 'blank slate' to business leaders

November 7, 2007

Leaders of Indianapolis-area business organizations have a collective question mark in their minds when it comes to the look, feel and business-related priorities of Mayor-elect Greg Ballard.

The Republican, who upset Mayor Bart Peterson in yesterday's election, has promised to fight crime, avoid tax increases and consolidate local government. But it's unclear what he'll do to make Indianapolis an attractive place for professionals to live and work.

"I don't know. I don't think any of us knows right now," said Roland Dorson, president of the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, who emphasized that the Chamber is eager to work with Ballard and provide some "institutional memory." He added, "It's about human capital in a global economy. You've got to have a place that attracts (people)."

Dorson has one advantage over many other business leaders: he's met Ballard in person.

Others, such as John Watson, a retired real estate developer and chairman of Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, haven't even gotten to shake Ballard's hand.

When asked what he thought Ballard's business priorities would be, Watson said, "I think everybody would be speculating if they answered that question. He's a blank slate."

Watson said Ballard would be "smart" if he kept some of Peterson's initiatives going, such as promoting life sciences, logistics and the arts. But before the election, some leaders of local arts organizations urged Indianapolis residents to vote for Peterson because they feared Ballard would cut arts spending to shore up the city's finances.

For example, Joyce A. Sommers, president and executive director of the Indianapolis Art Center, sent a letter to "friends of the arts" imploring a vote for Peterson to maintain the momentum that the arts community has achieved during his tenure. "This initiative's exponential growth has bolstered the positive reputation of Indianapolis as an energetic and sophisticated community," Sommers said.

But few people are certain about what Ballard will or won't do.

"I'm sure that the Republicans don't have a plan to run the city because they didn't expect him to win," said Jesse Moore, a board member of the Indianapolis Black Chamber of Commerce, who himself is a Republican. "The most unsettling piece is they just don't know him because he doesn't have a track record. What business frets more than anything else is the unknown."

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