Business

Iowa City Chamber, ICAD decide against merger

Organizations will align operations, seek long-term vision

An aerial photo of downtown Iowa City on Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
An aerial photo of downtown Iowa City on Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

The Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce and Iowa City Area Development Group will continue operating as separate organizations rather than pursue a merger.

The organizations will instead collaborate on developing and implementing a long-term vision for the economic vitality of the community, according to a report issued Tuesday.

That relationship will include more formally aligning operations and reducing duplicative efforts.

“We spent the spring talking to chamber members, ICAD investors from the communities that we serve and business leaders,” said Mark Nolte, ICAD president and CEO. “We found that there seems to be an underpinning of concern that maybe we don’t have a vision as a community. That came through loud and clear in the research.”

Kim Casko, president and CEO of the Iowa City Area Chamber, said the same concern was shared by the organizations’ peers in the industry.

“Other chambers and economic development groups are playing bigger and bigger roles in community development efforts,” Casko said. “We touch a lot of different entities, so that power of bringing a lot of different folks together to work toward a longer-term holistic vision is the most important thing we can do.”

What they learned during the six-month evaluation process, Casko and Nolte said, was that workforce, education, affordable housing, transportation and maintaining the existing quality of life in the community are their customers’ greatest needs and concerns.

While merging was an option the chamber and ICAD considered, Casko and Nolte said the organizations have opted not to take that step at this time.

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“We learned from our research that mergers take a great amount of time and attention to do well,” Nolte said. “We could have lost a year or two coming up with what do we call this thing and how do we fund it.

“We need to act now because there are things that the community needs from us. We decided there was room for us to align around some shared visions that we will be rolling out soon.”

Casko said the Iowa City Area Chamber and ICAD will convene a group to flesh out what the long-term vision for the community should look like.

“We want it to be big and bold,” Casko said.

Casko said over the next year, the chamber and ICAD will assess alignment of their location, staff and programming where it makes sense.

ICAD was originally an economic development committee within the Iowa City Area Chamber. In 1984, it became a separate organization to primarily focus on recruiting interstate commerce companies to the area.

Over time, ICAD has expanded its mision to include the retention and expansion of existing businesses, attracting talent to the region and fostering start-up businesses.

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