Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

September 1, 2013

A change at the top in Indy

New chamber president faces challenges

By Morton Marcus
Tribune columnist

---- — Michael Huber is the new president at the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. His is not the ordinary climb up the ladder. He has not moved from one chamber to another, ever increasing the size and scope of his responsibilities.

Instead, Huber comes via the political route to the top. He spent three years with the Daniels state administration in the Office of Management and Budget, plus a stint with the Department of Administration.

Then he signed on with the Ballard City of Indianapolis where he was responsible for enterprise development, rising to Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. Before joining the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, he seems to have been in a holding pattern as Senior Director of Commercial Enterprise at the Indianapolis Airport Authority.

As a good administrator, with an MBA from the IU Kelley School of Business, he has already announced his intention to roll out a new strategic plan for the Chamber. If it already has such a plan, it is necessarily obsolete when new management comes on board.

Huber has a tough assignment. His predecessor, Scott Miller, welded together three wings to fly the Chamber to new heights. One wing is designed to bring new businesses to Indianapolis; another is to work on the same task, but with a regional orientation.

The third wing, the Business Ownership Initiative (BOI), exists to help new and expanding small businesses understand how to function better in today’s complex economic environmen (in the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the BOI Board).

On top of this configuration of functions, the Chamber is supposed to be what chambers have been for more than 100 years: a spokesman for the business community and an organizer of civic efforts for the benefit of the wider community.

The Indianapolis Chamber, in recent decades, has been a progressive voice in Indiana. Blessed with a strong market position, Indianapolis has been able to work on programs that are beneficial beyond its borders.

However, the rest of the state often sees Indianapolis as a greedy octopus, reaching out in all directions to dominate its neighbors. One task for the local chamber, therefore, is to demonstrate real regional interest and a generous understanding of the many smaller communities of the state.

This is not easy to do when the rest of the state is fundamentally hostile to the leading growth center of the state. That hostility is consistent with the long-term anti-urban bias Hoosiers have exhibited and with the contemporary competitive atmosphere concerning economic development.

The absence of a state policy on economic development addressing geographic competition is a handicap. Perhaps, Michael Huber has some friends in the Pence administration that can help.

Clearly, Huber must satisfy the traditional expectations of a chamber executive. In addition, he needs to navigate a vessel with three flapping wings and set an example for other chambers statewide caught in similar circumstance.

Mr. Marcus is an independent economist, writer and speaker. Contact him at mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.