Upward course

he new chairwoman leading the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce board has chosen supporting entrepreneurs as her top goal this year.

Marlene Weatherwax, in her 16th year as vice president and chief financial officer at Columbus Regional Health, is taking over for 2014 chairman Umar Farooq.

Farooq described her as wonderful to work with and someone who is always willing to ask tough questions to make sure an organization does what’s best for its future.

One of the two initiatives Weatherwax is looking forward to implementing is a new Fish Tank, which is a membership-based collaborative work study for up to 25 entrepreneurs that will be located in the chamber offices on Franklin Street.

The Fish Tank will be aimed at bringing entrepreneurs from different avenues together, Weatherwax said.

The workspace will be in the chamber’s remodeled 800-square-foot training room, equipped with new furniture, updated security and a faster Wi-Fi connection.

The total cost of the renovation will be $35,000, and chamber president, Cindy Frey, said the chamber already has received a $20,000 grant from the Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County to help pay for the renovation.

The Fish Tank will feature individual and group work spaces. Frey hopes to have the Fish Tank open by June.

“It’s a space where several entrepreneurs can come together and bounce ideas off each other,” Weatherwax said. “They may not all be going down the same path, but sometimes when people like that are stuck on a problem it is helpful for others who think in an entrepreneurial way to help each other get unstuck.”

The room will feature 24/7 key card access for a full-time membership fee of $100. Part-time members will have to pay between $30 and $50, but won’t have access around the clock.

In addition to the Fish Tank, Weatherwax is working with Frey and others on a Makers Space.

This is similar to the Fish Tank but would focus more on industrial work in a warehouse space. Unlike the Fish Tank, the Makers Space is still in the planning stages, Weatherwax said.

Weatherwax said her responsibility is to keep the members engaged, while coming up with programs and ideas that will meet the expectations of the other members.

She said one of her challenges will be keeping all the companies represented on the chamber satisfied, no matter how big or small.

Weatherwax said some of these methods that she has used at the hospital, which include process improvement and some different design concept methodology, will be a great asset as she attempts to help propel the community forward through innovation, a cornerstone of her time with Columbus Regional Health.

During the past 20 years at Columbus Regional Health, Weatherwax has attained a strong business sense, specializing in accounting, she said.

She is responsible for the health system’s Lean Six Sigma program, which focuses on team effort collaboration through the elimination of waste.

The waste in this program is explained as defects, overproduction, waiting, non-utilized talent, transportation, inventory, motion and extra-processing, or the acronym DOWNTIME.

“From what we see in the hospital and their leadership team we see innovation, excellence, cross community collaboration are things we all strive for here at the chamber,” Frey said of Weatherwax leading the board. “We want to be best in class, along with fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in the business community. We want to be working with our partners to propel the community forward.”

Weatherwax has been a member of the Chamber of Commerce since 2010, but her ascension to leading the board started in 2014.

Soon after Weatherwax was named secretary-treasurer of the chamber board, then-chairman John Hogan stepped down to take a job in another state, which elevated Farooq to Hogan’s former position in 2014.

Just a year later, Weatherwax is the chairwoman, a position she never envisioned attaining this quickly.

She said she’s excited for the opportunity, and the challenges that will come with the position.

“The chamber is very intrigued with helping to foster that collaboration between different segments of the community to make Columbus better,” Weatherwax said.

About Marlene Weatherwax

Age: 58

Education: Bachelors degree in accounting from Indiana University South Bend.

Family: Daughter, Michelle, 34, and son, Brandon, 30.

Employment and service: Columbus Regional Health vice president and chief financial officer; Chairwoman for the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

For more about the chamber

For more about the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce or its programs, visit columbusareachamber.com/