Building on business: Indiana, Columbus chamber leaders stress positives in time of transition

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Vanessa Sinders, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, delivers the keynote speech during the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting at The Commons in Columbus, Ind., Tuesday, April 2, 2024.

The new leader of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce spoke to a meeting of local business leaders Tuesday, advocating for the state chamber’s vision of making Indiana and its communities better places for businesses to operate and for people to live, work and visit.

“I couldn’t be more excited to be able to kick off this tour, kick off this conversation in a place like Columbus that is truly leading the way for the state and the nation in so many different areas,” Indiana Chamber President and CEO Vanessa Green Sinders told the annual meeting of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce at the Commons.

Sinders, a former Fortune 100 executive, consultant and veteran national policy strategist, visited Columbus and addressed the chamber as part of her statewide spring speaking tour to area chambers and business organizations, dubbed “Partners IN Prosperity.” The tour is partly Sinders’ introduction to local chambers and business groups but also promotes the state chamber’s and the Indiana Chamber Foundation’s initiative, “Indiana Prosperity 2035 — A Vision for Economic Acceleration.”

That plan advances the chamber’s policy goals in six key areas: Workforce; K-12 education; economic growth, innovation and entrepreneurship; infrastructure and energy; quality of place strategies; and healthy, prosperous communities and citizens.

“There is so much good happening in this state, and that is something to be celebrated,” Sinders said. “… That said, I’m a big believer in, no matter how good you are, there’s always more that can be done.”

Sinders was chosen in September to succeed longtime Indiana Chamber of Commerce leader Kevin Brinegar, who retired in January after 22 years leading the statewide business organization. She is the first woman chosen to lead the 102-year-old state chamber.

It’s a time of transition for both the state and local chambers. As Sinders gets to know local business communities around the state, the Columbus Area Chamber is preparing to settle into new office space at Third and Franklin Street after the Irwin Block Building fire in 2022 forced the chamber from its former headquarters.

“This new chapter symbolizes a fresh start,” Columbus Area Chamber President Cindy Frey said in prepared remarks. “With a renewed space comes a renewed outlook, as we reimagine our brand and embrace a modern look, symbolizing the dawn of a new era for the Chamber and the community we serve, with a clean, modern brand identity.”

Part of that identity includes a new logo for the chamber that was unveiled Tuesday, incorporating a new take on the stylized letter “C” that is widely used in branding for the city and the region.

Frey said the local chamber’s new space, shared with the Greater Columbus Economic Development Corp., will provide greater services to its members and the people and businesses it serves.

She also highlighted the local chamber foundation’s work with organizations including Catalyst Columbus, Targeted Investment in Minority Entrepreneurs (TIME) and the new Columbus AirPark makerspace Propeller. She noted the foundation last year managed more than $590,000 on behalf of those three programs. Frey said the chamber’s new office space will make these and other chamber services more accessible.

“At this visible downtown location, you will be able to meet with our partners from (Senior Corps of Retired Executives), the Indiana Small Business Development Center, Catalyst Columbus and TIME, who will have an office. Members will be able to utilize any of three conference rooms. We hope you will find it to be a place that celebrates our community and its commitment to quality design,” Frey said.

She said a ribbon cutting for the new office, which is still being renovated while the chamber operates from temporary quarters, will take place in the summer.