The Greater Shawnee Area Chamber of Commerce moved a step closer to a merger Wednesday as the board voted to approve a Memorandum of Understanding between the Chamber and the Shawnee Economic Development Foundation, making the Chamber's assets subject to the new company being formed.

The Greater Shawnee Area Chamber of Commerce moved a step closer to a merger Wednesday as the board voted to approve a Memorandum of Understanding between the Chamber and the Shawnee Economic Development Foundation, making the Chamber's assets subject to the new company being formed.

Leaders have been working to competitively innovate and restructure a decades-old system; they are on the cusp of bringing together a brand new organization to tout the benefits of living in this community.

For some time, city leaders have been working to merge the two local entities in hopes of maximizing staff efforts by cutting out superfluity, due to similar goals. Tim Burg, SEDF director, confirmed the plan mid-January.

Kathy Laster, and her company, Impact, has been guiding city leaders through the transition process, Mayor Richard Finley said.

Recent fundraising efforts, Chamber member Larry Briggs said, have yielded about $100,000, so far. Approximately $150,000 is reportedly the estimated cost to make it happen.

Now, the SEDF will gather at the table to go through the same steps as the Chamber — voting on the MOU.

SEDF Chairman Marion McMillan said that could happen at the next SEDF meeting, Aug. 9.

Afterward, the SEDF and the Chamber will each have to gain a favorable majority from their members — 50-percent, plus one — for the plan to move ahead.

Briggs said there will have to be a lot of one-on-one conversations to sell the proposal.

“Anytime you've got changes, you're going to get some resistance,” he said.

The name of the new organization has yet to be decided, Chamber member Mike Adcock said. A tagline will be added to recognize the partnership between the two organizations, he said.

How it began

Mayor Richard Finley said it all started early last year when he and then-Chamber President Nancy Keith — now retired, Adcock and Briggs, began considering how to keep the Chamber relevant in the future.

Finley said the group discussed it as Chamber 2025 informally.

“As those discussions continued, we naturally regressed to a conversation about our purpose, mission, goals and organizational structure, as well as an honest assessment of our relevance today,” he said. “As we dreamed about what organization would function best, we gravitated to a discussion of what kind of organization would best serve the community on a more comprehensive basis.”

He said all members of the discussion group independently concluded that one organization which dealt with the current overlap in community goals and allocation of resources would function best.

“From that point, we made overtures to the SEDF executive committee for conversation,” Finley said. “We formed what has become known as the Group of Ten, which included participants from both perspectives,” he said.

The how-to followed from those discussions and progressed to the point at which the executive committees of both endorsed the idea for a second date, he said.

Finley said the executive members were added to the group — to the extent they were not already included; work continued to the point of making a presentation to the respective boards and receiving the endorsement to begin efforts to develop a memorandum of understanding — generally the first formal step in any potential combination.

In December the SEDF board of directors approved the SEDF's executive committee to begin the process of sorting out what that type of an arrangement might be, Burg said.

Finley said, “It is our hope that having one organization will create efficiencies of both scope and scale, given that the overall objectives of both organizations are so closely aligned and both are thinly staffed.”

It would allow the efficient allocation of resources, as well as maximizing the inputs of the business community — which volunteers in both organizations.

Finley, last month, said the group's goal is to ask for a three-year commitment from funding sources.

“We didn't feel like it was our responsibility to set up the new structure — that needs to be the new organization and the new board, whoever that is — we are really just going out and asking for a funding commitment,” Finley said.

The Chamber is navigating the transition under the direction of interim President and CEO Phyllis Bolt, with Kaylee Wilburn alongside.

You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.