By Katie Quaranta
Ohio University will play an important role in supporting job creation and increasing the economic health of the Athens community as a new member of the recently created Economic Development Council.
The Athens Area Chamber of Commerce created the council as part of a reorganization plan that separates its economic development and member services divisions into two organizations. The restructuring will be complete by January.
Joining the council aligns well with the university's Vision OHIO priority of enriching the environment for students, staff, faculty and the region, said Bill Decatur, senior vice president for finance and administration.
"Becoming members in the newly formed Economic Development Council is a continuation of our long-standing commitment to the region," Decatur said. "We are pleased that we can join the city and county in providing this level of support. Everyone benefits if we work together to enhance businesses, jobs and the economic sustainability of the area while preserving those characteristics that make the Athens area unique."
The university has committed $55,000 membership fee to the council this year. The amount makes Ohio University an institutional member -- a status granted to organizations that contribute $50,000 or more -- along with the City of Athens and Athens County. The money will go toward the council's efforts to enhance the local economy.
Jennifer Simon, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce and the president of the Economic Development Council, said the restructuring took place after the chamber leadership realized that having an economic development committee as a part of the chamber was not the best way to serve either group.
"We worked on our strategic plan and that's when we came to really take a look at what framework is best," she said. "(The restructuring) actually came about because we really came to the conclusion that we had two different missions in the chamber."
Under the new system, Simon will become president of the Economic Development Council, while another individual will take over as president of the Chamber of Commerce. The search for the new chamber president is currently underway.
Decatur, who will serve as a member of the council's executive committee, agrees that allowing the Economic Development Council to operate as an organization separate from the chamber will be a beneficial change.
"The new structure makes sense," he said. "It's the dominant model among communities in general. The chamber and the Economic Development Council will be able to focus more effectively on their core missions, which are distinct but highly synergistic."
The new council will focus on retaining existing business and recruiting new businesses to the area, encouraging entrepreneurship and assisting existing businesses in expansion efforts. Some major projects include creating a marketing and attractions committee and putting together a group of professionals -- including attorneys, accountants and marketing experts -- who can give advice and guidance to small business owners.
Simon said she is looking forward to working with Ohio University and the other members of the council to make these goals a reality.
"We've partnered with Ohio University on a lot of different projects," she said. "It just shows the commitment the university has to the Chamber of Commerce and economic development."