Organizations Unite as Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance

By George C. Ford, Reporter

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By Belinda Yeung

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — After many years of operating separately, members of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the Cedar Rapids Downtown District and Priority One have voted to merge into a single entity on Jan. 1.

The Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance was formally unveiled Tuesday at the conclusion of a joint annual meeting of the three business groups at the Hawkeye Downs Expo Center.

Dee Baird, president of Priority One and interim Area Chamber president, will be chief executive officer of the new entity and Doug Neumann, president of the Downtown District, will be executive vice president of the organization.

Baird said the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance will have a goal of making the Corridor one of the top economic growth regions in the country.

“What we’re presenting to you today is not a new structure or new organization. It’s a common vision that leverages our opportunities in economic development,” Baird said. “We can’t wait to get started.”

Neumann said the merged organization will be “laser-focused on job growth and retention, strongly committed to downtown development, and engaged in broad public policy activity that matters to business.”

In comments after the meeting, Neumann shared that the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance will have roughly 25 employees. He said the organization has some job openings at the present time, which will make it easier to merge the staffs of the three entities.

Neumann said a lease likely will be signed in the next month for space in an existing downtown building to house the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance. He said any remodeling likely will be accomplished in a fairly short period of time, allowing the organization to relocate in the second quarter of 2012.

The Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance will have a combined 1,600 members and partners. Des Moines, Waterloo-Cedar Falls and Sioux City area chambers of commerce and economic development organizations successfully merged into single entities in recent years.

While the merged organization will be known by its new moniker in the Corridor, Neumann said web sites for the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber, Priority One and the Downtown District will need to be configured to redirect visitors to the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance web site.

“We understand that businesses beyond the Corridor will likely look for a ‘chamber’ web site and we don’t want to miss an opportunity to attract jobs because they can’t find us,” Neumann said.

Baird and Neumann were preceded by representatives of businesses and not-for-profit organizations highlighting the accomplishments of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber, Priority One and the Downtown District in fiscal 2011.

Tom Hobson of Rockwell Collins introduced Baird and Neumann after noting that Clay Jones, chairman, president and CEO of Rockwell Collins, had issued a call for action in February at the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting to find “synergies and efficiencies to harness the economic power of this region and its many assets.”

“He said we have to change because the next quarter century will be far more volatile than the previous century,” Hobson said. “The ability for us to adapt will determine our fate.”

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