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Organizations with common goals join forces

Grassroots group, alliance plan a partnership to create strong business voice

May 12, 2010 | 08:39 AM
Geneva Township — Since December, a grassroots group involving some local business leaders have been brainstorming ways to improve Walworth County's economy.

During an economic summit Friday in The Legends Room at Geneva National, the group decided to join forces with another like-minded, more formal organization.

Richard Gruber, vice president of Mercy Health System, said he feels both organizations would become stronger if they worked together with the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance.

"I don't see this ever stopping," he said.

Gruber emceed the summit, which provided the setting for the group's decision to partner with the alliance and recommend three members join the alliance's board of directors.

Alliance Board President Kim Howarth said there will be a meeting May 20 in which the board may amend its bylaws to include three new members — all of whom are part of this group — Gruber, Walworth County Agricultural Department member Peggy Reade and Ed Snyder, of The Abbey.

Whether this partnership is fruitful remains to be seen.

Although the economic summit group is relatively new, the alliance has faced its share of challenges. According to Howarth, the alliance faced a budget controversy.

According to some members of the grassroots group, the alliance hasn't done a good job of selling itself. However, in April, the alliance lost former executive vice president Fred Burkhardt, who resigned to be the next chief executive officer of the Logan County Chamber of Commerce in Ohio,

"A lot of our attention in the last 12 months has been spent on anything but moving forward, (but) running a really, really good organization," Howarth said.

He pointed out two ways in which the alliance erred.

"It's abundantly clear to me that we have screwed up by, one, not letting you know who we are, and two, not (using) the people we have," Howarth said.

But this new partnership with the grassroots group which has held four summits since its inception may help change that. Howarth said it's a tremendous opportunity, and "pretty clearly, Walworth County needs to have a voice for business."

Others agreed.

"We can accomplish much more together than we can apart … and now it's time to take it to the next level," Gruber said.

Some business professionals were for the partnership but expressed some minor concerns. Joe Cardiff, of the Lake Geneva Development Corporation, Lake Geneva, said he supported the partnership but they need a strong executive and the alliance should do a "better selling job" to the community.

He also recognized the ongoing budget situation with the alliance. In April, Howarth said the county used to provide the alliance a $100,000 budget.

That since has been cut down to about $50,000.

"We're going to have to get some kind of (financial) commitment," Cardiff said, adding that's a way to ensure attracting a good leader to the alliance.

Gruber also issued some advice to the alliance — "embrace and listen."

"They will get some criticism and they will get some accolades, but they will have to go out and listen," he said.

Alliance and group members discussed holding a listening session involving members of both organizations in the near future.

As for a replacement for Burkhardt, Howarth said alliance board members hope to find one in "fairly short order."

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