Vermillion Area Chamber, VDC explore possible merger

Vermillion Area Chamber, VDC explore possible merger by David Lias The executive boards of the Vermillion Area Chamber of Commerce and the Vermillion Development Company are exploring the idea of merging the two organizations into one.

The two boards held a joint meeting Aug. 30, and the Chamber board requested that the VDC agree to form a joint task force that would investigate models of the Chamber and the VDC that act as one entity in communities that are of similar size and character to Vermillion.

This research will be used to develop a model for consideration by the VDC board of directors and the Chamber board of directors for future consideration of a merger of the Chamber and the VDC.

"I think it's important to see this in the concept of doing what's best for Vermillion," said John Paulson, president of the VDC board. "I think that fundamentally drives our thinking. We are, as organizations, both interested in growing Vermillion in terms of helping the businesses that are here in the community do better, as well as attracting new businesses to community to improve the quality of life here."

Paulson said the two organizations are currently trying to determine the best way to support their missions, and see if they could do it better together in terms of business development and expansion of cultural and recreational activities.

Cooperative ventures involving the two organizations have already proven to be fruitful, said Jennifer French, president of the Chamber board of directors.

"Last year we went together and did a joint membership drive," she said. "We also went to the city together for a joint funding request. Pretty much everything that the Chamber and the VDC do, they do together.

"In the last couple years, it's been a team concept," French said. "They work together and support each other and help each other. It's not the VDC and the Chamber as two separate entities � they are legally, but in theory we are a team and work together, trying to do what's best for Vermillion."

The Chamber is also facing a unique circumstance that has compelled its board to explore the merger idea.

Jill LeCates, the Chamber's executive director, has submitted her resignation, effective Sept. 27, to pursue another employment opportunity in Vermillion. As a result of her resignation, the Chamber board began discussions on the process for transition, and one idea that was raised was the need to discuss a more formalized merger of the Chamber and the VDC.

Paulson and French agree that discussions of a possible merger are still at a preliminary stage.

"We're just beginning the process," Paulson said.

"We're assigning the task force, and determining the direction that we want that task force to go," French said.

The task force hopefully will learn the pros and the cons of a possible merger by visiting other communities that have joint Chamber/VDC organizations.

"This task force will then come back to our boards with their recommendation on whether we should pursue this further," she said.

Hopefully, the task force will come back with its information in a few weeks.

"We would like to have a general direction of which way we would like to go in the next month or two," French said. "Not that any of the specifics, if we were to merge, would be ironed out, but just a general direction."

"As presidents of the respective organizations, Jenny and I are committed to helping facilitate the way the task force will undertake its work, and provide communication to membership about it," Paulson said. "I think there is a sense that we have a high degree of cooperation and coordination already in place, and could that be further enhanced to the benefit of the community and the surrounding area that we serve by merging the organizations while still keeping in place the objectives that each of them have."

He said a merger possibly would allow the two organizations to better deal with positive changes taking place in Vermillion's business sector, The University of South Dakota, city government and local strategic planning.

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