SYRACUSE — Syracuse-Wawasee Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards banquet — hosted Jan. 16 by Oakwood Resort’s event center — celebrated 2019’s achievements while also addressing Kosciusko County’s needs and building excitement for the year ahead, fitting with the event’s theme of “20/20 Vision.”
Chamber President Dennis Pressler, Stoney Point LLC, noted 2019 as a year of transition for the chamber, following the departure of an executive director. However, with that departure, Pressler said people stepped up leading to the chamber’s best golf outing yet. “I have to give recognition to the board,” he said. “They were a significant part of that success.”
Pressler also thanked every chamber organization, noting they were fundamental to 2019’s successes as well. Heath Simcoe, with MutualFinancial, also received special recognition for his help with the chamber’s strategic planning and launch of the Governance Committee.
Executive Director Renea Salyer also thanked the board and the chamber’s 14 ambassadors.
Speakers for the evening included Alan Tio, CEO of Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation, and Sherry Searles, director of LaunchPad Child Care & Early Learning Coalition. Both spoke of needs that Kosciusko County must address for a brighter future.
Tio described how KEDCo’s business model is changing to one that brings people together and seeks out problems so solutions can be developed together. As part of that shift, it aims to strengthen collaboration across Kosciusko County’s many sectors, support the area’s agricultural sector, evaluate economic development capacity, enhance entrepreneurial supports, create talent attraction programs and develop new housing options.
“Kosciusko County is not leading the state for supporting entrepreneurs,” Tio said. “We are changing that.”
The ultimate goal is to raise Kosciusko County’s population to just over 101,000 by 2030, which entails attracting both a workforce and companies to employ them.
He also highlighted KEDCo’s quarter one projects as concluding the Stonehenge project, beginning year-round investor outreach, developing Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority capabilities, kicking off the Argonne Road project and launching a talent recruitment services pilot — while leaving a margin for unknown projects.
Tied into economic development, Searles spoke on a widespread crisis. “Kosciusko County has been named a child care desert,” she noted, sharing figures that the county has 6,276 children under the age of 5. Of those children, 3,000 need care, but only 1,197 are enrolled in known programs.
She shared how LaunchPad is working to strengthen the climate of early learning in Kosciusko County by focusing on the most recent research for children, birth to age 5, and meeting the needs of the county’s youngest citizens.
“Our first meeting was over a year ago,” Searles said, noting a lot of research was conducted afterward. “We now have a five-year strategic plan to change the climate of Kosciusko County.”
That plan includes workforce development and building a pipeline of early child care professionals by encouraging businesses to invest “in their workforce, their companies and invest in LaunchPad for today’s and tomorrow’s workforce.”
Three businesses and one local service group were also celebrated during the evening. RE/MAX of Syracuse received Small Business of the Year, an award sponsored by Team Tuttle Mortage LLC and The Papers Inc. Large Business of the Year, which was sponsored by Crossroads Bank and POLYWOOD, was won by Wawasee Bowl/Chubbie’s Pub & Grub. Blue Barn Berry Farm & Event Venue was presented New Business of the Year, sponsored by Key Bank and Pro Wake Watersports. Finally, Volunteer of the Year, sponsored by Bass Audiology and Lakeland Animal Clinic, was awarded to the Syracuse-Wawasee Garden Club.
The evening also featured a video presentation put together by students at Wawasee Community Schools for the dinner’s sponsor, Miller’s Merry Manor. The company’s Senior Vice President of Post Acute Services Brad Harris also spoke and encouraged more people to be givers to create a more positive future.
Salyer concluded the evening giving a report of the chamber’s accomplishments during 2019, which included welcoming 10 new members; supporting its 161 members with ribbon-cuttings, business after hours and other networking programs; forming the Governance Committee and more. “2019 was a year of transition. 2020 will be a year of exciting possibilities,” she said. “2020 will be a sight to be seen.”
The event drew about 210 attendees.