by Bekah Porter

CEDAR RAPIDS – Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce leaders are describing 2011 as a “pivotal” year.

This comes as no surprise, as several changes are scheduled for the coming months.

First, the organization is starting its search for a new leader.

On Dec. 31, Shannon Meyer left her position as president and CEO of the chamber. She resigned earlier that month as she announced she had accepted a similar job at a chamber closer to her hometown in Wisconsin.

Up to this point, not much headway has been made on finding Ms. Meyer’s replacement.

“Literally, we are still in the process of wrapping things up here, and because of the holidays and everything, we (just met) with the staff (this past week) to talk about the critical things to be accomplished,” said Chuck Peters, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors.

He said there is no time frame in mind for hiring a new leader, other than “when the time’s right.”

However, chamber leaders have said in the past that a search committee will likely be formed.

“(This will happen) once we decide what we’re looking for,” Mr. Peters said. “We’ll go through a very orderly process to define the skill set we’re looking for before we start a search.”

The chamber’s search for Ms. Meyer took five months, with retired nonprofit executive Bob Buntz serving as interim CEO to bridge the gap between Ms. Meyer and her predecessor Lee Clancey, who retired in May 2008.

Another item on the chamber’s to-do list is that of establishing what it is calling its “Prosperity Agenda.” The long-term strategic plan was crafted by the board this past summer, with a draft form in the annual report this past fall. However, the board is still working on the plan, with the intent of presenting it to the public in the coming weeks.

“The important thing (to note) is that this is not a simple agenda,” Mr. Peters said. “This is not something to do in two weeks or two months or even two years. It is a directional statement, and we need to develop a lot of activities that support that direction.”

A specific goal of the Prosperity Agenda, he added, is creating what the board is deeming a culture of innovation.

“In order to have that culture, you have to have a physical presence, and that (physical presence) would be the innovation center,” Mr. Peters said.

In March 2009, the chamber applied for several million in Economic Development Administration (EDA) funding, saying it would like to lead the charge in creating a “historic new center designed to boost future economic interests.”

At the time, Ms. Meyer said the building’s plans could include holding several organizations and businesses, including the chamber, the Cedar Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Corridor CoWorks, the Cedar Rapids Downtown District, the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation and more.

She said then that the six-story building could have as much as 60,000-square-feet and that it would replace the office of the chamber and Priority One at 425 First Ave. NE.

The chamber received $4.5 for the innovation center, and Mr. Peters said it is now time to determine what that building will include.

“We did this backwards,” he said. “We had the opportunity to get economic development funding – which is not flood funding, as is a big confusion (point),” he said. “We had the opportunity, and we went for it. And once we had the money, we had to develop the plans of how to use that space. And we’re developing that plan now.”

He said he hopes for a plan for the innovation center to be complete by January’s end.

“My line to everybody is that whatever you think about the building, you’re wrong,” he said. “We’re just developing our conceptualization and articulation as a board. We’re in the final stages of developing the program (for what we will be doing in) the building. I’m hoping to have the answer by the end of the month, but we’ll do it when it’s right.”

Previously, the chamber had mentioned a December 2010 completion date for the facility, but Mr. Peters said there is no timeline in place now, as the plans have not been finalized.

However, he said the renewed discussions have created a new excitement about the center’s potential.

“I think (the project) is actually gaining momentum,” he said.