Kosciusko Chamber celebrates its members, state award

Grace College and Theological Seminary President Dr. Drew Flamm (R) gets a laugh out of Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rob Parker (L) during the Chamber’s third annual member celebration Thursday at the Miller Sunset Pavilion in Winona Lake. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
By David Slone

WINONA LAKE – There’s a lot to be excited about in Kosciusko County, and during the third annual Kosciusko Chamber Member Celebration, local leaders explained what are some of the exciting things happening in their area of the community.

But first, Past Board Chair of the Indiana Chamber Executive Association and Goshen Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Nick Kieffer presented the Kosciusko Chamber with the 2023 Chamber of the Year Award from the ICEA.

Explaining how the award winner is selected, Kieffer said there were eight finalists this year and they have to submit a video. They are judged on innovation, effectiveness and the overall results of the chamber. A panel of judges from across the United States vote on the videos.

“It was a unanimous decision for Kosciusko to win, so congratulations,” Kieffer said.
Kosciusko Chamber President and CEO Rob Parker thanked DreamOn Studios for making the video happen.

Kieffer then ran through some of the Kosciusko Chamber’s highlights that were voted on. Last year, the Chamber had 107 new members, a 93% member retention rate when the industry standard is about 87%, gave away over $100,000 in Kosciusko Cash, had 60 Chamber ambassadors, increased the number of child care seats in the county by 150, had 90 Chamber events and had 11.5 million impressions on their social media pages.

The Kosciusko Chamber staff is well respected across the state, Kieffer said. “You really do have one of the most remarkable staff in the state,” he said. “… Any chamber professional will tell you success is not possible without members and volunteers who play an important role in helping to achieve this success.”

Grace College & Theological Seminary President Dr. Drew Flamm was the first community leader to share what exciting things were happening in his “realm of influence.”

As of Thursday morning, he said Grace has its largest incoming class of students for the fifth year in a row with over 1,300 undergraduate students. The fastest-growing school at Grace is the School of Business.

“The second thing we’re really excited about is we just launched our School for Science and Engineering. We’re really excited about emphasizing health science and engineering at Grace College,” Flamm said, adding that the new dean for that school will be Dr. Nate Bosch, director of The Lilly Center for Lakes and Streams.

Lutheran Kosciusko Hospital CEO Dr. Lynn Mergen said what he was most excited about was that the hospital has been here for 46 years, taking care of people in the community and bringing more to the community. As an example, he said they just opened “a new AFC in conjunction with Zimmer Biomet. … It’s state-of-the-art. It’s the only facility like it in the country. So we’re really excited about that.”

In health care, he said you can have all the services you need, but you’ve got to have providers. “So, I’m really excited about the fact that we are recruiting 23 physicians over the next 24 months to come into town,” Mergen said.
K21 Health Foundation CEO Rich Haddad said he was excited about ice skating, pickleball, disc golf and turf soccer. 

“These are awesome new additions in the last few years for our community and it continues to give people options and opportunities to live their healthiest most active life. And I think one of the biggest trends that we hope to be a part of for multiple generations is to change the culture of Kosciusko so that everybody can live their healthiest life and that’s the normal way we live,” Haddad stated.

Jim Swanson, YMCA CEO, said he was excited about soccer as well as Parkview YMCA now has turf fields on its campus.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to introduce 5-on-5 soccer and also turf to Kosciusko County,” he said.

Secondly, he said the YMCA’s downtown site at the former Madison Elementary School gym will be opening soon, hopefully by the end of January. It will be open 24/7 and have indoor programming, basketball courts, indoor soccer and more. The facility is not yet named, he said.

Milford Clerk-Treasurer Tricia Gall highlighted the CR 1300N overpass and extension project that is currently underway. It will be “huge” for connecting the towns of Syracuse and Milford to Ind. 15.

Milford also has a new residential subdivision under construction called Eastfield. It will add 52 homes to the town.

Craig Allebach, Winona Lake town manager, mentioned the noon Friday ribbon-cutting ceremony for the roundabout at the intersection of Kings Highway, Winona Avenue and Argonne Road. He said it will create a nice entrance to the community.

He talked about the farmers market in the Miller Sunset Pavilion that happens every Saturday morning and how it continues to grow.

“Moving on to The Village (at Winona), we really want to push The Village as a destination to help our retail and restaurants and things,” he said, noting that the pavilion has helped drive people to The Village.

The Winona Lake Limitless Park went through a capital campaign to get the project completed that started about seven years ago, he said. Meanwhile, the pickleball courts are always full.

The Heritage Trail will be extended to include from Lakeland Christian Academy to the development at Raccoon Run.

Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer said, “The energy that this community has is moving all these projects in every jurisdiction to make this the greatest community in the state, and I’m so proud of the energy, and I just want you all to keep it up. That’s what I’m personally excited about.”

Syracuse-Wawasee Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Staci York said one of the things that she’s most excited about is the Urban Oaks Apartments that opened up in Syracuse where the former elementary school was.

“We’re so excited to be solving one of the biggest problems in the area, which is housing. And I am just so excited to continue finding innovative ways to solve problems,” she said.
Cori Humes, Kosciusko County Convention & Visitors Bureau executive director, said she was excited about the new digital sign that will be replacing the CVB’s “V” sign after 24 years.

KEDCO CEO Alan Tio said Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation works around the county to support economic development, whether that’s entrepreneurship, housing and recruiting talent for companies.

Indiana Sen. Ryan Mishler said a few months ago, the state legislatures finished a $44 billion budget and they made a lot of investments and, most importantly, they made the most investments ever in the northern part of the state.

“$30 million to the northeast region, $30 million to the north central region, $30 million here for the orthopedic industry,” he said. “… We’re investing a lot of money in a lot of companies. I spoke at Indy Chamber to talk about the great things we’re doing. So last year, we had over $20 billion in investment. This year we have one company alone that is looking to bring $50 billion to our state.”

Mishler said in the 19 years he’s served in the state legislature, it doesn’t look the same and they’ve come a long way.

Finally, Bob Vitoux, CEO of OrthoWorx, thanked Mishler for the tee-up on the $30 million. “I’ve got 30 million things I’m thankful for, and that’s the $30 million that OrthoWorx be administering and helping to deploy into our community. We’re really, really excited that the state has seen the importance of attracting talent and retaining the orthopedic industry that’s here. But it’s not just the orthopedic industry we’re focused on, it’s the community. And it’s the community that’s going to be the one that wins.”

Parker concluded the comments by stating, “I’m so passionate about this community and I love everybody that’s here and how you dig in to make this the best darn community in the best darn state in the best darn country in the whole world!”