In the spotlight: Zionsville chamber wins Indiana Chamber of the Year, nominated for National Chamber of the Year


The Zionsville Chamber of Commerce may be a small fish in a big pond at the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives convention, but Executive Director Allyson Gutwein already views being nominated for a national award as a win, regardless of the outcome.

The chamber received the Indiana Chamber of the Year award at the June 23 Indiana Chamber Executives Association annual conference in Elkhart. The chamber was subsequently nominated for the July 26 National Chamber of the Year designation at the annual Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives convention in Indianapolis.

ICEA President Shelli Williams said Indiana hasn’t had much recognition at the national convention, and definitely not from a chamber of Zionsville’s size. Other Indiana chambers previously recognized at the national convention are the Indy Chamber, Greater Fort Wayne Inc., the Valpo Chamber and the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. Indy Chamber won National Chamber of the Year last year.

Although it’s the second year the Zionsville chamber has received the Indiana Chamber of the Year designation, it is the first time the chamber is up for National Chamber of the Year honor. The chamber also won a national communications award for a video it created called “Why join the chamber?” The video explains what a chamber of commerce does and how it helps local businesses. It is pinned on top of the chamber’s Facebook feed for those who wish to watch it.

Besides being nominated for the National Chamber of the Year award, the Zionsville chamber also is in the running for best in show for communications.

“We are having really a banner year at the Zionsville Chamber,” Gutwein said.

The Zionsville Chamber submitted a video entry explaining projects it has been working on for the ICEA nomination. Projects include providing STEM-training for students in seventh to 12th grade, addressing issues such as workforce development and providing guidance and micro groups for its members.

The free STEM training allows students to learn about STEM jobs in the Zionsville area and also provides an opportunity to complete a project in which they use coding, CAD design, 3D printing and physics.

“Another piece is that we have been doing a lot of work in the space of not just workforce development as it pertains to STEM, but what are we doing in order to start looking a little bit longer term with the workforce development challenges we have,” Gutwein said. “We are providing educational resources through connecting with other members and seeing what those other members are able to do and allow peer-facilitated networking groups called micro groups.”

The micro groups divide chamber members into subsets, such as where the business is located. Gutwein said business owners on Main Street have different challenges than those on Michigan Road. For example, a Main Street business might have challenges providing customer parking. A Michigan Road business might have access to larger parking lots, but there’s not as much walkability as for businesses on Main Street.

Williams said ICEA used a panel of chamber professionals in states other than Indiana to review the semi-finalists for Indiana Chamber of the Year. She said this was the first year all six judges chose the same chamber – Zionsville – for the highest score. There were nine semi-finalists.

The scoring sheets are returned to Williams prior to the National Chamber of the Year announcement, so she said there’s no correlation between an ICEA finalist being a finalist for the national award.

“That speaks very highly of the Zionsville Chamber team,” she said. “They are very innovative in what they’re doing, very entrepreneurial and a great organization to steal ideas from because in the chamber world, we do that.”

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The Zionsville Chamber of Commerce team pauses on Zionsville’s brick Main Street. From left, Kara Connelly, Jennifer Griggs, Allyson Gutwein and Emilie Ritchie. (Photo courtesy of Zionsville Chamber of Commerce)

A dynamic leader

Indiana Chamber Executives Association President Shelli Williams said smaller chambers are sometimes hesitant to share their story. However, she said Zionsville Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Allyson Gutwein is not timid.

“I think Allyson’s leadership is dynamic. It brings a different thought process,” she said. “A lot of her effort goes into listening to what the needs are for her members and also telling the story of the organization. She’s bold. Zionsville is not one of our larger chambers, but that does not hold her back.”