It Was Big (Ten); It Can Be Bigger

In the college football world, a lot has happened since last Saturday’s Big Ten Championship game unfolded in Indianapolis for the second consecutive year. (More on that in a minute). Northern Illinois crashed the Bowl Championship Series party, creating a venom that is usually reserved for teams that are on the outside looking in when it comes to the NCAA basketball tournament.

The coach who won that Big Ten title game has bolted Wisconsin for Arkansas in an unexpected move. Notre Dame, Ball State and Purdue learned their bowl destinations, with the Boilermakers hiring a new coach — from that same no-respect Mid-American Conference as Northern Illinois and Ball State. (In case, you didn ‘t know I’m a Ball State grad and proud to be making the trip to Florida for the always popular Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl).

But my focus is back to Indiana and the business of sports. Yes, the 41,000-plus in attendance at Lucas Oil Saturday night was a dramatic drop from more than 62,000 a year earlier. Yes, TV ratings were down (falling almost as fast as the Nebraska defenders as Wisconsin running backs piled up more than 500 yards in a 70-31 victory). Yes, there is concern despite Indy being in the middle of a five-year contract to serve as host. Many say the attendance problem would have been solved if undefeated Ohio State had not been on probation, but that falls into the category of things we can’t control.

I volunteered both Friday and Saturday at the Big Ten Fanfest at the Indiana Convention Center and attended the game. A few observations.

  • Wisconsin and Nebraska fans showed up and they liked what they saw. I talked with numerous parents and family members who, like so many before them, truly appreciated downtown Indianapolis and all its amenities. They enjoyed Georgia Street before the game and they, at least on the Wisconsin side, enjoyed a winning effort in Lucas Oil for the second straight year.
  • Yes, this is only anecdotal, but I witnessed far fewer fans from the Hoosier state taking part in either the Fanfest or the game. On a smaller scale, the Fanfest was similar to the NFL Experience that took place in conjunction with Super Bowl XLVI earlier this year. An opportunity seemed to be missed in not generating more interest and participation on a local or regional level.
  • These events, and many others, bring a true excitement and economic impact to downtown. The benefits both in the short term and in further establishing the Circle City as a destination spot are numerous.

Let’s allow the creative people who do such a good job bringing these sports championships here to work on ways to bring more fans into the fold. And if you’re looking for something else to do in late November/early December on a post-Thanksgiving weekend, give the Big Ten and its championship a good hard look in coming years.

Substance over Size in This Award Program

How do you define a small business? The federal government has varying definitions, the most common being 100 or 500 employees, based on the program or agency. Others will attach different numbers, depending on their industry or motivation. At the Indiana Chamber, 250 or fewer is the magic number for nominees for the annual Small Business of the Year award.

But it’s not the employee count that is critical. It’s what those workers and the management of the organization do that makes a difference. It’s company performance, committment to those employees and community involvement that are among the factors judged.

The two most recent winners are highly successful AIT Laboratories (which has zoomed out of the small business category with its continued growth and expansion) and POLARIS Laboratories (both recognized on the inaugural Indiana Companies to Watch list and their chief executives part of a BizVoice roundtable conversation in the current issue on entrepreneurs and leadership).  

There are many outstanding small business stories out there. Nominate your organization, recommend it to someone else — just get involved. The details are on this nomination form. The deadline to apply is September 30. The award will be presented November 10 at the Indiana Convention Center as part of the Chamber’s annual membership meeting awards luncheon.

Lunch, Listen and Learn: Big Names on Economic Club Lineup

One venue, nine top-notch speakers. Congratulations to the Economic Club of Indiana program committee for putting together a very intriguing lineup for the 2009-2010 season.

A strong mix of Indiana leaders (Angela Braly, WellPoint, and Thomas Snyder, Ivy Tech Community College); former Hoosiers coming home (C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb and school reformer Kevin Chavous); more media giants (Steve Forbes, John Stossel and Gwen Ifill); and leaders in business (Patrick Michael Byrne of and education/politics (Harvard economics professor Martin Feldstein).

All will be at the Indiana Convention Center for the monthly luncheon programs, starting with Braly on September 1. Not familiar with the Economic Club, an Indiana fixture for 35 years? Check out this excerpt from the organization’s 25th anniversary for some history on how it all got started and some of the big events over the years.

Fort Wayne area leaders, we’re not forgetting about you. John Norquist, former Milwaukee mayor and urban design/school reform authority, comes your way on August 28 to wrap up the inagaural summer series. Merrillville and Evansville enjoyed earlier visits from Scott Hodge (Tax Foundation) and Jim Morris (Pacers Sports and Entertainment and longtime civic leader), respectively.

Check out some or all of the upcoming events. Thought-provoking presentations are assured.

Legislative Leaders to Have Their Say

Members of the Indiana General Assembly are coming to town November 18 for their annual Organization Day. What do they do on that largely ceremonial occasion? Organize things.

The day before, however, is when leaders of the four caucuses come together to share some insights on what might happen when the action heats up in January. The Indiana Chamber’s Central Indiana Legislative Preview takes place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday, November 17 at the Indiana Convention Center.

The best things about the preview: you get to ask questions and make comments, and whether it’s the wonderful food or just the pleasant atmosphere of a few hundred interested people in the audience — the legislators typically speak their minds. They don’t mind emphasizing their priorities and noting a few things that aren’t likely to happen if they have any say in the matter.

So, make your reservation, take a slightly longer than normal lunch and move from the political to legislating mode on November 17.

Lilly’s Future: Not a Bad Economic Club Start

If you weren’t paying attention to John Lechleiter’s Economic Club of Indiana speech on Wednesday about the future of Eli Lilly and Company, you appear to have been one of the few.

More than 800 people attended the season-opening event at the Indiana Convention Center. Media coverage was far and wide, especially when it was anticipated that Lechleiter would deliver a hard-hitting commentary on the company’s future direction. He delivered.

Industry innovation, the company’s staggering stock price and the negative pharmaceutical image are the "800-pound gorillas" awaiting action. Lilly, like it has during its long history, has a plan and is implementing it. Will it mean fewer jobs in the future? Likely. Will the company remain a local, state, national and international powerhouse? We hope so.

Michael Snyder, principal of The MEK Group, writes an informative weekly column for Check out his summary for a good review of what Lechleiter had to say.

Next up for the Economic Club: William Kristol on October 27, eight days before the election. Sounds like another great one.

Welcome Back, Warlocks

If you’re walking around downtown Indianapolis the next few days, you might just bump into a wizard, a warlock or an enormous gathering of average Joe’s with comic book heroes on their black t-shirts and backpacks full of gaming items. Gen Con Indy is one of the many massive conventions in Indianapolis’ growing convention market. 
Gen Con Indy claims the top spot at the sorcerer’s round table as the original, best attended and longest running gaming convention in the entire galaxy. In 2007, over 26,000 gamers attended Gen Con Indy. This is another example why Indianapolis must offer the best facilities available in Lucas Oil Stadium and the expanding Indiana Convention Center. The tax revenue generated from Gen Con and other conventions is very important to downtown’s economy, not to mention the boon to local restaurants and hotels.
Here’s a list of upcoming events at Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana Convention Center. The expected attendance numbers are critical for Indiana tourism.
If you do bump into one of our visiting gamers, be nice, ok? They might have horns or claim to have powers to place a spell banishing you to the planet Zog, but they never cause any trouble and they go about their own business. 

Welcome back, Gen Con folks!