The recent vote to merge the Yankton Chamber of Commerce and Yankton Area Progressive Growth (YAPG) is being hailed by proponents of the move as a victory for the community by creating a unified economic vision that can work together.

And that pitch does make sense. It should guarantee that these two elements — which will be known collectively as Yankton Thrive, Inc. — and their various sub-components won’t be working against one another and will be coordinated in reaching toward the future.

“What this will mean for the community is the opportunity for us within the organization to take a deeper look at the programming we offer, how we can do things collaboratively, maybe a little bit differently, hopefully a little bit better and meet those needs of the business community,” YAPG’s Nancy Wenande told the Press & Dakotan Friday after the votes of the members of both the Chamber and YAPG had been tabulated.

Nevertheless, there are also concerns attached to this move that must be kept in mind as Yankton Thrive moves forward.

While the merger may create a cohesive effort, the merger must also make sure that all interests that will fall under this umbrella are addressed and considered equally, for they are all important aspects of what makes Yankton thrive (which is where the new name comes from).

Up until now, the Chamber of Commerce has been charged with overseeing its members, which generally include the smaller businesses of Yankton, while YAPG has been more focused on industrial and corporate development. This mix — which tends to overlap between the two organizations — also includes agriculture, manufacturing and tourism, which are obviously major aspects of the area economy.

While working together is important, making sure that all these aspects are served effectively could be tricky at times. That’s not to say that these elements compete against one another, but the best interests of each cannot be subordinated to other aspects. And one can suspect there may be times when that could happen.

For instance, how will Yankton Thrive deal with the issue of attracting new retailers and/or manufacturers to town? While some Thrive members may applaud the approach as essential to bolstering the community’s economic base, other members may see such an effort as promoting competition to existing businesses. This has been a delicate matter in the past, and it’s not clear if this will be any better or different under the new organization.

Also, tourism is a unique area that requires aggressive outreach and promotion 365 days a year. There is a new tourism director in place to oversee this component, and it’s an aspect that cannot become lost in the shuffle while the newly merged organization deals with other economic matters.

Wenande says the group aims to address these issues.

“We look at agriculture and all of the outdoor amenities — people love what happens on the river and the lake — and all of the community wants to thrive,” she said. “It’s hopefully our organization that can work with them, collaborate with them, support them and provide resources to them, or maybe connect them to somebody else who can help them so they can thrive in the community as well.”

The merger is a significant development for Yankton, and if Yankton Thrive can truly be a composite entity that promotes all these interests effectively, it would be a very big step forward.


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