• Jeff Fox: New focus, lots of changes at Independence chamber

  • Kim Kimbrough says its been clear that 2013 will be a year of transition for the Independence Chamber of Commerce.

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  • Kim Kimbrough says its been clear that 2013 will be a year of transition for the Independence Chamber of Commerce.
    The group is heading in some new directions – “Right-focusing is the way I would describe it,” says Kimbrough, the group’s CEO and president – and that’s apparently coming at the cost of a high degree of staff turnover. At least four people on the nine-person staff have left recently.
    Kimbrough said he hates to see them go but says “we went to great lengths to try to prepare the staff” for coming changes. The chamber has been conducting broad-ranging discussions involving the board and local businesses, said Kimbrough, who came on board in October.
    “They came to the conclusion that the chamber kind of needs to reinvent itself,” he said. There will be an emphasis on small business, public-policy advocacy and sticking with such well known community events as the annual Santa-Cali-Gon Days festival, which the chamber organizes, drawing tens of thousands of visitors to the Independence Square on Labor Day weekend.
    “We’re moving rapidly,” Kimbrough said.
    The chamber also has to recognize, he said, that it cannot provide services A to Z and needs to concentrate on the most important functions. The FUEL program, aimed at younger people, is “going to get put on the shelf for a year” while the chamber finds a partner to help, he said. The Youth LEAD program will be restructured.
    The LEAD program itself – “Leadership Education Action Development” – isn’t going anywhere, he stressed. (Full disclosure: I went through that nine-month, fairly intense program close to 20 years ago. It’s a good way to learn local issues in some depth. If you’re new to town, look into it.)
    But Vice President Teresa Freeland, who filled in as acting president for 10 months last year before Kimbrough was hired, is among those leaving.
    “I just don’t agree with the direction the chamber is going,” she said.
    She’s was with the chamber for 14 years, and her last day was Tuesday.
    “It was a very, very hard decision. Very hard,” she said.
    She hasn’t decided what do next but wants to stay active in the community.
    “This is my community,” she said. “The people of this town are special. They really are.”
    Ask anyone who has been on the committee that puts on Santa-Cali-Gon Days, and they’ll tell you about long, hard-working days, a good deal of fun and the close ties that develop.
    “And the festival board – they’re family,” Freeland said.
    Kimbrough said the chamber is looking for staff members but points out that old positions are being restructured.
    The idea is to improve services to members – say, help with marketing or technical skills – and then get membership headed up.
    Page 2 of 3 - “Our program,” he said, “will be much more beneficial to members.”
    Culver’s coming
    Culver’s plans to open its Independence restaurant in late April or early May. It’s at 4220 S. Little Blue Parkway, near Corner Cafe and Blue Ridge Bank & Trust.
    The company, based in Prairie de Sac, Wis., has locations in Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit. It says it opened 28 new restaurants in 2012 – for a total of 473 in 20 states – and should exceed that number of openings in 2013. Although concentrated most heavily in the upper Midwest, it’s been pushing outward into such states as South Carolina, Florida and Arizona.
    Health-care regs
    Brace yourself: 2013 is here, it’s a crucial transition year for Obamacare, and we’ll get through it.
    That was the takeaway from a presentation at last week’s Blue Springs Business Association meeting by Andrew Ky Haynes of Haynes Benefits in Lee’s Summit.
    “This is going to be a very big year,” he said.
    President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 23, 2010. “It was also the last day that I slept,” joked Haynes, whose company helps employers navigate rules and regulations. Federal officials are writing and rolling out those regulations – tens of thousands of pages – bit by bit, week after week as the law comes into full force in 2014.
    Some of the highlights:
    • No matter where you work, insurance plans will be more similar. You’ll have choices about cost versus coverage, but basically policies will fall into about a half-dozen types that a consumer can more readily compare.
    “So it’s an apples-to-apples comparison rather than an apple-to-oranges comparison,” he said.
    Insurers also have to at least try to summarize their policies in brief form.
    “Basically most insurance policies are very hard to read,” he said.
    • Any rate increase of 10 percent or more requires federal review. Guess what? Insurers are raising rates by 9.9 percent “all over the country,” Haynes said.
    • Health exchanges, where anyone can go online to compare and buy coverage, are being set up state by state.
    “The president said exchanges are Travelocity for insurance,” Haynes said. “That’s really what they are.”
    • Look for much more focus on wellness. Getting people to quit smoking, put down the cheeseburger and drop a few pounds is about the only long-term hope for getting overall health-care costs under control. That even means insurers can start charging higher premiums for those who don’t participate in wellness programs.
    • Big picture: Insurance is about spreading risk. Young, healthy people who might skip coverage won’t have that option any more. That widens the pool. In general, Haynes said, those who are healthy will a pay a little more and those who aren’t will pay a little less.
    Page 3 of 3 - Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s business editor. Reach him at jeff.fox@examiner.net or 816-350-6313. Follow on Twitter @FoxEJC.

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