Education: Bachelor’s degree in public administration, Miami University, Miami, Ohio; master’s degree in public administration, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
Resume: CEO, Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, Davenport, Iowa; CEO, Southwest Indiana Chamber of Commerce; CEO, Evansville Regional Economic Partnership (2021-present)
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
“I’ve actually paid attention to this chamber for quite a few years,” Tara Barney told Evansville Business in 2018 shortly after being hired to helm the Southwest Indiana Chamber of Commerce. “When the Southwest Indiana Chamber won the Chamber of the Year award a few years ago, I was right there cheering for them.”
Barney has used her five years in the Tri-State to foster a collaborative spirit that reaches across county and state lines. The biggest impact has been the 2021 merger of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana, Growth Alliance for Greater Evansville, and Southwest Indiana Chamber into one entity: the Evansville Regional Economic Partnership. (The Evansville Regional Sports Commission also falls under E-REP’s umbrella.)
“This region will do itself a great favor as it has more recognition of our assets and confidence in our future,” says Barney, who will retire at the beginning of 2024 and plans to move into business consulting. “We are seeing that we can be a special place, and the
more that we do, the better it’s going to be for all of us.”
Economic Development and Growth Lines came together to form E-REP. Why was this necessary, and how would you say that it’s worked to date?
“Necessary” is a good descriptor. COVID was in many ways a catalyst for a good idea that we’ve spent the last 30 years having. We figured out how much more effective we could be if we unified a few organizations and were helpful to our businesses and stakeholders.
The most natural form of an economy is where people come and go to get to work, make money, and to go home and live. And it never lines up with state lines or city lines. All through the Midwest, there are these conversations about urban versus rural, and I think that’s a wrong way to think about it. Urban and rural have to be connected. We are, I hope, demonstrating good thinking in how we really are committed to making sure our whole region thrives. The rest of the region only thrives because it’s got a great center point. Everyone could tell you, and I would be the first to say, there are still lots of opportunities to do better, but I think we’re on a really good path.
What has pleasantly surprised you in your time here?
I have found this community far more generally positive, far more interested in engaging and knowing people before they get down to business. I think it feels more genteel but still very interested in moving things along quickly and very pragmatic. There are not nearly as many sharp elbows as places I’d worked before.
Name something you’d like to see improved.
If there’s one thing I would love to have a bigger dose of, it’s blending our many newcomers into setting the vision for the region. The speed of change is getting faster, and I think we are punching above our weight and welcoming it. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is slow down and say, “Someone else sitting on an inland waterway like we are has probably asked the same question. Let’s see what else is out there.”
What project are you particularly proud of you?
The thing I am most proud of that E-REP has had a big hand in is launching this riverfront strategy. That’s been an unrealized asset of our region for a long time. We’ve always used it for commerce, but we’ve never figured out the intersection between commerce opportunities and its power and quality of place. I’m hugely thrilled with what the opportunity of looking at our whole river corridor, not just a few blocks, has for us.