Brad Chambers sells himself as ‘business guy’ to lead Indiana

Brad Chambers, a Republican candidate for governor, speaks with reporters at the Statehouse after filing his candidacy paperwork on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (Credit: Tom Davies)

Brad Chambers, a Republican candidate for governor, speaks at the Statehouse on Feb. 7, 2024. (Credit: Tom Davies)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of profiles of the candidates running for Indiana governor. 

Brad Chambers argues big ideas and actions are needed in the coming years to propel Indiana and its economy forward. 

Chambers has already put $9.6 million of his own money toward that argument as he tries to transform himself from a successful real estate developer who was virtually unknown by the general public into the Republican nominee for governor. 

The first steps for his entry into the governor’s race came during his time as Gov. Eric Holcomb’s state commerce secretary and leading the Indiana Economic Development Corp. — the agency tasked with attracting business growth to the state. 

A big idea from Chambers’ time with the IEDC was the LEAP Lebanon Innovation District, a planned 9,000-acre hub for tech-related industries that has been a target of criticism from the other five Republican candidates in the May primary. 

Chambers remains steadfast in defending the project as a needed asset to compete with other states for major projects and asserts Indiana needs more of that kind of leadership. 

“What I bring to this race is I’m not making decisions — and LEAP is proof — I’m not making decisions on three-year election cycles because I’m not an elected official,” Chambers said during an interview with State Affairs. “I’m making decisions like a business guy — which is, ‘What’s good for Indiana?’ — no matter if I’m around to see it come to fruition or not.” 

Path to business success

Chambers, 59, grew up in Indianapolis as a son of prominent businessman William Chambers, who participated in numerous civic organizations and was the finance chairman for Republican Dan Burton’s 1982 election to the first of his 15 U.S. House terms, according to the elder Chambers’ 1997 Indianapolis Star obituary. 

Brad Chambers traces his business career back to a lawn mowing service he started with some friends while a Lawrence Central High School student. 

He said he was using his share of the profits to pay his Indiana University tuition before one of the friends bought him out a few years later for $5,000. It became the seed money to purchase a repossessed house in Indianapolis as a rental property. 

Brad Chambers talks during a July 2023 interview. (Credit: Kaitlin Lange)

“I like to say it was divine intervention that I didn’t blow it,” Chambers said of the lawn service buyout. 

That first property sparked his interest in the real estate business. 

“I’m like, this is kind of fun, and so I ended up rooting around and by the time I graduated from IU, I had 31 rental units,” he said.

Those rentals were the start of Buckingham Companies, the development business Chambers founded. It now claims a portfolio of $3 billion in a variety of apartment, retail, hotel and business projects with more than 400 employees in nine states.

Buckingham’s prominent Indianapolis work includes the CityWay development, which has apartments, retail sites and the upscale Alexander hotel near Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Chambers said he stepped away from day-to-day company leadership when Holcomb selected him in 2021 as state commerce secretary, a post he held for $1 a year before resigning last August to launch his gubernatorial campaign.

The breadth of Chambers’ business is represented in his candidate financial disclosure statement, which lists ownership of 63 properties in nine states and stakes in 279 real estate or other partnerships. He said he would keep his business interests separate from state actions if he became governor.

“Indiana is obviously important, but we’re a national company, we’re doing business all over the country,” Chambers said. “We understand the rules of the road there and our guys are running the business and they’re doing a great job.”

Road to the governor’s race

Holcomb recruited Chambers to the state commerce secretary job in 2021 after the position had been vacant for about four months. 

Chambers said that about a year later, others began raising the idea of him running for governor in 2024 since Holcomb couldn’t seek reelection because of term limits. 

“I never really gave it too much thought until [2023,] probably second quarter of ’23, and then started thinking about it in earnest,” Chambers said. “I’m not a politician. I’ve never run for [anything]. I didn’t know anything about it. So I had to understand it and then started doing what business guys do, which is evaluate, and it was a tough decision.” 

Republican Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness said he got to know Chambers after he started leading the state’s economic development agency. 

Fadness, who has been mayor of the Indianapolis suburb since 2015, said he quickly became impressed with Chambers’ willingness to talk in depth about big ideas. 

Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness, right, speaks alongside Brad Chambers during a Chambers campaign news conference on March 18, 2024. (Credit; Tom Davies)
Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness, right, speaks alongside Brad Chambers during a Chambers campaign news conference on March 18, 2024. (Credit; Tom Davies)

Those conversations grew to include discussions about whether Chambers should run for governor, although Fadness said he largely explained the hurdles Chambers would face with his campaign. 

“He could be living a very good life, doing a variety of other things,” Fadness told State Affairs. “I think he just felt compelled to run because he wants to move Indiana forward. That kind of leadership and that kind of motivation is a rarity in politics anymore, and I guess that’s what kind of made me gravitate towards him.” 

Many prominent Indiana business leaders have joined in supporting the Chambers campaign. Among those making sizable contributions are Eli Lilly and Co. CEO David Ricks ($100,000), Kittle Property Group CEO Jeffrey Kittle ($100,000), Indiana Pacers owner Herbert Simon ($50,000) and retired Lilly CEO and IEDC board member John Lechleiter ($50,000). 

Chambers has been willing to sink own money — $9.6 million as of mid-April — into the campaign for his message that he’s “a business guy” focused on growing the state’s economy.

“That story resonates, but it’s six and a half million people to communicate with,” Chambers said of Indiana’s voting-age population. “It takes time and it takes resources.”

Critic calls LEAP District planning ‘underhanded’

Indianapolis-based Lilly was the first company making a major commitment to the LEAP District, with a $3.7 billion research and manufacturing campus now under construction. 

Chambers points to the district as a major step toward making Indiana competitive with other states for major projects. He argues that Indiana lost out on perhaps landing a $20 billion Intel microchip plant to the Columbus, Ohio, area because it didn’t have a ready-to-build site available. 

Chambers’ critics argue the LEAP District is an example of “top-down leadership” at the Indiana Economic Development Corp. that disregards the concerns of local residents and officials. 

Project opponent Brian Daggy, a retired Boone County farmer, said Chambers hasn’t tried to engage with those whose homes would be affected by the LEAP District transforming what is now largely farmland into manufacturing and research facilities. 

Daggy and his wife bought a house in the northern part of the district as their retirement spot a few months before finding out in late 2021 about the IEDC buying up land for the project. Daggy has turned down purchase offers and helped organize the Boone County Preservation Group, of which he’s now president. 

Daggy said he understands wanting to see government operate more efficiently and business-like but that the IEDC under Chambers showed a disregard for the residents’ concerns. 

“He has given all indication that he knows what’s best, and that’s what he’s gonna carry forward,” Daggy said. “It causes me concern, a lot of pause, thinking about that he would run the state in that kind of a manner.” 

A proposed 35-mile pipeline to transport water from a Wabash River aquifer near Lafayette to the LEAP District has drawn opposition from the Tippecanoe County area over concerns such as a loss of irrigation for farmers and worries about environmental damage from pumping out potentially tens of millions of gallons of water a day.

Residents in the Lafayette area didn’t know the pumping tests were being carried out for the proposed pipeline last year until they suddenly didn’t have water from their wells or noticed sulfur odors from their water they had never smelled before, said Sandra Alvillar, president of the group Stop the Water Steal

Chambers, Holcomb and Republican legislative leaders have said no work on building the pipeline will go ahead unless an ongoing aquifer study shows adequate supply. 

Alvillar, however, called the IEDC’s planning for the pipeline “underhanded” and said Chambers and the agency have been focused on a public relations response rather than listening to local concerns. 

“If they have not been transparent up to this point, once they’re safe in their little office, it’s not going to get better,” Alvillar said. 

Chambers has kept his focus on the economy

Chambers has focused his bid for governor on economic issues and running a decidedly non-Trump-like campaign. He has largely avoided hot-button culture issues, pointing in his TV ads and public remarks to former Gov. Mitch Daniels, who had a similar emphasis while in office, as a leader he would emulate. 

Republican gubernatorial candidate Brad Chambers (right) with his campaign team of Marty Obst, Matt Huckleby and Kurt Thomas. (HPI Photo by Brian A. Howey)
Brad Chambers, right, with campaign staff members Marty Obst, Matt Huckleby and Luke Thomas. (Credit: Brian A. Howey)

Chambers has touted his “Play to Win” plan as aiming to boost business growth in the state through steps such as more infrastructure investment and increased support for small businesses and entrepreneurs. 

“The one thing that I know touches every Hoosier, not some Hooiers, is financial security and opportunity,” Chambers said. “Fundamental to quality of life is good education and public safety, and you can’t fix those or invest in those without a growing economy. I believe when people have financial security, their health is better, their kids are better, their housing is better and overall quality of life is better. So I’m just focused on the one topic where I have had some experience.” 

Chambers remains an underdog in the governor’s race, as a State Affairs/Howey Politics Indiana poll in early April found U.S. Sen. Mike Braun with support from 44% of likely Republican primary voters. 

Chambers, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and Eric Doden each received about 10% support — and roughly 6 in 10 respondents were unfamiliar with Chambers despite the millions of dollars he’s spent statewide on TV ads. 

Fadness, the Fishers mayor, said he believed Chambers would bring a needed sense of urgency and decisiveness to the governor’s office and hoped Chambers’ focus on the state’s economy would still catch on with voters.

“Those may not be the talking points that garner the most attention from people or get the headlines, but those are the things that are going to decide the trajectory of our state for many years to come,” Fadness said. “I think they’re vitally important. But I also am, I guess, a realist in that I understand that those aren’t always what folks spend their time and attention on in a political race.”

about Chambers
  • Age: 59
  • Hometown: Indianapolis
  • Education: Bachelor’s degree in finance from Indiana University
  • Family: Married to Carol with an adult son, Nick
  • Job: CEO of real estate development firm Buckingham Companies since founding it as a college student in 1984
  • Work history: Indiana secretary of commerce under Gov. Eric Holcomb, 2021-23; previously chairman of the Indiana State Fair Commission

Tom Davies is a Statehouse reporter for State Affairs Pro Indiana. Reach him at [email protected] or on X at @TomDaviesIND.

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