By Joseph Slacian
The Stellar Community Development Program is taking a regional approach under changes announced in late January by Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and officials from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
The revamped program will emphasize collaboration between neighboring towns, cities and counties.
“We are all a part of this great state, and through the regional Stellar Community program, we must continue to improve our neighborhoods and encourage a partnership between communities,” Crouch said. “Through OCRA’s Stellar Program, we are supporting initiatives to attract, retain and develop talent in and around Indiana, and to do this our communities must work together.”
OCRA Executive Director Jodi Golden noted that Stellar communities will no longer be applying as individual communities.
“We are now looking for applicants to be collaborating with their neighbors on creating a regional development plan,” she said. “Each submission should discuss how they believe each community uniquely works together to create one complementary region.”
Between 2011-16, the state allocated $89.4 million to designated communities, which were combined with $108.6 million community partner contributions. The City of Wabash was designated a Stellar Community in 2014, and is its fourth and final year of working on projects provided through the program.
Mayor Scott Long sees the changes as a plus for communities around the state.
“I think the revamped program is going to afford more communities the opportunity to participate and be successful,” he told The Paper of Wabash County. “By partnering with another city, town, or county, projects will get completed that one of these government agencies didn’t apply because they didn’t have a vast number of things they want to do. If they have two or three projects they want to see done, or have been dreaming of completing, this will give them the opportunity to get some financial help from the State Agencies involved in Stellar to complete those projects.
“I think Wabash was unique in their approach to Stellar as far as getting a wide array of people involved in the planning stages of Stellar and those people have stayed engaged in the process. Not every community has the “buy in” that members of our community do when taking on something like this.
“We continue to be successful at many things because we have that “buy in” as evidenced by our success with the IHCDA Patronicity program which has helped fund the Riverfront Plaza, the Rainforest Playground at the YMCA, and hopefully our All Inclusive Playground campaign currently underway will see the same success. I know of no other community in the State of Indiana who has applied to Patronicity more than once.”
Under the new guidelines, the City of Wabash could again apply to be a Stellar Community, Long noted.
“The new Stellar Program also does not preclude Wabash from applying to Stellar once again, it only limits Wabash to 35 percent of the available funding unless the “region” applying agrees to a bigger amount,” the mayor said. “I personally see Wabash as more of a mentor to other applying communities in the area at this time, until we complete the current Stellar Designation. If the opportunity would present itself for us to partner with someone in the future, I would not be opposed.”
Crouch, in a news release, said that regional mentorship with past Stellar Designees and Finalists is highly encouraged.
In addition to mentoring other communities, Long said he is in touch with officials from communities that received the Stellar designation before and after Wabash.
“We all discuss obstacles that we have encountered and best practices to overcome those obstacles,” he said. “It is a great benefit to be able to reach out to other mayors or Stellar committee members to talk about the Stellar process. While there are always bumps in the road when dealing with projects of this scope, they are rewarding upon completing the projects. You can sometimes get frustrated with your partner agencies, but I have found them to be very accommodating if I take the time to reach out and discuss some of my frustrations!”
Golden, in the news release, noted that additionally, participation from Ball State University and Purdue University will complement the new regional perspective.
Long believes that is another plus for the revamped program.
“Having Ball State University involved in the application process to assist communities is big, and having Purdue University Center for Regional Development involved post designation is also a benefit to the applying communities,” he said. “These two institutions can lend expertise that we didn’t necessarily have at our disposal. This will definitely help out.”