Several Local Officials Attend Starke County Economic Development Foundation’s Community Retreat

A variety of local representatives gathered Tuesday morning to learn more about development opportunities during the Starke County Economic Development Foundation’s Community Retreat.

Those in attendance included members of the Starke County Chamber of Commerce as well as local officials from the communities of Bass Lake, Hamlet, Knox and North Judson.

The event ran from 7:30 a.m. until noon and was held at the SCEDF office in Knox.

Executive Director Larry Wickert came up with the idea for this workshop after attending an Economic Development Course at Ball State back in January. Community Dynamics President Bob Schaefer was the event moderator.

Speakers included KIRPC Director Edwin Buswell, OCRA’s Northwest Indiana Community Liaison Gerry White, Brian Sheehan, the Director of Special Projects and Community Development in Rushville, Indiana and Geoff Schomacker, an Economic Development Finance Professional from Ball State University.

Buswell and White provided some information about various programs and grants that are available to assist with community development efforts. Sheehan, on the other hand, came to provide some real-world examples of how the city of Rushville, which earned Stellar Community Designation status back in 2016, utilized available resources to significantly improve the state of their community.

Opportunities that were covered included the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority’s Crowd Granting Program, financial assistance available through the Indiana Bond Bank and the U.S Economic Development Association’s Public Works Program which helps distressed communities revitalize, expand and upgrade their physical infrastructure.

Schomacker provided the final presentation and focused on quality of place and shifting trends. He highlighted the fact that bringing in jobs is not the sole solution to cities and towns who are facing population decline and stagnant development.

Schomacker mentioned that just because people may work in a community, that doesn’t necessarily mean they live there or spend their time and money there. He said the major focus needs to shift from drawing industry to capitalizing on and improving the existing amenities in order to help transform communities into places where people will want to stay.

After some of the presentations, the different groups separated into break-off sessions to discuss the presentations amongst themselves in order to brainstorm ways to apply the concepts in their own communities.

Before breaking for lunch, Starke County Economic Development Foundation Executive Director thanked everyone for coming out and suggested that quarterly meetings that incorporate multiple communities could be held in the future to keep these collective conversations going.

He also reminded everyone in attendance that the Stellar Communities Designation Program now has more of a regional focus and it would be helpful to coordinate with neighboring officials about potentially forming a plan to apply for the designation.