Starke County Wants to be Designated a Regional Stellar Community and Officials Are Taking Steps to Get There

What will it take for Starke County to be designated a Regional Stellar Community?

That is the question that was answered Thursday night when various county, city and town officials met at the Starke County Economic Development Foundation Office to find out what steps they can start taking in order to submit a competitive application in the future.

Starke County officials, leaders from Knox and North Judson and a few other community members interested in contributing to the efforts attended the meeting.

SCEDF Executive Director Larry Wickert began by reminding individuals about the recent shift to a more regional focus for the Stellar program. While it’s already too late to apply for this year’s program, Wickert said it is vital that community members start collaborating early on if this is something they are interested in doing down the line.

OCRA’s Northwest Indiana Community Liaison Gerry White was there to inform the officials about what it takes to be considered for the program. He stressed the fact that the involved partners would need to have a comprehensive plan. The plan would list existing amenities and describe an idea of where the individual municipality would like to be about 20 years as well as the potential projects that could help achieve those goals.

Once all the comprehensive plans are finalized, White said the next step would be creating a letter of intent that would eventually be submitted to Stellar officials for consideration.

He mentioned that it is important for community members to start considering what resources exist locally that would be helpful during the planning stages. He stated that the SCEDF has access to a lot of useful data. He added that officials may want to check into the services that could be offered through the Purdue Extension Office and Ball State University. White stated that once community resources are exhausted, it would behoove the officials to hire a professional consultant to provide additional assistance.

Additionally, Dave Weinberg was in attendance and spoke about a recently formed non-profit organization called the Merit Foundation. He explained that the focus of Merit is to help improve Starke County’s health rankings. Currently, the county stands at 79th place and he hopes to propel them to the number one spot within the next 8 years by working on the individual categories that are measured.

White explained that would be an excellent thing to include as a focus in the potential letter of intent, as it would provide an attainable goal the whole community can work toward. He mentioned that adding a health component would significantly increase the chances of Starke County’s collective community partnership being selected as a Stellar finalist.

Wickert asked White what the next steps officials should take after coming away with all the information that was shared.

White said there needs to be at least three partners involved in order to be considered for the regional program. Since County Commissioners Kathy Norem and Donnie Binkley said the County is definitely on board and Knox Mayor Dennis Estok indicated that the city is also interested, they will need to establish at least one more partner to be eligible.

White added that now, each individual entity will need to start discussing their own comprehensive plans. He also said it’s important to continue collaborating with other parties involved to keep the Stellar conversation going while preliminary steps are being taken.

White told everyone how helpful this process can be to a community since it allows officials to map out plans for the future. He added that even if a Stellar Designation is not received, OCRA and other involved organizations do their best to show possible avenues and provide additional resources so the established goals can still be reached.

More information from Thursday’s meeting will be shared in this week’s Kankakee Valley Viewpoints program this Sunday at noon on K99.3 WKVI.