INDIANAPOLIS — The focus of the Stellar Communities Designation Program, which Huntingburg is a part of, will shift some to designate regional collaborations instead of individual communities.
Stellar will now combine communities, creating a region that will emphasize collaboration between neighboring towns, cities and counties, Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and Jodi Golden, executive director of the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, announced Wednesday.
“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” Golden said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference at the Indiana Statehouse. “Each submission should discuss how they believe each community uniquely works together to create one complementary region.”
Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner was at the announcement with other mayors of Stellar Communities as Crouch and Golden explained the reason for the change.
“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.”
Spinner said the change is consistent with Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s goals of promoting regionalism.
“The strength of what Stellar provided for Huntingburg was that it was a great planning vehicle,” he said. “The format still does that. But it will also involve engaging other communities in planning regional projects.”
OCRA runs the Stellar Communities Designation Program as a multi-agency partnership designed to recognize smaller communities that have identified plans for community and economic development projects and what the next steps are through key partnerships. Between 2011 and 2016, the state allocated $89.4 million to designated communities, which were combined with $108.6 million in community partner contributions.
Eligible communities include local units of government that are a county, city or an incorporated town not currently considered a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-recognized entitlement community. Only communities that participate in the state Community Development Block Grant program are eligible.
After the announcement, the mayors gave Crouch, Golden and other state officials feedback on the new plan.
“The goal of this is to promote collaboration and projects that have a regional impact,” Spinner said. “It’s a new approach. But it has the heart of Stellar still. The designation of communities as Stellar rather than just one is the next phase of this.”
Crouch said that although any eligible community can apply, regional mentorship with past Stellar designees, like Huntingburg, and finalists is highly encouraged. Huntingburg earned the designation in 2014.
“If this (regional approach) had been in place when we applied, it would have changed our approach,” Spinner said. “There were projects that we did that were regional in concept, but we didn’t bring in any regional partners to help us with that.”
The city is willing to partner with communities looking to apply for Stellar. “If there is a community near Huntingburg that wants to apply, we would be a good partner for them,” Spinner said, “to help them through the process, like a mentorship.”
But that kind of partnership would have to wait until Huntingburg completes its participation in the program, which will end in 2018.
“This would fit into our plans for moving the city forward after Stellar,” Spinner said. “Any project that would make sense from this regional approach, we would certainly want to consider it.
“But for 2018? No. The plate is a little full right now,” he said.