City chosen for quality-of-life initiative

Seymour has been selected by the state to participate in a new program created to help small Hoosier communities grow and improve.

Mayor Craig Luedeman said he is excited to see what will come from the Hometown Collaboration Initiative and how it will change the city.

The program targets communities with populations of 25,000 or less and provides the resources, tools, guidance and education to help them succeed.

Financially, the city will receive a $5,000 grant to help it partner with Ball State University and Purdue University in coming up with and implementing ways to make Seymour a better place to live and work.

“They will come in and coach us on some things that we could be doing to get more people to come into our community and giving them something to do,” Luedeman said.

The HCI program allows participants to choose one of three areas to focus its efforts on — leadership, economy or place making.

Luedeman said Seymour needs the most help with improving its downtown, and that is where the initiative can help.

“This is a steppingstone, and we hope it gives us ideas that we can use to go after other grants and get other people to invest in our community,” he said.

To be part of the effort, Seymour had to show a need and willingness from different groups to work together to address its issues.

Spearheading the program locally is Tonja Couch, director of Jackson County United Way, and Dr. Nate Otte, a local optometrist.

Couch said that, although United Way supports efforts to improve the community, it is not connected to the state program.

“This is going to give us greatly needed support at creating and looking at data and in listening to the community,” Couch said of the new program.

Eventually, there will be a communitywide forum that will give leaders an idea of what needs to be done. Areas of interest include arts and culture, historic preservation, creating a local food system and looking at the downtown.

“We want to make sure we are heading in the right direction and addressing some needs,” she said.

An increase in young professionals getting involved in the community is helping to build a stronger community, too, she added.

One agency supporting the initiative is the Community Foundation of Jackson County.

Dan Davis, foundation director, said there is a lot of activity going on in Seymour right now, and being selected for the program is another positive step forward. He hopes to see the state program have real results that benefit the community.

“One of the questions that local stakeholders and folks from the state all asked is what’s going to make this initiative different from others in the past that quite honestly seem to have resulted in a shelf full of reports and little else,” Davis said.

The answer is the existing and ongoing efforts already in place and the support of a broad-based group of stakeholders, he added.

“The Hometown Collaboration Initiative has the potential to move the community forward as a place that will attract businesses, community projects and people,” he said.

Other communities chosen for the first year of the program are Corydon, Lebanon, Perry County, Pulaski County and Rush County/Rushville.

Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann announced the finalists Tuesday.

“As Indiana’s secretary of agriculture and rural development, I am a strong proponent of growing rural Indiana,” she said. “That means ensuring our communities provide quality of place where residents and talented people choose to live, work and raise a family. I am confident the HCI program will assist these communities in further developing opportunities for growth and prosperity.”

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.