Forum focuses on city’s future

More than 80 community leaders, business professionals and private individuals came together Thursday night to plan for Seymour’s future.

The Hometown Collaboration Initiative community forum at Redding Elementary School focused on how to improve the quality of life, enhance the local economy and expand leadership in Seymour.

Those attending were divided into groups to review data collected from the more than 770 HCI surveys recently completed by members of the community and to discuss ways to make positive changes in the city.

Some ideas included creating a community development director position, forming a retail development corporation, offering more incentives to keep local college graduates here and offering more opportunities for local entrepreneurs and small-business owners.

On Monday, HCI committee members will meet to analyze responses from the forum and choose one of the building block areas on which to focus their efforts.

The next step will be to develop and implement a “capstone” project this year that will make a visible, tangible, long-lasting improvement in the community, said Tonja Couch, director of Jackson County United Way. She is serving as the local HCI committee leader.

The state’s Hometown Collaboration Initiative is designed to help small communities plan and implement strategies for improvement. Seymour was one of six Hoosier communities selected in January to participate in the pilot program, which is sponsored by the state Office of Community and Rural Affairs, Purdue University and Ball State University.

HCI is well on its way to making the city a better place to live, work and play, Couch said.

Drew Storey said he attended the forum with his wife, Kari, to help make the community what they want it to be for their generation and their children.

“What motivates me today is the thought of what our community could be tomorrow,” Drew Storey said.

He said the key to the city’s success is collaboration between public and private entities.

“The forum provided the ability for those two sides to align expectations and begin fostering partnerships,” he said.

He plans to not only continue helping leaders define goals and strategies for improvement but also be a part of implementing those ideas, he said.

Sara Bane of Seymour said she attended the forum because of her involvement with another local group, Vision 2025, which is made up of young professionals looking to make a difference in the community in the next decade.

Vision 2025 is focusing on enhancing the culture and appearance of Seymour, expanding education and economic opportunity, revitalizing the downtown, strengthening and sustaining community resources and communication and promoting health.

“The two initiatives go hand-in-hand,” she said. “It was really exciting to see such a large number of people who have an interest in our community.”

Bane is the chairwoman for Vision 2025’s health committee and said she would like to see that be one of the issues HCI addresses, too.

“I would certainly like to see the quality of life focus area brought to the forefront,” she said.

Like the Storeys, she plans to stay involved with the initiative.

“I’m excited to see what happens with the capstone project,” she said.

Monica Combs said she and her husband are lifelong residents of Seymour.

“I would like for them to be proud to call Seymour home,” she said of her three children.

She said she was glad to see people in the community take part in the forum, which shows they care.

“They want improvements and are willing to put in the work for results,” she said. “It seemed like the majority of people that attended all have the same vision, but no one really knew how to make it a reality.”

The job is overwhelming for just a few people to tackle, Combs said, but with all of the interest in HCI, she feels Seymour is on the way to becoming a truly great community.

“The turnout Thursday night proved to me that people are invested in this and eager for the next steps of this initiative,” she said.

Of all the issues discussed, Combs said, she thought the most important one was increasing economic opportunities and education in the community.

“Without opportunity in the community, young adults will continue to look outside of Seymour to start their lives, and we will not attract people from outside of the community because we have nothing to offer,” she said. “Without education, skilled trades and traditional schools, we will not have a strong workforce to attract new industries.”

She thought one of the best ideas of the night was creating a director of community development and communication, who would be the main point of contact representing the city during and after HCI.

“It would be a position that focuses on continuous improvement in the community,” she said.

Although she’s not signing up for the job herself, Combs said, she does plan to stay involved and work on the HCI capstone project whatever it may be.

“I am excited to see the ideas from last night come together and find out what the next steps for Seymour will be,” she said.

Katrina Ketcham-Hardwick said she has seen a lot of positive activity in the community lately but wants to see even more. That is why she attended Thursday’s forum, she said.

“We have so much more potential to grow, expand and thrive in Seymour,” she said. “I hear people expressing to each other the things they wish would happen here, but they maybe don’t feel like they have a platform to express themselves.”

HCI is that platform, she added.

“I want people to feel pride when they say where they are from,” she said. “I want young people and adults to appreciate their city and what it has to offer and to feel like it’s living up to its potential.”

One of the most important building blocks to a successful community is bridging the cultural and diversity gaps that exist, Ketcham-Hardwick said.

“I think if we can build unity through Seymour and have people see we are an inviting and accepting community, then that will carry over to positive advances in our economy, educational development and overall growth,” she said.

She also said she thinks the city needs a more effective way to inform the public of what is going on because not everyone receives that information the same way.

“It seems people often feel uninformed about local events and opportunities, and I think attempting to figure out how to change this would be quite beneficial,” she said.

Ketcham-Hardwick said people have to stop blaming others for what isn’t happening and get involved.

“As a member of the community, I feel it’s my responsibility to be the change I want to see,” she said.

At a glance

To get involved with the Seymour Hometown Collaboration Initiative or Vision 2025, call United Way at 812-522-5450 or visit indianaHCI.org/Seymour.

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