December 5, 2019 at 5:48 p.m.

It's not us

Jay! Region misses out on Stellar designation as state selects Marshall County area instead
It's not us
It's not us


It’s not us.

It took only a moment after Chuck Huffman answered the phone this morning for those gathered at Community Resource Center to know the news they were about to get.

The Jay! Region was not selected for this year’s Stellar Communities designation.

“As soon as we answered, I knew it wasn’t us,” said Ami Huffman, director of Jay County Community Development. “You could just feel it.”

State officials called area leaders today to inform them of that decision shortly before Marshall County Crossroads was announced as the 2019 Stellar winner.

“I am so proud of Marshall County Crossroads and the work they have done to improve the quality of life for all their residents, and to attract new visitors,” said Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch in a press release. “This designation will further boost their continued development efforts, strengthen their regional partnerships and, ultimately, bring their innovative ideas to life.”

Marshall County Crossroads is made up of Argos, Bourbon, Bremen, Culver, Plymouth and Marshall County.

Other finalists that fell short this year of the designation that would have opened the door to about $38 million in grants and other incentives for local projects were the Constellation of Starke (Hamlet, Knox, North Judson and Starke County) and Safe and Welcome (Knightstown, New Castle and Henry County). Those two and the Jay! Regino will split $1 million from the state to be used toward redevelopment initiatives.

“There’s disappointment of course, because we didn’t win,” said Huffman, president of Jay County Commissioners. “But they were very complimentary of the team and the effort and the leadership and the collaboration that we had and encouraged us to move forward. So that’s something I think we have to take a strong look at here over the next few weeks to determine what the next steps are.

“But as I said on the phone, we will forge ahead as a community because we always have and we always will. It’s a little bit of a, maybe a big bump in the road, but it’s not the end of the road.”

The call at 10:17 a.m. today came from Jodi Golden and Michael Sinnet of the state’s Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA). Together they complimented the Jay! Region — made up of Jay County and its municipalities — for their work through the Stellar process this year and said they feel the community has opportunity for growth. Sinnet specifically noted that the collaboration, capacity and implementation ability are key components that are all in place.

The region will get further feedback during a meeting with state officials in early 2020.

“I will be interested to hear in the breakdown meeting what we are missing or what we can improve on because a lot of the key components are solid,” said Ami Huffman. “And they made sure they commented on that.”

Chuck Huffman suggested taking a step back to recompress but also that the region’s leaders should regroup quickly to determine next steps. The state is expected to release information about the 2020 Stellar program in January.

The expectation is that the region will be an applicant again.

“I don’t know how we can’t,” said Ami Huffman. “We’ve come so far. Everyone has invested so much time.

“I know that the process is hard and long for everyone to go through, but we’ve come so far and learned so much that I can’t see not utilizing this opportunity again.”

To that end, Huffman noted the importance of moving forward with projects in the meantime to continue to show state officials that the region is making progress.

Projects in the local regional development plan included downtown revitalization in the form of facade improvements and streetscape work, senior housing in former elementary schools and other sites in the county, trails in various locations in the county, a new home for the Dunkirk library and glass museum and expansion of the Pennville library, Keeping at Risk Students in School (KARSS) and A Better Life – Brianna’s Hope.

The process of applying for the Stellar designation took the bulk of the year, beginning with the submission of a letter of interest in February. Jay County was announced as a finalist in mid-April and from that point the region’s leadership team worked on its regional development plan and the various other aspects involved. That included public meetings, online surveys and working in smaller groups to hone the list of possible Stellar projects.

Local officials turned the regional development plan in to the state in mid-September. The final piece was a presentation by Jay County Development Corporation executive director Travis Richards, Ami Huffman and Chuck Huffman in front of representatives from state agencies in early November.

The state launched the Stellar program in 2011 with goals of using previous planning efforts to leverage assets, foster investments and stimulate growth in Indiana communities. Earning the designation moves a region to the front of the line for a variety of state grant programs and other project incentives, including $8 million in Community Development Block Grants from OCRA, $4 million from the Rural Federal Aid Program through Indiana Department of Transportation and up to $1.6 million in Rental Housing Tax Credits through Indiana Housing and Community Development.

This year’s effort marked the third time Jay County has been involved deep into the Stellar process.

Portland was one of 12 cities that received site visits in the program’s first year in 2011, but it did not crack the top five as Greencastle and North Vernon ended up as the winners. Dunkirk was one of three finalists for the designation for small communities in 2015 only to come up short as North Liberty was selected.

Other previous designees were Delphi and Princeton in 2012, Bedford and Richmond in 2013, Huntingburg and Wabash in 2014, Crawfordsville in 2015, Corydon and Rushville in 2016, and Madison and Culver in 2017. In 2018 — the first under the regional approach — winners were the Health and Heritage region (Hancock County, Greenfield and Fortville) and New Allen Alliance (Allen County, Woodburn, New Haven, Grabill, Leo-Cedarville and Monroeville).



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