Planning society honors NewAllen Alliance’s ideas
By Garth Snow | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly
The American Planning Association honored the NewAllen Alliance for its unified approach to economic development in seven Allen County communities.
County officials joined community representatives March 22 for the announcement at the New Haven Community Center. Alliance representatives will formally accept the honor at the APA conference May 6-9 in New York.
NewAllen President Ken Castleman, of Monroeville, thanked the elected officials and volunteers who contributed to the initiative that advocates on behalf of Grabill, Harlan, Hoagland, Leo-Cedarville, Monroeville, New Haven and Woodburn.
Kristi Sturtz with Sturtz Public Management Group, Churubusco, engaged with more than 80 elected leaders and volunteers across the county in 2015 and 2016. The process included several community meetings. “We built capacity by providing information to leadership and we established trust,” Sturtz said.
“The initiative then was culminated into a website and there you can search each of the individual plans. You can see the collective priorities that are being offered by the NewAllen Alliance. You can also see a toolbox.”
Visitors to newalliance.net will see photos, background, resources and demographics of each community. For instance, the Harlan page discusses the small-town atmosphere and proximity to Fort Wayne. The Hoagland page discusses the community’s agricultural history and potential for development. Each community’s page lists five targeted projects.
Castleman said those same seven community snapshots are on display at Citizen Square in Fort Wayne.
The “toolbox” holds links to dozens of local, state and national sources of information and grants in areas from agribusiness to farmers markets to tax abatement. Sturtz said those links represent the subjects in which the communities expressed interest.
Castleman said the ongoing strategy focuses on economic growth, quality of place and assurance of continued access to jobs. He called for continuing business and philanthropic investments.
Alliance Vice President Barb Smith of Leo-Cedarville said the group has secured several facade grants for that town, and that the upgrades are particularly evident in the 4-way-stop area of Old Leo. About 10 new owners or landlords of “buildings that were there for a long time” have secured grants of up to $1,000 for new facades or other upgrades, she said. New businesses have sprouted. “Everything in Leo is really looking spruced up right now,” she said.
Smith said Sturtz was hired through a grant of approximately $85,000, which the Alliance secured through the Allen County Capital Improvement Board.
Woodburn Mayor Joe Kelsey attended the announcement. He said he meets regularly with the city’s designated representatives to the Alliance. “The good thing about this is it gives the small communities a voice in Allen County,” he said. “And if we can collaborate and create something nice for all our communities, that’s a good thing.”
Castleman said leaders gave hundreds of hours to the award-winning effort. “The committee was particularly impressed with a refreshing and innovative approach to economic development on a regional scale that stays true to the identities of the individual communities,” he said. He said the Alliance ensured that “the individual gifts of those communities, the individual skills, the individual feel and culture were maintained throughout the process.”
Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters said the NewAllen Alliance “stole a page” from the regional planning strategy demonstrated in Marion County, which he said involves many communities in an overarching philosophy of shared goals. “That strength will help to leverage some of the available dollars around the community to fulfill that mission and dream,” he said. “Thanks, Kristi. We look forward to hearing bigger and better things.”
Read more about Sturtz Public Management Group’s work with regional projects and northeast Indiana individual projects at sturtzpmg.com.
NewAllen Alliance received the APA’s 2017 John Keller Award for Outstanding Planning Initiative in the Small Town and Rural Planning Division. Read more about the APA conference and past winners at planning.org.