Step closer to $3 million prize

January 15th, 2016

News Coverage:

January 14, 2016 1:03 AM

Step closer to $3 million prize

Angola-Fremont's initiatives make semifinalist list

Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette

The Angola-Fremont area has 101 nearby lakes, a popular state park, a historic courthouse and a growing university – and now, another reason for people to want to live, visit and do business there.

On Wednesday, the two Steuben County communities were named to the semifinalist list of the America’s Best Communities competition, putting them a step closer to winning a top prize of $3 million in community investment.

“It means a great deal to us in many different ways,” Angola Mayor Richard Hickman said after learning of the communities’ selection. “We would love to win the money prize, and we are going for that, but the recognition from eyes outside your community that it is one of the best communities in America is gratifying.”

The next step in the competition will take a delegation from Angola-Fremont to Durham, North Carolina, in late April to join 14 other semifinalists competing for eight finalist spots. The top three from that group will be awarded $3 million, $2 million and $1 million, respectively.

The competition, sponsored by Frontier Communications, Dish Network, CoBank and The Weather Channel, is designed to spur revitalization of small and rural communities across the United States.

The semifinalists will make a “Shark Tank”-style presentation during an April 26-27 summit conference to a panel of judges, who are looking for the most innovative projects being effectively executed.

For its entry, Angola-Fremont developed a Community Revitalization Plan that focused on several economic and community development projects.

Included were an enterprise center developed with the Steuben County Economic Development Corp.; a proposed innovation center/technology park on land near the U.S. 20 exit of Interstate 69; and a shovel-ready industrial park in Fremont.

Other initiatives include expansion of a walking and bike trail; beautification proposals for three prominent traffic corridors; and an upgrading of the county’s community-owned fiber-optic network.

The latter project is being done in cooperation with Frontier, said David Koenig, county economic development executive director.

“I haven’t gotten feedback from judges as to why our plan was selected, but I would speculate that we have approached the community revitalization effort with a very broad-based approach,” he said.

“What we did is we illustrated we have a number of projects in development in various stages, so we will be able to put every (additional) dollar to good use.”

By making it to the quarterfinals, Koenig said, Angola-Fremont received $65,000, and $10,000 of that was used to draw up a marketing plan for the Fremont industrial park site. If it makes the top eight, it will receive $100,000, he said.

Directly and indirectly, about 500 people and organizations were involved in the work for the competition, Hickman said.

Two other Indiana communities made the semifinalist cut: Valparaiso and Madison. Wabash was eliminated in this round. More than 350 communities nationwide entered after the 2014 launch, with 50 being chosen in April as quarterfinalists.

Angola-Fremont will compete against the two Indiana communities and Lake Havasu City, Arizona; Charleston, West Virginia; Statesboro, Georgia; Valley County/Meadows Valley, Idaho; Chisago Lakes Area, Minnesota; Huntington, West Virginia; Portsmouth, Ohio; DeKalb, Illinois; Fort Dodge, Iowa; Darrington/Arlington, Washington; Tualatin, Oregon; and Wenatchee/East Wenatchee, Washington.

Koenig said just developing the community revitalization plan was beneficial to the region, and Hickman said the semifinalist designation itself will be a boon to the communities, even if they don’t win the big money.

“It’s just exciting to add that to your letterhead,” he said. “We can show in our own advertising that we’re one of the best, and it’s not just us saying it.”