Overall Program Value
Respondents in state agencies and ISCP- designated communities identified the following three areas as overall values of the program:
Encourages Planning and Prioritization and a Broader Vision. Participants noted the program's ability to encourage and reinforce planning and prioritization of community vision and project implementation. One key feature of the Indiana Stellar Community Program, which enhanced the program, was the required Strategic Community Investment Plans. Many of the community partners noted that the practice of completing this plan helped them to clearly plan and concisely prioritize their existing and projected community improvement projects.
Community partners stated that, in addition to program planning and prioritization, the Stellar process added value by encouraging participants to “think bigger and dream bigger” visions for what they would like to accomplish in their community revitalization efforts. For example, once awarded and designated as a “Stellar Community,” community partners indicated an initial hesitancy to request large sums of funding for projects. They were unsure of the scope and limitations of what Stellar could and would support. Overall, participants were familiar with receiving funding for community and economic development and transportation enhancements in an incremental, piecemeal fashion, but had not been accustomed to obtaining large amounts of funding in a comprehensive manner. Therefore, some participants were unsure of how much to move forward in requesting funding as well as the extent of that request (e.g., how much to request). The program added value by forcing the communities to think more broadly regarding their potential. Respondents indicated that the state partners in the process continuously encouraged the communities to dream bigger and think bigger. State representatives often instructed community partners to think broadly about their community and projects they sought to implement and not to think narrowly. Community participants noted that they were continuously encouraged not to think about small piecemeal projects but to consider more extensive, wide-ranging projects about the future of their communities. As a result, there were some communities thinking more broadly than they had in the past.
“Well, the way that I look at it is this is a significant, once in a lifetime way to make a difference in a community that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do with our own resources or it would take us quite a long time to do these sorts
of things. So from my perspective, it’s a once in a lifetime infusion of capital to undertake some community development activities that we would be lucky to ever see in my lifetime.”
Catalyst for Change and Growth. Bringing the number of resources to bear in a singular community in a short period of time to stimulate economic growth. Current data analysis indicates that in its short time span, Stellar has sparked local and regional investments for the designated communities and their surrounding regions. For instance, in Princeton, Toyota has provided over $1 million in funding towards Stellar-initiated projects, and OnSite OHS has invested approximately half a million. These investments, coupled with other investments from local and regional stakeholders, such as the Gibson County Chamber of Commerce, Gibson County Visitor and Tourism Bureau, Old National Bank, Vectren
Corporation, and Duke Energy, have helped to make improvements in downtown revitalization (including the redevelopment of the theater) and housing improvements. Additionally, Greencastle Stellar investment data indicates a significant increase in public and private investment before and during Stellar
Other evidence of local and regional impacts is a heightened level of recognition from Stellar. Respondents have noted an increase in awareness and interest about their cities as a result of Stellar designation. For example, respondents in all four cities stated an increase in interest from potential business owners, visitors, and other surrounding cities and towns. Respondents indicated that as a result of Stellar, “people are talking more about what will work and attract people” and that because of Stellar they are receiving more attention from larger cities throughout the state.
“The overall value is it’s a catalyst for the growth of the community....What the Stellar grant allowed us to do was to make that big jump and ramp up that aesthetic quality. So now we’ll have a base there that will be appealing for people to invest in our housing market and our commercial real estate .....”
Creates a Sense of Self-worth. The respondents noted that ISCP created a feeling of self-worth and increased community pride. Due to the decline in communities, businesses and residents began to become disenchanted with their cities. Respondents noted that the Stellar program has created a renewed sense of pride, hope, and commitment in communities by its “see-touch-feel” factor.
"It’s a feeling of self-worth. There’s a lot of action going on. We don’t even have a government center in the city. We don’t have a Fortune 500 company here. So it brought a lot of self-worth. Even if they were for or against it, you could tell they had a lot of pride in the community. Things were happening and they knew we had to be a big hitter if we were part of the program."
Accelerated Project Completion & Promotion of Broader Impacts. Respondents noted that the Stellar program has allowed the state agencies, along with the community partners, to complete projects in shorter timeframes, resulting in broader community and regional impacts.
Changed Perceptions of State Agencies. Respondents noted that the process has helped to either enforce or positively change community perceptions of them. Initially, community partners stated that their overall perception of OCRA was positive before and after Stellar. In comparison, respondents indicated no perception of IHCDA before their involvement with the ISCP. This was largely due to lack of experience working with IHCDA prior to Stellar. However, they stated an overall positive perception of IHCDA as a result of ISCP.
In contrast, the respondents indicated a negative perception of INDOT prior to ISCP, yet perceptions changed as a result of the working relationship established with INDOT through ISCP. The change in overall agency perceptions was attributed to the increase in communication and an understanding that representatives in each of these agencies wanted the “best for the community.” Moreover, there was increased awareness amongst respondents that negatively perceived bureaucratic limitations were mainly beyond state agency control, and were mainly consequences due to federal regulations.
Nurturing Partnerships. Respondents stated that the process has helped them recognize each other’s strengths and has improved partnerships and relationships amongst the three state agencies. It also has fortified the relationships between state agencies and partner communities, as well as other state institutions. For instance, in Greencastle the partnerships helped to solidify a relationship between the city and DePauw University by opening lines of communication.
Increased Social Capital and Other Forms of Community Capital. The respondents stated that ISCP increased social capital (both vertical or linking social capital and horizontal or bridging social capital), which afforded the partner communities the opportunities to build and draw on outside investments.
Increased Organizational Capacity of State Agencies. Respondents indicated an increase in organizational capacity as a result of the collaborative relationship between the three state agencies. The ability to extend their capacity has afforded the agencies the ability to help more communities by pulling their financial and human capital together.