Eyes on the future

In 10 years, Seymour will be a community that embraces its “small-town values” and looks forward to the future.

It will be a “vibrant and innovative” community where neighbors, generations and cultures connect.

That is the vision created by Vision 2025, a group of community-minded residents and the next generation of leaders in Seymour.

On Thursday night in the Seymour High School auditorium, those leaders gave a report to the community and asked for the public’s help in making their vision a reality. More than 50 people attended.

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Instead of focusing on quality of life, those involved are putting their efforts and resources in improving quality of place. They are working to enhance the city’s culture and appearance, expand economic opportunity and education, strengthen and sustain community resources and communication, revitalize the downtown and promote health.

Talmadge Reasoner, assistant principal at SHS, is serving on the Vision 2025 committee and said he believes great things are in store for the city and its residents and now is the time to take action and get involved.

“According to the recent studies we’ve done, many people are happy with their quality of life currently in Seymour,” Reasoner said. “We have good jobs, it’s a nice place to raise a family, good schools, etc. However, based on the overwhelming feedback of needs for Seymour, there are plenty of things we can improve and bring to Seymour to make it a more attractive place to live.”

Projects being planned and worked on in 2016 include creating a brand for Seymour and increasing local arts and live music, expanding preschool and day care opportunities in the city, hiring a downtown economic development director, increasing utilization of a digital community calendar and creating free monthly family fun events, exploring the possibility of a community fitness center, raising funds for trails development and reorganizing the city’s farmers market and building a local food system.

According to data gathered through the Hometown Collaboration Initiative, a state-funded program, 51 percent of those employed here commute. That’s more than 9,560 people driving from surrounding counties, including Jennings, Bartholomew, Scott, Clark and even Marion.

“Attracting this demographic to live in Seymour will have a positive impact on the local economy and create opportunities to develop amenities found in larger cities,” Reasoner said.

Tonja Couch, director of Jackson County United Way, is leading Vision 2025 along with Dr. Nate Otte, a local optometrist, and Mayor Craig Luedeman.

Although she would have liked to have seen more people attend Thursday’s event, she was excited to see those who were there engaged and signing up to help.

“We were pleased with the deep, meaningful conversations last night,” she said Friday. “We had great sign-ups for the trails committee and revitalizing downtown. We need all residents to help us make the changes needed to move Seymour forward, not just young professionals, but all people.”

Allison Williams said she attended the meeting because she wants to see Seymour be great.

“I care about Seymour,” she said.

She moved to the community around a decade ago with no intentions to stay, but that has since changed.

“My roots are spreading here, and I want to make Seymour a place I can have my family one day,” she said.

Williams is interested in any efforts that affect children and in improving integration between generations. She has been involved with efforts to strengthen and sustain community resources and communication.

“I’m here because I want to help in any way to push that forward,” she said.

She was impressed by the information provided by Vision 2025 and with the steps leaders are taking to implement the action plan.

“It’s cool to have these conversations because people haven’t been having them together,” she said.

Setting a timeline of 10 years is a realistic and responsible way to put the vision in place, she said.

“I think it says we want to take our time and do it right,” she said.

Reasoner said Vision 2025 won’t be able to address every issue or fix every problem, but it can make a major impact. However, it’s going to take the support and involvement of many volunteers, businesses and industries, organizations and others to make it happen, he said.

“Two questions we’ve heard through this process are ‘How is Vision 2025 different from any other plan for the city?’ and ‘How will we pay for all of this?’” Reasoner said. “We don’t want this plan to have a similar fate of the plans which are collecting dust on a shelf somewhere. The grassroots foundation and action plan are what make Vision 2025 different.”

Much of the work isn’t about money, but about working together, he said.

“Many of these action steps don’t involve money at all, just community engagement,” he said.

But with those projects and initiatives that do require funding, Reasoner said it’s important to ensure that funds are used for projects that residents deem important and necessary.

To enhance culture and appearance, committee chairwoman Liz Worthington said work is being done to create a brand for Seymour to help market the city with a cohesive theme.

Using that theme, the committee wants to increase local arts and live music and would like to attract a small local music festival in 2017, Worthington said.

Lance Gentry, chairman of the expanding economic opportunity and education committee, said his group is focused on increasing early childhood education, postsecondary education and workforce development in Seymour. Action items include expanding prekindergarten opportunities to all children, developing a transportation system to get students to and from preschool and providing daycare services for industrial employees who work second shift.

Revitalizing the downtown is another important focus area that many people are interested in, said Beth Veatch, chairwoman of the revitalizing downtown committee.

“Having a downtown that is a gathering place is extremely important for our future growth,” Veatch said.

The committee is working with partners such as Seymour City Hall, Seymour Main Street and the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce to create a new position whose sole purpose is to help attract quality businesses to the downtown. They also are working to create a building inventory to know what businesses exist, where they are located and who owns them, Veatch said.

Laura Fleetwood said she is interested in getting involved in efforts to improve the downtown and the farmers market.

She and her husband sell antiques and have visited downtowns in other communities, she said.

“They do really well or they’re a ghost town,” she said. “I feel like our downtown is growing, but we’re not where we need to be yet. There are still a lot of vacant buildings.”

Fleetwood, who is from Vallonia, is ready to do her part to make a difference, she said.

“I’m just interested in the community and what can be done to make things better,” she said. “We definitely have to keep doing something.”

The final focus area is promoting health, which Sara Bane, a local teacher, is leading. The group has three strategies it is working on implementing in 2016, including creating a community fitness facility feasibility group, raising funds for trails and increasing the local food system with a complete overhaul of the city’s farmers market.

“Access to a healthy lifestyle is extremely important as we look to attract employees of local business to live here,” Bane said.

Partnering with the HCI team, plans are being developed to revamp the farmers market to provide structure and promotion to increase local vendors and community utilization of the market and host a food summit in Seymour.

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Areas of focus for Vision 2025 in 2016

1. Enhancing culture and appearance; chairwoman Liz Worthington

Planned actions: Create a brand for Seymour and increase local arts and live music.

2. Expanding economic opportunity and education; chairman Lance Gentry

Planned actions: Expand pre-kindergarten to all students, develop transportation to get students to and from preschool and develop a daycare for industrial employees on second shift.

3. Strengthening and sustaining community resources and communication; chairwoman Kelly Royer

Planned actions: Promote and utilize a digital community calendar and organize free monthly family fun events.

4. Revitalizing downtown; chairwoman Beth Veatch

Planned actions: Hire a downtown economic development director and inventory current assets of downtown buildings and businesses.

5. Promoting health; chairwoman Sara Bane

Planned actions: Create a community fitness facility feasibility group, fundraising for trails development and overhaul of the city farmers market.

For information or to sign up to get involved with any of these focus areas and planned actions, call Jackson County United Way at 812-522-5450 or visit Vision 2025 on Facebook or indianaHCI.org/Seymour.