Seymour rolls out Brookings study plan


Developing new neighborhoods. Preparing workers for new and better jobs. Creating an immigrant welcome and resource center. Building an indoor recreation center.

Those and other projects large and small make up the Burkart Opportunity Zone agenda, unveiled this week as the Seymour Brookings Institution-LISC Study team wrapped up more than 10 months of convening, planning and mapping out community needs.

The Inclusive Economic Development Agenda for Seymour offers a road map aimed at turning many of those plans into a reality over the next three years.

Seymour joined Warsaw and Michigan City at the invitation of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. in working with Brookings and the Local Initiatives Support Corp. to develop place-based strategies to span gaps in health, wealth and opportunity.

The Seymour team, comprised of a broad range of people across the community, developed a game plan for improvements in what is called the Burkart Opportunity Zone, an area running along Burkart Boulevard and encompassing the Eastside Industrial Park on the northeast side to Freeman Municipal Airport to the southwest and spaces in between.

Proposals include training the local workforce and adding workforce housing; connecting people to work and play; improving affordable housing options and expanding housing options for a growing population; and creating new places and spaces for recreation and socializing.

Among those projects is a proposed welcome and resource center for new arrivals to the community and a proposal to improve multi-lingual communications. They help tackle a primary aim of the study to better connect Seymour’s growing immigrant population — from Mexico, Central America and elsewhere — to the overall community, thereby moving the entire community forward economically.

The city’s population grew from 17,503 in the 2010 census to 21,569 in the 2020 census, due largely to an increase in the Latino/Hispanic population.

“We think these community-based efforts offer wonderful opportunities to bring our growing immigrant community closer to our community overall,” said Ashley Caceres, executive director of Su Casa.

Caceres is teaming with Jackson County United Way Executive Director Maci Baurle to lead efforts on developing a resource center, reducing language barriers and creating a new community space in the Opportunity Zone.

Representatives of the city of Seymour, Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. and the Community Foundation of Jackson County served as the core team working with Brookings, LISC and its consultants, Anderson+Bohlander LLC, bringing more than 20 other community members together over five months of meeting, talking and planning.

The work also included gathering several focus groups, such as employees of Pet Supplies Plus and Aisin USA, the Mayor’s Youth Council and JAG students, a pastors’ roundtable, Jackson County Young Professionals, 4-H Juntos members and their families and Margaret R. Brown School Elementary School leaders.

“Bringing in those community members, especially through those focus groups, was important to ensuring that we heard from a broad range of people,” said Jackie Hill, director of the JCIDC Workforce Partnership program. “We wanted to make sure that their voices were heard and reflected.”

Mayor Matt Nicholson is excited for the city to have been included in the process and looks forward to the work that lies ahead.

“Being selected by the state of Indiana for this project has presented us a tremendous opportunity to not only bring many residents to the table to discuss the future of Seymour but also to put plans together to work toward making these changes a reality,” he said.

Forward momentum

Moving from planning to starting and completing projects is important, JCIDC Executive Director Jim Plump said.

“No one wants to be handed another report to toss onto the shelf behind them,” Plump said. “This agenda will be put into play over the next several years, and we hope this will be a springboard for projects when we work on the state’s READI 2.0 project next year.”

Helping ensure that work happens, individuals and entities are stepping up to serve as cheerleaders and project pushers, heading up efforts to keep the momentum moving toward completing the proposed projects, finding funding and checking off the projects as completed.

The core team will continue to meet quarterly and receive updates from project leaders, helping monitor progress and keeping the momentum moving forward.

“Now is a great time for those already involved — and those who have yet to be involved but want to be — to step up, engage in the work and help improve our overall community,” Community Foundation President and CEO Dan Davis said, adding that while the Brookings-LISC Study narrowed the focus to one primary area of Seymour, the core leadership team and others involved in the process are confident the work so far and the project work to come will help improve all of Seymour and really all of Jackson County.

The overall plans for Seymour, Warsaw and Michigan City are based on the principles of what Brookings and LISC call Community-Centered Economic Inclusion, which builds community wealth within underinvested places by directly engaging with residents; breaking down barriers related to race, income and geography; and connecting to broader economic growth in the region.

The inclusion work has been successfully piloted and expanded in 12 large cities over the past few years — showing progress where some other community investment programs have fallen short. It is now being adapted to small cities, offering a model for data-informed local planning and mobilization that connects places like Michigan City, Seymour and Warsaw and promotes growth within their own counties and neighboring counties.

“It is clear from both data and experience that equity-focused community investment plans can produce sustainable gains that have a positive ripple effect beyond any one project or neighborhood,” said William Taft, senior vice president of economic development with LISC and an Indiana native. “For these three cities, these goals are achievable. They have committed local champions behind them, and they offer great opportunities for investors to empower real community-driven transformation.”

About the study

The project involving Seymour, Warsaw and Michigan City was aimed at exploring how the state can better help smaller communities grow and be more inclusive in economic development.

Oftentimes, small cities don’t have access to the kind of community development infrastructure that large municipalities do when working to build economic opportunity and align with regional economies, according to the Indiana Economic Development Corp., which is supporting the three-city effort.

That makes it more difficult to attract the capital and expertise needed to fuel revitalization and growth, and it impacts the well-being of tens of thousands of Indiana families. These three plans directly address those challenges in ways that will have a lasting impact.

Each community tailored its strategy to its local assets, needs and opportunities.

Together, their plans shared many common goals — such as expanding career pathways to high-quality jobs, building and preserving affordable housing and transforming distressed or underutilized land into vibrant commercial facilities and public space for arts and recreation.

“The well-being of our cities and our nation depends on creating equitable landscapes of opportunity where more people, small businesses and places can thrive,” said Hanna Love, a senior research associate at Brookings. “CCEI provides local leaders with the tools to lay the groundwork for a strong and healthy future and to do so in a way that is accountable to communities that have for too long been denied the chance to thrive.”

Agenda action tasks

Enhance career pathways and build small businesses: Train existing workers for advancement and encourage small business growth through entrepreneur support.

Welcome new immigrants: Develop an immigrant welcome or resource center, strengthen multi-lingual communications and create a community space on the south side.

Connect people to work and play: Fill in the gaps and expand the city’s trail system and create a new master plan for parks.

Improve affordable living options: Improve residential and apartment conditions and develop new, affordable trail-side communities.

Expand housing options for a growing population: Create what is tentatively called Freeman Village, a new neighborhood, and support first-time homebuyers.

Create new places for recreation and socializing: Build a new indoor recreation facility and cultivate third-places through creative place making.

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