By Steven K. Pontius
Indiana State University
Too often it is not the lack of funding that causes initiatives to stall and fail but the lack of a process to mobilize action. Relational infrastructure helps to sustain momentum on community initiatives by identifying and supporting community champions who take ownership of initiatives to ensure their success. For six west-central Indiana counties, a new alliance is creating the relational infrastructure needed to support its regional champions.
Relational infrastructure, like that being promoted by the West Central Indiana Leadership Alliance, is a neutral forum where regional leaders and stakeholders come together for a common purpose — to increase awareness and understanding that will affective positive change for Clay, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan, Vermillion and Vigo counties. Through improved communications that transcend traditional jurisdictional boundaries, the Leadership Alliance identifies common issues and supports positive action and collaboration, rather than assuming the necessity for conflict.
It is becoming increasingly important that communities, especially rural communities, band together to develop regional strategies to remain competitive in today’s global economy. Rural communities across the United States face a number of challenges that threaten their long range economic prosperity and they often do not have the resources needed to face these challenges alone.
The Rural urban Entrepreneurship Development Institute (RUEDI), an Indiana State University Unbounded Possibilities initiative, first identified the need for the alliance during the spring of 2012. RUEDI invited several regional partners to discuss the possibility of pursuing the Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge, a coordinated initiative to advance regional competitiveness. It was decided that while there was a great need to accelerate job creation and community and economic development in the region, the strong collaboration needed to be competitive for the USDA/EDA grant did not exist within the targeted geographical area of West Central Indiana.
The group decided not to pursue the grant, but participants agreed that a more cohesive regional strategy and greater collaboration would be beneficial for developing future projects and mobilizing resources to initiate projects. Over the course of the next 18 months, representatives from a number of existing organizations met and developed a strategic plan with four core pillars: Economic analysis, education and workforce training, engagement and entrepreneurship.
Often a barrier to networking and formulating a region-wide strategic plan is the distance between the rural communities and the time it takes to attend a regional meeting, especially considering travel time. Therefore, the alliance has created a new “cloud-based” portal, where members can share information among themselves as well as with the general public. This site will include a listing of regional partners, demographic and economic information on the counties and communities, and an entrepreneurial resource guide.
The portal will not replace the quarterly face-to-face meetings of alliance members, but will allow for those communities with limited capacity in staff and man hours to take a more active role in the discussions.
Often, it is the smaller communities who have the greatest need, but the least amount of input during the development process for regional initiatives.
As state and federal agencies put a stronger emphasis on collaboration in their funding programs, informally networked groups such as the West Central Indiana Leadership Alliance are playing increasingly significant roles in attracting the resources necessary, whether financial or political, to bring about action and change. The alliance invites public officials, community, economic and workforce development professionals, K-16 educators and other civic and private industry leaders in west-central Indiana to learn more about the Alliance through the website or by contacting the Rural-Urban Entrepreneurship Development Institute at 812-237-4386.
Steven K. Pontius is professor of geography and project coordinator for the Rural Urban Entrepreneurship Development Institute at Indiana State University.