WINCHESTER - Leaders from five counties in the eastern part of the state are mounting a push to earn a 2018 Stellar Communities Program designation. The Eastern Indiana proposal, one of six finalist groups vying to win the now regionally-focused competition, includes project plans and partners from Fayette, Randolph, Rush, Wayne and Union counties. Randolph County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Greg Beumer, who also represents the 33rd District in the Indiana House of Representatives, says engaging in the Stellar process has opened the door for collaboration in the region.

Beumer and other leaders and officials from throughout the five counties engaged communities Tuesday during a regional bus tour.

The scope of the Eastern Indiana proposal, Beumer told Inside INdiana Business, stands out from the others. "Our region of five counties is the only true region that is applying for the regional Stellar grant. There are multiple communities within one county that have applied," he said, "so it really will be up to the Stellar Committee what they're looking for." Beumer hopes the inclusion of such a broad geographical area will "strike a chord" with those leading the selection process.

Some projects being proposed for the region include the East Greenville Pike road project in Winchester, Backstay Lofts apartments and training center in Union City, Morgan Street Corridor Trail and Urban Loop Trail projects in Rushville, Owner-Occupied Housing Renovations in Union County and the 40-unit Townsend Townhomes project in Richmond.

Eastern Indiana Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Jeff Plasterer says "while OCRA's Regional Stellar Program is, in theory, a competition, we in Eastern Indiana view it as another way to assist us in the journey towards being better able to work together on the many common challenges that face us from day to day. This application process has allowed us to strengthen the way we communicate, plan, and assist each other on a regular and ongoing basis to improve our recruitment, retention, and development of a qualified workforce through improvements to our region's quality of place."

Final applications are due mid-September, followed by presentations that will take place in November. The winners will be announced by year's end. The town of Culver and the city of Madison were the two 2017 Stellar Communities.