INDIANAPOLIS - Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch says the state's new regional approach to the Stellar Communities Designation Program has fostered more collaboration among communities throughout the state. The 2018 winners were unveiled Tuesday with regions in east central and northeast Indiana receiving the designation. Crouch and the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs announced at the beginning of the year the program would go from a single community focus to a regional one.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Crouch said the new approach mirrored the state's Regional Cities Initiative.

"Communities are coming together; people are coming together and they are crossing geographical and political boundaries to work together to be able to elevate their regions and be transformative in the kind of quality of life and quality of place that they're offering," said Crouch. "We saw it on an individual community basis with Stellar as it was set up before but now, with an increasing trend toward regionalism, and this is a national trend as well as what we're seeing here in the state of Indiana, we thought it made perfect sense to expand the success we had with Stellar and to allow more people to participate."

This year's designees are the Health and Heritage region, which is comprised of Greenfield, Fortville and Hancock County, and the New Allen Alliance, which is made up of Grabill, Leo-Cedarville, Monroeville, New Haven, Woodburn and Allen County. Each region will receive a minimum of $6.5 million from the state for their projects, with the potential for additional funding, which Crouch says is twice the amount that designees have received in the past.

Crouch said the state the feedback from participants this year was similar to years past.

"It has fostered a partnership and a collaboration bringing people together that they hadn't experienced prior to undertaking this application process," said Crouch. "In many cases what we've seen in the past, which I expect we will see among those finalists that weren't designated, they will continue to move forward on their projects in their communities because they've already started the process."

Crouch says the state will kick off the 2019 Stellar program in January.