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Indiana Office of Community & Rural Affairs

Featured Communities > Wabash Wabash

The domino effect is described as one event causing another event, then creating another and so on. That is exactly what is happening in Wabash. When one downtown building owner paints a mural, so does another. When one building renovation ends, another is being planned. The community continues to reach out and look for even more ways to improve such as an OCRA Community Focus Fund grant to revitalize the community’s downtown.

To maximize community development, “You have to have everyone on the same page,” says Mayor Vanlandingham. Because of Wabash’s tireless community joint efforts to improve quality of life and attract businesses by using its resources, OCRA is pleased to highlight Wabash as a featured community.

Entrepreneurs and Wabash
Wabash has seen great success from an OCRA Rural Capacity Grant (RCG) awarded to Economic Development Group of Wabash for their Rural Entrepreneurship program in 2008. The community support of the project was substantial. The Wabash Co. Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau, Small Business Development Center, Wabash’s Main Street community—Wabash Market Street, Inc., the Charley Creek Foundation, the Honeywell Foundation, WIRED Region, and Frances Slocum Bank all partnered with Economic Development Group of Wabash County to create and implement the program.

The Rural Entrepreneurship program provided many things to entrepreneurs including cash matches for loans, business plan training classes, marketing assistance, training and mentoring services. One component included a youth engagement portion with four area high schools that focused on art entrepreneurship. The biggest success for this RCG grant was the Capital Formation Campaign for the loan guaranty program. For example, one business, Stage Promotions which produces promotional materials for school, community theater and church musicals, relocated to Wabash. Other businesses like 5-Hour Energy’s manufacturing plant and a newly remolded downtown hotel have or will open shortly in Wabash.

Since the grant period ended, the Wabash Economic Development Group has continued its efforts in its loan guaranty program and has seen interest from companies from as far away as North Carolina. According to Kim Pinkerton, President of the Wabash County Chamber of Commerce, “businesses like that Wabash keeps its small town community attitude.” The Chamber even sends large signs to new businesses that say “Welcome to Wabash” exuding a welcoming small town atmosphere.

Wabash Marketplace
Economic development is not the sole concentration of Wabash. One large asset to the community is the Honeywell Center located closely to the downtown square. Drawing performers like the Indianapolis Symphony and the Moscow Ballet, the Honeywell Center provides an outlet in arts and entertainment for the northern region of Indiana bringing in approximately 200,000 people a year. Because it is such a large cultural asset for the community, Wabash works to develop their downtown through the local Indiana MainStreet (IMS) group, Wabash Marketplace. Wabash Marketplace continually strives to improve the downtown for visitors and the community as a whole. Wabash Marketplace, which is represented by a diverse grouping of people and interests has its own building to house the group. It has created many initiatives like walking tour brochures, a farmer’s market, and even a scrape and paint competition. One recent initiative is a Downtown Enhancement Grant from IMS that created a revolving loan fund for new and existing downtown businesses to create an arts corridor near the Honeywell Center. To attract new businesses, Wabash Marketplace was one of the first IMS communities to populate and utilize the Main Street Building Locator tool on OCRA’s website. Because Wabash Marketplace members synergize their diverse and creative visions to create innovative initiatives, it is a model IMS group.

Building a Better Community
Although Wabash has aggressively utilized OCRA as a resource, “OCRA is a player, a main player, but not the show,” says Economic Development Group of Wabash County President, William Konyha. The community has also taken on other non-OCRA related endeavors in the last few years, including the building of a new YMCA, the installation of a skate/bike park and cultural trail, and the opening of a Historical Museum. The community strongly recognizes that these projects supplement each other and have build development in all aspects of life. As Wabash ventures forward in its economic and community endeavors, the community continues to recognize OCRA’s role as a resource for funding, expertise, and general support, yet understands that the driving source ultimately needs to be the community.

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