Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist

Two neighboring towns wanted to create a buzz about the benefits of living and working in their communities, so they joined forces to launch an initiative called Southwest St. Joseph County.

The unique collaboration between North Liberty and Walkerton markets the area to potential businesses and residents. The goal: To spread the word about the area’s small-town charm, highly-rated schools and strong business climate.

“We have a lot of good plans in place to encourage people to come to our area because we have a lot of good things to offer,” said Phil Buckmaster, economic development director for Walkerton. “We feel that we have a great school corporation. We have a good quality of place for people to live, work and play. We have a great parks system. We have safe communities, and we like to promote those things.”

Community leaders partnered to launch a website and social media to advertise the initiative; offered business incentives to foster growth and met with real estate agents and home builders.

New homes typically move off the market quickly, with the most recent house in North Liberty built for a family relocating from South Bend because their children attend the towns’ shared school system. Because of the high demand, the initiative’s organizers coordinated with a housing developer who plans to build homes this spring.

Town leaders thought of the initiative, now in its third year, while networking at an Accelerate Indiana Municipalities event. Municipal leaders, chambers of commerce officials and administrators from John Glenn Schools still meet monthly to strategize recruitment efforts.

“It’s a friendly competition, but we all work together. The school gets the property taxes. It all feeds each other,” said Vicki Kitchen, clerk treasurer for North Liberty.

Along with the initiative, North Liberty won a Stellar Communities designation from the state in 2015. Projects planned for the community include a new trail to Potato Creek State Park, a downtown facade improvement program and senior housing. In Walkerton, the town is working on a new library, new water plant and street paving.

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