By Dan Spalding
I always do a dismissive eye roll when I hear the term “synergy.” It’s over-used and kind of groovy, but bear with me.
Some of you probably know I worked for the local newspaper for about 13 years before leaving in 1999 and then returned in 2016 to continue my career in journalism.
So I think I have an interesting perspective on how things have evolved in Kosciusko County.
Among the things that became apparent upon my return, aside from more traffic and continued growth, was a change in the dynamics between elected leaders and various non-profits.
As recently as 20 years ago, relations between Warsaw city officials and leaders from Kosciusko County government were not strong. Rarely did you see them mingling together, let alone working together. One instance that highlighted the strains that I recall was the time Mayor Jeff Plank was attempting to win financial support from the county for his proposed City-County Athletic Complex.
Plank came up with the name CCAC in hopes of setting the stage for some serious financial support from the county, but it didn’t immediately work out. I remember asking the late county commissioner Maurice Beer about it. His reply was (parahrasing): He can call it what he wants. That doesn’t mean we will support it.
(I don’t blame Plank for this. He was just too forward-thinking compared to county leaders back then.)
These days, though, that outlook has evaporated and a new approach has emerged. While I won’t say the city and county get along on all issues, there is obvious like-mindedness between the leaders (all of whom are Republican, BTW, but that’s another story).
One of the best examples is the cooperation seen in the continuing pandemic and the use of CARES Act money to provide free testing for COVID between the city and county. They’ve spoken as one about the seriousness of the threat at media briefings at Warsaw City Hall.
But wait, there’s more that has changed over the years in terms of new alliances and how non-profit entities and corporations like Zimmer Biomet seem to work cohesively.
Kosciusko County Community Foundation, under the leadership of Suzie Light and Stephanie Overbey, has emerged over the years as a powerful funding source for a wide variety of great projects. That was apparent as they moved quickly to assist businesses in coping with the pandemic.
Likewise, K21 Health Foundation, led by Rich Haddad, is another key group that did not exist a quarter-century ago. The health foundation was established with money from the proceeds from the sale of KCH and has grown to become a key player in the community. In just the past year, they’ve strived to help 11 smaller communities develop projects aimed at improving everyone’s health.
This week’s announcement by the health foundation to work with the town of Winona Lake and provide $1.5 million for the construction of a community ice rink is the latest example.
Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce, led by Rob Parker, is another entity that has stepped up with innovative projects aimed at supporting businesses and the community in big and small ways. The establishment of the LaunchPad, to help bridge the gap in child care services, is making strides. And even the idea of providing businesses with signs and a Facebook page during the pandemic shutdown has helped.
And then there are the economic development efforts. OrthoWorx continues to do many things behind the scenes to further strengthen the Orthopedic Capital of the World and the quality of life in this county.
Kosciusko County Economic Development Corporation is another. The group finally began flexing its muscle and potential with the arrival of CEO Alan Tio about three years ago.
KEDCo recently moved into the third floor of Warsaw City Hall adjacent to the offices of OrthoWorx. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but I think there are some real benefits to having those two groups inside the same building where Mayor Joe Thallemer and City Plan Director Jeremy Skinner work.
Grace College (President Dr. William Katip) and the Lilly Center For Lakes & Streams (Dr. Nate Bosch) have embraced the community in numerous ways for the good of everyone
Those are just a few examples. Others include the support from KCH, Parkview Warsaw and the YMCA. I know there are more that I’ve overlooked, so please forgive me. But you get the idea.
Warsaw and Kosciusko County do not reside in Shangri-La. The community has serious issues to contend with down the road.
But when you’ve got longtime county leaders like Brad Jackson and others working side-by-side with folks like Thallemer, Tio and Parker and the leaders of organizations such as United Way of Kosciusko County, Ivy Tech, Salvation Army and Goodwill, (and others mentioned above), our community can feel confident that we are moving together in the same direction for the benefit of all.
And we are better off because of it.
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Dan Spalding is the editor at InkFreeNews.com.
He covers city government and politics and always welcomes your input.
He can be reached at [email protected] or at (574) 855-7612.