Community Members Convene to Imagine Wabash County

August 29, 2019 / 5 mins read

Contact: Melissa Ford

For Immediate Release

Date: 08/29/19

Community Members Convene to IMAGINE Wabash County

Last week, the Community Foundation and Grow Wabash County convened the public in two meetings to present data regarding Wabash County’s population decline and to gather feedback on proposed recommendations. These two, IMAGINE Wabash County meetings, held in Wabash and North Manchester, were part of a greater effort to respond to the Lilly Endowment, Inc. Gift VII initiative, which challenges all Indiana community foundations to take leadership roles in the counties in which they serve. Presenters in the meeting included Rachel E. Blakeman, of Purdue University Fort Wayne, Amanda Lopez, of Transform Consulting Group, John Stafford, president of Make No Small Plans, and Mark Becker of Becker Consulting. These two public presentations followed an identical presentation in July presented to the combined board members of the Community Foundation and Grow Wabash County as well as participants in Ball State’s Indiana Communities Institute 3-day community development course.

To begin the meetings, Blakeman presented quantitative data on Wabash County’s population decline, including information on loss of manufacturing jobs, Wabash County’s low birth rate, and the declining school enrollment. Next, Lopez presented on why people, especially Millennials, with ties to Wabash County choose to either reside or work in Wabash County or live elsewhere. The lack of job opportunities and quality of place features were key factors in why people choose to live away from Wabash County. Next, Stafford discussed the implications of a declining population in Wabash County, especially in how population loss relates to sustaining the workforce, funding county schools, supporting retail and consumer services, and maintaining depth in leadership. Finally, Becker presented his proposed 21 recommendations, organized in seven focus areas, to reverse the County’s population decline.

Following the presentation, the public was invited to participate in a data carousel, which consisted of a series of seven stations divided by focus area, to elicit feedback on the proposed recommendations. The focus areas included a civic-engagement model, local government, collaboration and leadership, community development, economic development, education, and marketing and branding. Individuals were asked to write any questions regarding the recommendations, provide their own recommendations, and list any resources needed to pursue the recommendations. They were also asked to vote on their top three recommendations.

A total of 371 people attended the series of meetings, with the Wabash meeting having the highest attendance of 130 people. The recommendations selected as the participant’s highest priorities for Wabash County included the following in order of votes:

  1. Maintain a competitive public k-12 education system
  2. Build Wabash County’s brand
  3. Develop one county plan
  4. Advance Housing strategies in Wabash and North Manchester

The Community Foundation and Grow Wabash County thank all participants who were able to attend the meetings and are appreciative of their feedback and commitment to Wabash County. Individuals interested in the data presented in the meetings can find the summary and full reports on the Community Foundation website. Furthermore, for individuals who have additional input or could not attend the meetings, the Community Foundation is requesting feedback on the proposed recommendations. To provide your feedback, please visit or to fill out an online survey.

The Community Foundation and Grow Wabash County staff plan to present the population study findings and recommendations to Wabash County organizations in the coming months. Those interested in the presentation should contact the Community Foundation at 260-982-4824 or Grow Wabash County at 260-563-5258 for more information.