New OCRA boss sees Indiana as a field of dreams

Friday, February 20, 2015
Addressing the Greencastle/Putnam County Development Center annual meeting Friday afternoon, Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs Executive Director William Konyha shares his ideas and initiatives. (Photo by JARED JERNAGAN)

The new director of Indiana's Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) is ready to go to bat for the rural communities that make up the Hoosier landscape, he said Friday in Greencastle.

In fact, William Konyha, who assumed his new role with OCRA Jan. 5 after a November appointment, has already stepped up to the plate by pitching some new initiatives for making rural Indiana communities stronger.

And yes, that baseball metaphor is quite appropriate for Konyha who told an annual meeting gathering of the Greencastle/Putnam County Development Center that his 24-year experience as a collegiate umpire has given him "a unique skill set."

Because of that, hostile environments don't faze him, Konyha said.

"The best training ground I can think of for that," he said, "is having a Big 10 coach in your face ... and you can just smile back at him."

Konyha shared one particular umpire-coach confrontation that ended with the coach chasing him down to tell Konyha he had dropped his cell phone during the argument.

"What makes you think I would have my cell phone?" Konyha asserted.

"It has to be yours," the coach deadpanned, alluding to what was on the screen. "It says you missed 13 calls."

Konyha knows he can't miss any calls on improving Indiana either. That's one of the reasons he said he's bringing the attitude of a local economic development director (which he has been for 13 years) to the Office of Community and Rural Affairs.

Right off the bat, he wants his office to be "more entrepreneurial," be more engaged in customer service and be "much more nimble."

His priority, Konyha said, "will be to help rural communities become relevant to the 21st century."

The OCRA director, who held leadership positions with economic development organizations in Tipton, Fayette and most recently Wabash County, told the crowd at the Area 30 Career Center on Greencastle's East Side that for the first time more than 51 percent of Americans now live in urban areas. He called out rural communities, stressing they must adapt to that trend.

"It's not going to be the same old community anymore," he said.

"Rural communities who make themselves livable will be attractive and survive and maybe even thrive," Konyha stressed.

That will require a shared community vision and a community plan that translates into a community investment plan, the Indiana economic development expert said.

"That's the lesson I want to institute," he added.

With the mission of the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) "to promote rural community prosperity to strengthen the Hoosier economy by providing capacity-building solutions to assure ready, marketable and competitive opportunities for economic growth," he heads a staff of 15 that provides capacity building programs and technical assistance to rural towns and cities for community and economic development.

The initiatives Konyha suggests are:

-- A Community Readiness Initiative: An effort to align community assets with its vision and workforce.

-- A Hometown Collaborative Initiative: An effort to develop plans to involve all walks of life in a community in using assets to develop plans for a vision.

He hopes to involve Indiana's Stellar Communities, including Greencastle, in creating a baseline for those initiatives.

Konyha, who joined OCRA after 18 years in the private real estate development industry and 24 years in community development, told the Development Center gathering that its executive director, Bill Dory, is a "valuable resource for the community," praising his contributions to state projects and calling Dory a member of his "Kitchen Cabinet."

As is the custom at its annual meeting, the Development Center also welcomed a new slate of officers Friday, headed by President Ralph Cunha of Endeavor Communications.

Matt Howrey, North Salem State Bank, will serve as vice president with Laura Elsbrock of Area 30 Career Center as secretary-treasurer, and Bob Jedele of Jedele Enterprises and McDonald's as past president.

Retiring board members noted were Melanie Boesen, Ivy Tech Community College; Sue Bowser, First Financial Bank; Cara Goodin, Old National Bank; Bret Hurley, Greencastle Chamber of Commerce; Carrie Milner, formerly of Cloverdale Schools; and Max Watts, Putnam County Board of Commissioners.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: