Kegan Schmicker Is Running for Mayor of Tipton
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
There’s something special about a small town. Kegan Schmicker and his wife Keilah realized after moving away from their hometown of Winamac just how much they appreciate small-town life. After struggling to establish a sense of connectivity in Noblesville, they began to house hunt in small communities in Hamilton County – places like Cicero, Lapel, Sheridan, Arcadia and Atlanta. After getting outbid on seven different homes, however, they expanded their search to include Tipton. It turned out to be the perfect fit.
“From the moment we moved to Tipton, we were surrounded by people who genuinely cared about connection,” Schmicker says. “People here want to help one another, both personally and professionally.”
After relocating to Tipton in the spring of 2015, Schmicker got involved with the Chamber of Commerce and the Tipton Main Street Association. Soon after, he enrolled in an economic development course at Ball State University and began working with the City of Tipton on economic and community development activities.
In recent years, Schmicker has been involved in several economic development and downtown revitalization projects. For instance, he helped secure a $160,000 grant for the pool and splash pad. He has applied for a planning grant through the state that allowed them to create their downtown strategic plan. At that same time, Schmicker worked with the Tipton Redevelopment Commission to create a riverfront district for the downtown area to complement the downtown plan. He also helped solicit stories and volunteers to be featured on Ball State’s WIPB “Now Entering Tipton” production.
“That project helped re-instill a sense of pride of place in the community,” he says.
Schmicker, who has served as executive director of the Tipton County Chamber of Commerce since September of 2020, applied to T-Mobile’s Hometown Techover Challenge, which is a nationwide contest for small communities. Tipton was selected as a top-10 nominee, which earned them a $50,000 grant. The Tipton County Chamber was awarded a grant from the Indiana Destination Development Corporation to install a mural in Sharpsville. In addition, Tipton was a nominee for TechPoint’s annual Mira Award in the category of Community Impact this year – the state’s largest tech-based honor.
“It was exciting to be recognized by a panel of 53 judges for that nomination, and to acknowledge the work we are doing at the chamber of commerce is getting noticed,” he says.
He recently announced his plans to run for mayor of Tipton in the May 2023 primary. He was motivated to do so because following the pandemic, he witnessed a shift in the momentum of downtown revitalization efforts, and he’d like to ramp those back up. He plans to focus on Tipton’s recreational assets and leverage the things that make Tipton a great community. He also wants to find ways to revitalize downtown that create more public-private partnerships.
“Some of these cornerstone properties in our community are in such disrepair,” he says. “Without public-private partnerships, the only other solution is demolition, and I don’t think we should be supporting demolition as the strategy for our downtown.”
Schmicker helped kickstart the latest iteration of the trails group, which is a project started by volunteers who hit a roadblock in the planning process.
“It’s a common objection for property owners not to want a trail near their property, but if there’s local leadership involved in the process, it helps aid community conversations regarding formal planning,” says Schmicker, who welcomes individuals to share their opinions.
“As a leader of the community, whether it’s city council or the mayor, your first obligation is to listen to the concerns of the community and to try to work with them to resolve those concerns,” Schmicker says. “I think that’s how government should work – in more of an inclusive nature than it is today.”
When elected officials lead community efforts, not only can it increase motivation, efficiency and effectiveness, but it can also inspire a new group of people to get involved. Plus, volunteers can feel confident that the project they are working on will be funded if they know they have the support of area leaders. Recruiting and mobilizing volunteers is a key factor to success.
“Especially for a rural community, volunteers are incredibly important,” says Schmicker, who feels that the best way to achieve economic prosperity is through a shared economic development strategy. “You have greater success by recruiting people to participate in the planning process. It starts there.”
Should he win, Schmicker, 32, will join a growing list of young mayors across the state, including Ryan Daniel of Columbia City, Joshua Marsh of Greensburg, and Matthew Gentry of Lebanon.
The Schmickers have a 2-year-old daughter named Rio, and two dogs named Copper and Belle. In their free time, the family likes to play at the splash pad or enjoy the concert series in the park, downtown concert series, and golfing.
“We recently took Rio to the golf course with us because we like to golf, and she did amazing,” he says. “That will be a new regular activity.”
As for career plans going forward, Schmicker says he wants to get people participating in local government like they have never done before.
“Residents of Tipton need to see that getting involved in their community should be rewarding and exciting. I think through doing that, we will be successful as a community because we will see greater participation from the community in all facets,” says Schmicker, who loves nothing more than walking from the chamber office to the bank, waving to folks along the way.
“I love that unspoken communication among people,” he says. “It shows that you recognize each other, see them, appreciate them and support them.”