Greater FW Inc.: “Regional Cities award ‘big win’ for state, region”

INDIANAPOLIS (AP/WANE) — A panel has recommended Indiana award $42 million Regional Cities grants to areas centered around South Bend, Fort Wayne and Evansville. The Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority, of which Fort Wayne is a part of, is comprised of Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wabash, Wells and Whitley counties.

“I think it’s an exciting time for not just Fort Wayne, but Northeast Indiana. So many times we think of economies as being just about our community, but really it’s about regions. We have a regional workforce. Many people wake up in different counties and travel across county lines to jobs. To have this kind of endorsement of our plan by the state of Indiana and to have this kind of energy and momentum behind our plan going forward is going to be a very enriching time for our community over the next couple of years,” Greater Fort Wayne Inc. CEO Eric Doden said

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. was to vote on the recommendations Tuesday afternoon.

The office of Gov. Mike Pence announced the grant program’s review committee recommended three winners instead of two because a tax amnesty period that’s funding the program has collected nearly $50 million above projections.

The additional funding would need approval by the General Assembly during the session that begins next month.

Seven regional bids from around the state were submitted in recent months.

“There was really tough competition for these resources because in northeast Indiana like some other parts of the state, people have been actually thinking regionally and planning regionally for a while,” Governor Pence said.

Pence has said the grant program was intended to encourage metro regions to work together more. The grants are intended to pay for infrastructure or amenities that could help attract businesses and people.

Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry issued the following statement following Tuesday’s announcement:

Being selected for Regional Cities funding by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation is a tremendous step forward for our region. I continue to be encouraged by the momentum and investment we’re seeing by working collectively to make a meaningful difference throughout northeast Indiana. We’re a region moving in the right direction. I’m looking forward to seeing how the implementation of several innovative projects will strengthen our position as an economic and quality of place leader.

According to the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, the Road to One Million plan encompasses 11 counties and 70 projects to be implemented over the next 10 years. Over the next two years, the plan is to invest more than $400 million in 38 projects in the next two years, including the redevelopment of Fort Wayne’s riverfront and the revitalization of downtown communities across the 11 counties in the region.

Doden said this really comes down to two goals: growing the population and increasing wages. During the last decade, Indiana’s population hasn’t grown nearly as much as other states across the country.

“When you look at the economies that have led the nation in economic development and wage growth, they have grown population at about a rate of 2.1%. We’re growing population currently at about 0.7%,” Doden said.

Doden said cities in the South and the West are growing so rapidly because of their ability to attract and retain talent and companies. Leaders like Governor Pence and Doden think it’s time for regions across Indiana to now do the same.

“What this means is that all of the people of Indiana are going to be a more effective partner with several regions across the state including northeast Indiana in the kind of public and private partnerships that are going to result in improving the quality of life, the quality of place, retaining a great work force, and attracting  the best and brightest to our state in the future,” Governor Pence said.

Right now, there are around 780,000 people living in the region. The goal is to increase that to one million people.

“Our goal is to create a place in which people will come and live, not just stay here like the people who grew up here, but people that will also move in from other places and grow our population at a 2.1% rate, which allows us to grow our economy at a much faster clip,” Doden said.

The Regional Cities Initiative gives $42 million to northeast Indiana over the next two years. With the help of private investors, the region has to then match and grow that money.

“In the next two years, we’ll need to start $200 million plus worth of projects. Just think about what that means for a region when you have $200 million worth of projects that improve your quality of place, improve your life, and improve the amenities,” Doden said.

The private sector will contribute the majority of the funds, between 60 to 80 percent, with the local and state governments providing up to 40 percent.

“We are already getting calls from across the country, not just from local developers or local private groups, but from people even at the national scene saying help us understand regional cities and help us understand how we can participate,” Doden said. “We’re starting to see that level of excitement. When you see that kind of momentum in a community and that level of interest, it does become somewhat limitless as to what we can accomplish.”

The projects fall under four categories:

  • Connecting Us to Nature
  • Connecting Us to Community
  • Connecting Us to Culture
  • Connecting Us to Ideas

“Things like the river promenade, things like a downtown arena, things like downtown housing, but also things in our neighborhoods,” Doden said. “This is just a big win for the state of Indiana and a big win for our region for sure and it really should be a cause for celebration throughout northeast Indiana.”

The full report and plan can be read here.

Doden said the northeast Indiana regional team has already met with the team representing South Bend to collaborate and discuss best practices.

“I really just think this is an exciting time for the state of Indiana. We don’t know what will happen in terms of from a national perspective what kind of national attention we’ll get. I think we’re putting a stake in the ground and saying that we are excited about growth. We’re excited about 21st century jobs, and we’re excited to be a part of the national economy in a way that I think will be very compelling in the next few years and even for the next generation,” Doden said.