Sunday, May 19, 2019 1:00 am
Regional Cities not in new budget
Grants designed for projects seen as 'one-time' deal
INDIANAPOLIS – A state grant program created by former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence that funded three regional economic development efforts has been dropped despite supporters lauding its success.
Pence and the General Assembly launched the Regional Cities Initiative in 2015 and awarded three $42 million grants to projects in north central, northeast and southwest Indiana.
But neither Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb nor legislative leaders sought to include money for additional grants in the new state budget adopted last month, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported.
A study conducted by Ball State University indicated the initiative could expand Indiana's workforce by nearly 8,000 people over eight years.
“It's been huge,” said Jeff Rea, president and CEO of the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce. “It's hard to maybe explain the significance of it.”
Over $1.2 billion has been invested in the Regional Cities projects since the program launched, which includes $835.5 million being contributed from the private sector, the research showed.
The program has been transformative, said the leaders from the first three regions. Before the 2019 legislative session started in January, the officials urged lawmakers to consider allotting $150 million for a second round of subsidies.
“When we lobby for Regional Cities 2.0, we're lobbying realizing we're probably not going to get that because (our region) benefited before,” Rea said. “We'd love to see others take advantage of it.”
Holcomb's administration said the program functioned well, but neither the Governor's Office nor budget-writing legislators appear to have an interest in funding more proposals.
“It was one-time dollars,” House Ways and Means Committee Co-Chairman Todd Huston said. “It was never intended, I don't think, to be a continual state appropriation.”
Huston added if the Regional Cities program is going to continue, it will need to be driven more by local dollars than state grants.
“We have to think about something that's sustainable, that is locally driven,” he said.