The Journal Gazette
Saturday, December 04, 2021 1:00 am

Region touts 'Vision' for state grant

130 projects in 11 counties in proposal for $50 million

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority pitched its “Growing With Vision” strategy Friday – hoping to win a $50 million grant from a new state economic development program.

The presenters focused on the three pillars of the plan as well as an emphasis on investing in southeast Fort Wayne.

“Northeast Indiana has transformative plans to accelerate economic growth and keep our jobs and talent,” said James Khan, president and founder of ObiCai Restaurant Management and a local regional development authority board member.

Seventeen regions representing all of Indiana's 92 counties are seeking funding for $1 billion – twice the amount of money the state plans to give – for initiatives to support economic development, quality of life and related projects.

The budget for the Indiana Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative – or READI – project is $500 million with the maximum of $50 million expected for any one region.

All the regions gave presentations over three days this week in Indianapolis, and a decision is expected this month. 

Northeast Indiana submitted a 308-page proposal covering 130 projects in 11 counties. Completing all included projects would require $129 million in READI funding. Six regional experts gave a combined 30-minute presentation Friday before taking questions from board and staff of the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

The region's three key strategies are workforce growth, entrepreneurship and innovation, and downtown vibrancy.

A state staff member asked why southeast Fort Wayne was important to the plan. A few of the projects in that area including building and operating a full-service grocery because the area is classified as a food desert and construction of a mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhood on 20 acres of city-owned property in the area.

Ryan Twiss, vice president of regional initiatives at the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, said the region has economic inequity. Some census tracts are approaching 9% unemployment, and the area has lower educational attainment.

He said investing in that area is a way to move up the ladder quickly in improving per capital personal income.

Edmond O'Neal III, president and CEO of Northeast Indiana Works, said the area has been historically underserved and was red-lined years ago.

“Serving that community will definitely rise the tide of our urban core,” he said, noting that some rural areas elsewhere have similar statistics. Improving those areas will show success quickly.

Khan noted that he was born and raised in southeast Fort Wayne, growing up in a trailer court.

“So for 15 years I've been trying to find a way to get there,” he said. “But the risk of putting a restaurant there without infrastructure around it is too great to ensure success.”

Khan said investment from the READI grant can kick-start that revitalization.

The group also played up their experience in working regionally.

In 2015, northeast Indiana was awarded $42 million in a similar statewide competition for growth and development projects. That plan, called “The Road to One Million,” has led to 28 “transformative projects,” according to the region's READI bid. One million refers to the desired northeast Indiana population total.

Each region has involved various interest groups, including major employers, philanthropists, educational institutions and economic development agencies.

The Road to One Million plan attracted $1 billion in investment. The estimate for a full $50 million READI grant is $1.65 billion in induced investment and $10 billion in increased per capita personal income.

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