While northeast Indiana officials have been considering whether to apply for federal money to offset defense spending cuts, the state has received a $2.7 million grant from the same pot.
Now, northeast Indiana officials have to decide whether to pursue a separate grant – or take a back seat and trust the state to achieve this region’s goals.
Another complicating factor is that the Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority, the board that would submit the area’s grant application, suddenly has its hands full figuring out how to administer the $42 million Regional Cities Initiative grant announced last month.
When Alan Tio, senior vice president of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, first proposed that the board pursue a Defense Department grant, local officials didn’t know whether the region would receive the Regional Cities grant.
Tio has been in discussions with Duane Embree, executive director of the Indiana Office of Defense Development, which supports the state’s defense assets. Those talks will help northeast Indiana officials decide whether to seek a separate grant, Tio said.
Federal defense spending has declined nationwide by more than $130 billion – or 15 percent – in the past four years.
Meanwhile, defense industry suppliers in this region have eliminated hundreds of highly skilled, highly paid jobs.
More than 500 communities have already participated in the Defense Industry Adjustment program, which helps diversify workforces.
"With this program, we have an opportunity to think about what comes next," Tio told the Regional Development Authority board in October.
Board members in both October and November said they needed more information before making a decision. The topic wasn’t discussed at the December board meeting.
Embree on Monday told The Journal Gazette that state officials have three priorities for spending the grant. First, they want to gather updated information on the state’s defense supply chain, including data on contractors in northeast Indiana.
Second, they want to help those companies diversify their customer base, which could include finding buyers outside the defense industry. To accomplish this goal, the state would be willing to help workers upgrade their skills, Embree said.
And third, the grant will be used to help establish an entrepreneurship network across the state. That effort will focus on keeping intellectual property from leaving Indiana, he said.
Embree plans to continue discussions with Tio, who is compiling a list of northeast Indiana’s goals to compare with state goals. If they line up, a separate grant might not be necessary.
"We’re trying," Embree said, "to make it a very coordinated approach."