With $42 million, five men will attempt to jump-start projects that make northeast Indiana a magnet for young talent.
Their success could depend on how closely they follow a blueprint drafted with input from residents in the 11 member counties.
Members of the Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority’s board met Tuesday to discuss the mechanics of doling out money for area projects from a $42 million Regional Cities Initiative grant. It was the group’s first meeting since being assured it will receive the full amount from the state.
John Sampson, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, was one of the people instrumental in preparing the region’s bid for the economic development grant.
Now, Sampson’s role is as adviser to the board, which will make the initial decision about which projects to fund. But each financial award will be reviewed by the staff at the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the group that chose northeast Indiana’s plan as one of the three best in the state.
If the Regional Development Authority decides to give money to a project, board members need to be able to present the state a convincing case that the project earned a place in the region’s blueprint, Sampson said. Otherwise, the IEDC board could reject the award within 45 days, he said.
Sampson on Tuesday reviewed the almost 200-page document "The Road to One Million" with the board, hoping to give members a road map to swiftly and consistently winning state approval.
"(IEDC officials) are going to check us against the plan," he said after the meeting.
Sampson reminded board members that they are responsible for carrying out the wishes of residents in the 16 cities and 11 counties included in the region. Those wishes, he believes, are accurately reflected in the region’s submission.
"I was trying to be very pointed to them: Look at the hundreds of people who participated in preparing this plan," he said.
Of the five board members, only Brad Bishop of Warsaw served on the Regional Cities application steering committee, when priorities were discussed and decided.
The remaining board members are chairman Jeff Turner, Auburn; Andrew Briggs, Geneva; Gene Donaghy, Columbia City; and Bob Marshall, Kendallville.
The grant proposal divided projects into four categories. Each one connects residents to nature, community, culture or ideas, Sampson said. Anything that didn’t fall into one of those categories was excluded, he said.
The region’s proposal ultimately included 70 projects, of which 38 were earmarked for implementation in the first two years. A project wouldn’t necessarily have to be on that 70-item list to receive money, but it would have to fall within the established criteria.
Sampson urged board members to keep the bigger goals in sight.
"The objective of the plan is not just to give people money to build projects," he said. "The objective is to grow the region."