Reprinted with permission from the Vincennes Sun-Commercial, March 19, 2022

It’s been three months since local officials learned that Knox County, as part of a five-county Indiana First regional application to the state’s new READI program, had received $15 million.

But they’ve made only a little progress in determining exactly how that money will be divvied out between the applying communities.

Chris Pfaff, president of Knox County Indiana Economic Development and a member of the regional planning committee, likened it to watching a pot of water boil — slow, yes, but with a successful outcome inevitable.

“It may seem like it’s taken a long time, but we want to be thoughtful in our approach,” he said. “But I will say that our regional partners have been very good to work with.”

Knox County in December learned that Indiana First, a partnership between Knox, Pike, Spencer, Perry and Harrison counties, was awarded a total of $15 million as part of the state’s READI program.

It had asked for in excess of $50 million.

Knox County’s portion of the application included incentives for PolyPlus, a battery manufacturer based in California looking to build a manufacturing facility here, as well as partnerships with developers to build homes and the roll-out of improved broadband service as well as regionally-focused tourism marketing efforts.

Multiple other projects, too, were included on behalf of the other four applying counties.

Pfaff has made the rounds in recent weeks updating elected officials on how a local committee of leaders is working with others from Pike, Spencer, Perry and Harrison counties as they meet to determine their next steps.

By all accounts, the Indiana Economic Development Corp., has taken a hands-off approach to divvying out the funds awarded, instead urging regions to decide for themselves, using guidance associated with American Rescue Plan Act funds — of which READI is made up — to help them prioritize.

“The state isn’t going to say we like this (project), not that one,” Pfaff explained, “so the regions must come up with priorities.

“They have given us guidance, but they don’t want to be parochial about what the regions do with the money.”

But in the midst of the confusion, he told the county commissioners this week, one priority does seem to be solidifying. While the counties had varying projects included in their portion of the overall READI application, one they all had in common was the need for additional housing.

“Housing was at the top of the list,” Pfaff said, “specifically public infrastructure to support that development.

“All five counties have agreed that those will make up the bulk of the projects we want to pursue.”

Locally, Pfaff said officials with both the local committee and even Knox County Indiana Economic Development continue meeting with local developers to see how they can help.

That’s something they’ve been actively doing, Pfaff said, since a housing study completed last year showed many gaps in the local market.

Too, Pfaff said he is collaborating with members of the city’s Redevelopment Commission as it has received multiple requests for help — and been unable to grant them all.

RDC members for months have looked to partner with developers looking to build homes, all in an effort to bolster local housing stock.

So far, the RDC has committed more than $300,000 to a trio of local families operating as the REM Development Group, who are looking to renovate the 6-story Oliphant building at 214 Main St. — as well as the adjacent Gimbel Corner — into condominiums.

Last fall RDC members, too, committed $218,000 in infrastructure costs associated with about 14 homes Sure Clean Inc. is building now in an area off Hart Street.

Other developers have come forward, too, asking for help, including Matt Hendrixson and Chadd Beard, operating together as DC Developers, who asked for $250,000 in infrastructure costs associated with building about nine homes off Thompson Drive.

Too, Jerry Memering — a Knox County native, former home builder and one-time member of the RDC himself — went before RDC members in December with a proposal for 16 — possibly 17 — homes to be built near the Franklin Heights subdivision.

Dubbed Julius Heights, Memering is seeking $385,000 for the project, specifically in covering the cost of building out the necessary infrastructure.

And a year ago, Butch, Eric and David Niehaus went before RDC members asking for help in building as many as 125 homes on some land off Quail Run Road, specifically behind Herman Family Dentistry. Dubbed Lincoln Heights, the trio of brothers were seeking more than $2 million in infrastructure costs.

But the RDC learned last month that with the final two phases of a Main Street overhaul set to get underway later this year, money is tight — too tight to award any more housing-related funding, at least for right now.

Pfaff said the local committee hasn’t yet spoken with all of those developers, so he can’t say for certain which — if any — of them could receive READI funding.

He did, however, reiterate that it would only be for public infrastructure — things like water utilities and roads — not in the way of subsidies to developers to spend as they wish.

“But it’s likely going to be another few months before we can say concretely that this is the list of things, regionally, we want to support,” he said.

As part of the program, though, all monies must be committed by 2024 and spent by 2026.

Knox County was actually represented in multiple READI applications as Vincennes University joined with five other counties, many of them with similar higher institutions of learning, in presenting a second application on behalf of the Wabash River Regional Development Authority, this one focused largely on West Central Indiana, specifically Vigo, Parke, Sullivan, Clay, Vermillion and Knox counties.

That region was awarded $20 million.

The Wabash River RDA’s application includes a handful of local projects, ones consisting of both STEM programming at VU and brick-and-mortar structures.

The largest of those requests is for an estimated $10 million visitor’s center to be constructed adjacent to the William Henry Harrison mansion at 3 W. Scott St.