Reprinted with permission from the Vincennes Sun-Commercial newspaper
October 5, 2021
Community leaders on Friday hit send on an application for the state’s new READI grant program, one totaling nearly $10 million in requests for local projects.
If realized, it would mean $54 million in total improvements in Knox County alone.
Chris Pfaff, CEO of Knox County Indiana Economic Development and a member of the multi-county committee who put together the regional application called it an “aggressive” one.
“We recognize these are best intentions and some may still be in the development stage,” he told members of his board of directors late last week, “but we were asked to be bold and look for things that would transform this region.
“So that’s what we did.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb, earlier this year, announced the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative, which intends to accelerate economic growth by making regions across the state magnets for workforce talent.
The idea is for communities to utilize READI grant dollars to make a variety of improvements in many areas, all in an effort to attract and retain workers across a broad range of professions. It’s one of the state’s largest grant programs, ever, and is likely to be bolstered by communities’ share of American Rescue Plan Act funds, which can be used as a match investment.
To be eligible for funding, however, cities and counties cannot apply independently. Instead, the state is asking neighboring counties to work in partnership to create programs, projects and initiatives that will meet the specific needs of that particular region.
Knox has partnered with counterparts in Pike, Spencer, Perry and Harrison counties.
Representatives in each formed committees — then subcommittees underneath that — to develop plans for how they would spend a portion of the $50 million, if granted.
The regional group worked with a consulting firm — Rundell Ernstberger & Associates of Indianapolis — to create what they’re calling the Regional Development Plan of projects and initiatives. Projects exist across multiple categories and represent $66 million in investment. Among them are workforce development, housing, quality of place initiatives, tourism, recreation and broadband deployment.
Should this region secure all or part of the $50 million, it would be leveraged for a total of $1.2 billion in total investments, a number not often heard around southwestern Indiana, pointed out county council president Bob Lechner during Knox County Indiana Economic Development’s board of directors meeting Friday morning.
“That’s not a word thrown around very much in this community, even this region, so it’s amazing we can do that,” he said.
Included in the application, Pfaff explained, are about a dozen local projects as well as five regional projects.
One of the largest, he said, is a request for $4 million in housing infrastructure, a partnership with local developers looking to help the community address its overall lack of housing.
Housing needs, Pfaff said, represent a “big part” of the application.
Knox County Indiana Economic Development recently partnered with a handful of other organizations, including both the city and the county, in soliciting a housing study, one that showed significant gaps in the market from affordable housing all the way to quality rentals.
Members of the city’s Redevelopment Commission, too, are looking to incentivize developers into building single-family homes, and much of that work was included in the READI application as matching funds.
There was also a partnership, too, with the Pantheon: A Business and Innovation Theatre to leverage some of the relationships its building across the state in terms of ag technology and innovation.
The expansion of broadband, too, was a major focus of the application.
But now they wait.
Pfaff said the Indiana Economic Development Corp. soon will be scheduling site visits to all the regions where they will discuss the projects submitted and prioritize them along the way.
The competition is steep, Pfaff said, but he feels confident in the application the region submitted.
“I have full faith that the state wants to make awards for these projects,” he said, “but we’ve still go ta lot of work to do.
“This is really just the start.”
State officials are expected to announce the first round of funding in December. IEDC does, however, expect regions to match any state dollars received. The $50 million, for example, would represent only 20% of the total investment expected in each region. Local governments would then be expected to match the amount, with the remaining 60% of project funding coming from private investment.
And while nothing is written in stone, the region’s application did identify possible sources from which those matching funds could come.