Knox County’s bid for a portion of the $500 million up for grabs as part of the Hoosier READI initiative is likely to be even more competitive than originally thought.

Chris Pfaff, CEO of Knox County Indiana Economic Development (formerly KCDC) told the county commissioners this week that the Indiana Economic Development Corp. received more than $1 billion in financial requests from 17 different regions.

“And if all of those projects were to happen, it would represent $14 billion in total investment — public, private and state dollars,” Pfaff said.

“But the state has set aside just $500 million, so it will be interesting to see how they respond.”

The next step, Pfaff told the commissioners, will likely be in-person presentations from the 17 applying regions, likely over the course of three days and likely either at the end of November or early December.

“We’re just waiting on final guidance on that,” Pfaff said.

Pfaff, however, said despite the increased competitiveness of the READI initiative, he felt confident in the list of projects set forth by Knox County and its partners.

“I feel good about the application we submitted,” he said matter-of-factly.

Commissioner Kellie Streeter said in looking at the 200-page application herself, she agreed.

“It was put together well,” she added.

Community leaders early this month 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 could mean $54 million in total improvements in Knox County alone.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, earlier this year, announced the READI (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 asked 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.

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; 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 eligible per region, it would be leveraged by both local and private dollars for a total of $1.2 billion in total investments.

Included in the application, Pfaff previously explained, are about a dozen local 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.

The expansion of broadband, too, was a major focus of the application.

And a possible near $8 million effort Vincennes Water Utilities is looking to take on to bolster the city’s drinking water infrastructure was also included in the application, providing critical match dollars.

Vincennes University, too, submitted an application for a portion of READI dollars in partnership with another set of Hoosier counties, ones also with higher education institutions, so Pfaff said Knox County was in a good position to at least see a portion of the funds.

State officials are still expected to announce the first round of funding in December.
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