A portion of $35 million may be coming to Knox County as part of two now successful applications made to the state’s READI program.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, at a quarterly meeting of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. Tuesday afternoon, announced how the $500 million set aside for the new READI initiative would be divided between the 17 Hoosier regions that applied.

Indiana First Regional Development Plan, a partnership between Knox, Pike, Spencer, Perry and Harrison counties, was awarded a total of $15 million.

Too, 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 Regional Development Authority'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.

Knox County’s application as part of Indiana First 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.

But Chris Pfaff, CEO of Knox County Indiana Economic Development and member of the Indiana First regional committee, said it was still unclear exactly how much of that $15 million will be spent locally.

He held off on commenting further until county officials have some clarity on just how the $15 million will be doled out between the Indiana First counties.

Still, the announcement came as welcomed news as it spread amongst county officials Tuesday evening.

Members of the county council gathered for their monthly meeting just minutes after the READI announcement; many of them were heavily involved in the READI process.

Councilman Harry Nolting called it “very good news.”

As part of the READI announcement, all 92 Indiana counties will get a piece of the $500 million up for grabs.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. board approved awarding money to all 17 regional groups that submitted proposals for the program, encouraging regional cooperation on projects to attract residents and businesses.

Five regions will receive the maximum $50 million grants from the program the state created with federal COVID-19 relief funding. Those are northwestern Indiana and ones clustered around Evansville, Fort Wayne, South Bend and New Albany.

Those regions have the potential to pull in people from out of state, particularly the nearby Chicago and Louisville, Kentucky, areas, said Mark Wasky, the development agency’s vice president of innovation and strategic initiatives.

“All of those are kind of gateways to the state in many ways,” Wasky told The Associated Press. “They’re located within areas that present particular opportunities for the state to be able to leverage large urban areas to attract talent.”

Holcomb proposed creating the grant program in January and said Tuesday it had encouraged local leaders to look beyond their own city and county lines.

“This truly is a rising tide lifts all boats statewide, simultaneous, and I would say on an unprecedented scale, all at once over the course of the next few years,” Holcomb said.

The state board also approved $30 million grants for four regions and another four will get $20 million. Three others were approved for $15 million and one is receiving $5 million.

Wasky said those reviewing the proposals believed it was important to give money to all the regions in order to support ongoing cooperation.

“The importance of encouraging regions to continue down this path was of significant importance for us to make sure that everybody walked away with something rather than feeling like they were left empty handed,” he said.

The Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative program received proposals outlining hundreds of projects for large cities and rural towns, including subsidies to encourage more housing construction, creating high-tech business locations and building new recreation facilities.

The Republican-dominated Legislature initially dedicated $150 million toward the program. That was increased to $500 million in April as the state budget was bolstered by $3 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding.

Indiana Democrats have faulted Republicans for claiming credit for the regional grant program while the state’s entire GOP congressional delegation opposed its funding source, the American Rescue Plan signed in March by President Joe Biden.

The program comes as Indiana has seen many years of uneven economic and population growth. The 2020 census found that Indiana’s population grew 4.7% over the past decade, with Indianapolis and its surrounding counties seeing three-quarters of that growth. Meanwhile, much of rural Indiana shrank as 49 of the state’s 92 counties lost population.

All the regional organizations were told they had to match their state grant funding requests with four times as much money from local government or private investment sources.

Work won’t start immediately on many of the planned projects as Wasky said federal rules require money to be committed to specific projects by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

The state grant program resembles the Regional Cities Initiative that then-Gov. Mike Pence pushed for in 2015 and awarded $42 million grants toward three regional plans for the Fort Wayne, Evansville and South Bend areas, leaving four other regional organizations empty-handed. Supporters lauded its success, but Holcomb and Republican legislators didn’t pursue more money for it when a new two-year state budget was adopted in 2019.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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