HANCOCK COUNTY — Communities and organizations in the county and beyond are teaming up to develop plans for accelerating growth benefited by a $500 million state initiative.

The Indiana Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative, or READI, is designed to propel public-private investments in quality of place and quality of life, innovation, entrepreneurship and talent attraction and development. So far, 18 regions across 91 of the state’s 92 counties intend to pursue READI funding, including two regions with participants in Hancock County.

READI hopefuls are creating regional development plans for investing in their growth and prosperity, outlining a series of strategies focused on physical projects and sustainable, multi-year programs to advance quality of place, quality of life and quality of opportunity.

To help regions achieve their goals, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. will award up to $50 million to each region through a 4-to-1 match. Regions will have the larger portion of the match, meaning if one seeks and gets $50 million, it would have to provide $200 million. Matches can be from local public and private sources and can include strategies focused on physical projects like infrastructure, workforce housing developments, revitalizing blighted or vacant properties and cultural amenities. They can also include sustainable, multi-year programs like talent attraction initiatives; public/ private partnerships to advance innovation in industry; and small-business support services.

The 70-40 Greater Mt. Comfort Corridor/Hancock READI Region is led by the Hancock Economic Development Council and includes representatives from Hancock and Marion counties. Named after Interstate 70, U.S. 40 and the quickly growing area along Mt. Comfort Road, almost 30 stakeholders have signed on or are considering doing so.

One of those stakeholders is the town of Cumberland, which straddles the Hancock/Marion county line. Town manager Ben Lipps noted that the READI region mirrors that overlap, with Hancock County partners like the county itself, the Coalition for Smart Growth in the Mount Comfort Corridor, and the Indianapolis Regional Airport in Mt. Comfort; as well as Marion County stakeholders like the east-side Indianapolis neighborhood of Irvington and the Indianapolis-based Community Alliance of the Far Eastside.

“We’re marching forward,” Lipps said. “We believe in this so much and we think it’s something that needs to happen for this region. We believe planning, and working together, and everyone being at the table is the most effective way to get a better community.”

Through READI, the region hopes to enhance work underway toward addressing issues like worker shortages, breaking transportation barriers for workers, expanding trail connections and creating resources for entrepreneurs, Lipps said.

Housing is another concern, he continued, pointing to an Indianapolis-based Veridus Group study underway that’s found more than 13,000 new housing units will be needed in the next 10 years along the Mt. Comfort Corridor.

“One of the other things that we think is really key in this is partnering with the far east side of Indianapolis,” Lipps added. “It’s under-served. We’re trying to address issues in health care, job training, food insecurity, access to jobs, and then reinvesting in the neighborhoods with redevelopment projects.”

NineStar Connect, a Greenfield-based utility cooperative providing fiber optic, electricity, water and sewer services in Hancock County and the surrounding area, is also part of the 70-40 Greater Mt. Comfort Corridor/Hancock READI Region.

“We think regional planning initiatives like READI are very important for the future of Hancock County and are great for finding solutions to larger issues that impact us and our neighboring communities,” April Fisher, NineStar Connect’s vice president for legal and data analytics, told the Daily Reporter in an email.

The Central Indiana-White River Regional Opportunity Initiative Partnership is led by the Central Indiana Regional Development Authority and Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization. It includes representatives in Hamilton, Madison and Marion counties, as well as the town of McCordsville in Hancock County.

A news release from McCordsville notes the town’s proximity to Indianapolis, Fishers and Hamilton County and adds that it shares the same vision as the other Central Indiana-White River Regional Opportunity Initiative READI stakeholders. Most of McCordsville, including the area eyed for its ambitious town center project, is in the Geist Reservoir and Fall Creek watershed, which eventually flows into the White River.

“We believe that the town of McCordsville’s inclusion into this collaboration will benefit the White River and its tributaries by working to reduce pollutants entering the system through the use of environmentally friendly mitigation practices,” McCordsville Town Council president Barry Wood said in the release. “This will be a win/win for the waterway and the public in ensuring that the Geist Reservoir remains a healthy recreational and drinking water source for our region.”

READI regions have until Aug. 31 to submit plans, which will be evaluated in the fall.

The initiative was launched by Gov. Eric Holcomb and is led by the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

“We encourage stakeholders to collaborate and think big,” Holcomb said in a news release. “Focus not only on shovel-ready, but on multi-year programs to develop talent, drive innovation and improve the quality of life, which will transform our great Hoosier state for future generations to come.”
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