Northeast Indiana pitched its ideas for a shot at a grant worth up to $50 million from the Indiana Economic Development Corp. at a meeting Dec. 3 in Speedway.

Seventeen self-identified regions submitted regional development plans to be considered for funding from the Indiana Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI).

The Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority’s READI application, “Growing with Vision,” includes projects in the 11 counties that the partnership represents — Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wabash, Wells and Whitley.

The presentation, which was viewable on Zoom, began with a video showcasing the area’s assets produced by PUNCH Films, based in Fort Wayne. Then several speakers explained why the region needs the grant.

Stéphane Frijia, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, said, “We’re lagging on adapting knowledge-based economies.”

He continued, “The new economy is here to stay.”

The emphasis will be on workforce growth, entrepreneurship and innovation, and downtown development.

Patti Hays, CEO of the AWS Foundation, said Fort Wayne and rural areas could serve as hubs for entrepreneurial businesses; one strategy would be to invest in innovative spaces for entrepreneurs.

She said the area’s “reliance on more traditional manufacturing has made us vulnerable.”

Huntington Mayor Richard Strick put the emphasis on downtown development. “Downtowns are the heartbeats of our communities,” he said. “Revitalization of downtowns is economic development.”

He said the revitalization of the Fort Wayne downtown riverfront is a catalyst for the entire region.

Edmond O’Neal III, president of Northeast Indiana Works, talked about the need for affordable housing, saying the housing in this area is not at the national average.

The presentations were conducted before the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and members of the READI review committee. They were able to ask questions at the end of the presentation.

Vincent Ash Jr., vice president of development for the IEDC, asked why there was so much focus on southeast Fort Wayne.

Ryan Twiss, vice president of regional initiatives for the partnership, said economic inequity in Northeast Indiana is a problem that needs to be addressed. He spoke of the “need to be very intentional about investments in these areas.”

Started by Gov. Eric Holcomb and led by the IEDC, READI builds on the framework and successes of the Indiana Regional Cities Initiative and the 21st Century Talent Initiative, encouraging regional collaboration and data-driven, long-term planning that, when implemented, will attract and retain talent in Indiana. More information on the READI review committee, as well as links to download the regions’ proposals, is available at IndianaREADI.com.

Holcomb announced the grants earlier this year as the state looks to build its population and offset the workforce losses from the retiring baby boomer generation. Holcomb previously said he hoped it would attract at least $2 billion of local public, private and philanthropic match funding.

The partnership plans to update its website at 8 a.m. Dec. 6 with presentation materials, photos from the presentation and a new video about the "Growing With Vision" plan. The website is https://neindiana.com/rda. The nearly 300-page "Growing With Vision" plan can be downloaded from this site.

A decision on the recipients of $500 million in grants is expected to come this month.

Some of the proposed projects are recreational, such as the proposed Poka-Bache Trail Connector, costing nearly $9 million, to link 81 miles between Pokagon State Park in Angola to Oubache State Park in Bluffton. Others, like the Invest DeKalb, totaling nearly $3.81 million, touch on multiple areas. The DeKalb County project includes downtown redevelopment of approximately 45,000 square feet of new build construction for retail, office and residential space. Meanwhile, Whitley County’s Churubusco Civic Center project, estimated at $395,400, would transform the 13,800-square-foot former PNC Bank building to space that would include classrooms to conduct entrepreneurship classes and other adult education opportunities.
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