MICHIGAN CITY — The Northwest Indiana Forum recently was awarded a $50 million matching development grant from the state to fund as many as 36 projects, several of which will directly impact Michigan City and La Porte.

The Forum’s Northwest Indiana READI Proposal includes projects related to infrastructure, placemaking, entrepreneurship and innovation, talent, and business development and marketing across the seven counties that make up Northwest Indiana.

Among the projects they intend to tackle within La Porte County are the Kingsbury Inland Logistics Park, Marquette Greenway Trail connectivity efforts, the Reimagining Michigan City – Prison Relocation Study, the Chessie Corridor Trail connecting La Porte to Michigan City, work related to NIPSCO’s departure from the Lake Michigan shoreline, various downtown revitalization efforts, workforce training initiatives, Ivy Tech programming and more.

“We’re still working through the project list and doing our due diligence with the [Indiana Economic Development Corporation] to make sure all of our projects align with their desired outcomes,” said Heather Ennis, president and CEO of the NWI Forum. “Michigan City and La Porte will be directly impacted; but really, all of the projects on our list have some regional impact.”

The IEDC received proposals from 17 regional groups seeking Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative funding; and in the end, decided to award all 17 groups with READI grants, which were created using federal COVID-19 relief funding.

Northwest Indiana was one of five regions to receive the maximum award of $50 million, with the others located near Evansville, Fort Wayne, South Bend and New Albany.

Mark Wasky, vice president of innovation and strategic initiatives at the IEDC, said those five regions were selected for maximum funding because of their potential to attract people from outside the state, such as those in Chicago and Louisville.

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

All READI grant recipients must match their state grant funding with at least four times as much money from local government or private investment sources.

According to Ennis, the Forum’s $50-million READI grant will generate more than $600 million in investment for projects in Northwest Indiana.

“It’s been a really exciting process and we were thrilled to be in a leadership position on it,” she said. “We’re grateful for the partnership that came together on this. And while we did play that leadership role, we certainly have not been doing this alone. We’ve been working with local economic development organizations, regional partners, municipalities, as well as the business community to continue to really align this opportunity for this $50 million on projects that can have long-lasting impact for the region.”

Angie Nelson-Deuitch, in her role as a Michigan City Common Council representative, spearheaded Michigan City’s efforts to get local projects added to the Forum’s READI application; and she credited La Porte Mayor Tom Dermody with making sure La Porte was represented on that list as well.

“It’s historic that all of the regions have come together to put together a grant application this big,” she said. “I’m continuing to work with all our regional partners to make sure that Michigan City is able to utilize the programs and services that were included in the READI proposal.

“There’s stuff for entrepreneurs and small businesses and workforce training. But this plan also connects all of our trails across the region to neighboring communities, including our sister city, La Porte. No matter how you look at it, it’s a win because this is just the first of many opportunities to get things done across the region.”

Work on the projects funded by the region’s READI grant likely won’t begin immediately, as it has until the end of 2024 to commit the money to specific projects, and until the end of 2026 to spend it.

In January, Gov. Eric Holcomb proposed creating the grant program; and after the awards were announced in December, said doing so encouraged local leaders to look beyond their own city and county lines.

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

In addition to the five $50-million READI grants that were awarded, four regions won $30-million grants, four got $20 million, three received $15 million and one got $5 million.

Wasky said it was important to give money to every region in Indiana in order to make sure all 92 counties were represented and to support ongoing cooperation between them.

“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.

READI proposals outlined hundreds of projects to be completed in large cities, rural towns and communities in between. Subsidies to encourage more housing construction, the creation of high-tech business locations, and construction of new recreation facilities were just some of the items included in those proposals.

Initially, the Republican-dominated Legislature dedicated $150 million toward the program, but increased that amount to $500 million in April after the state received $3 billion in relief from the federal government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

The timing of the READI program comes as Indiana has seen many years of uneven economic and population growth.

According to the 2020 census, Indiana’s population grew 4.7 percent over the past decade, with three-quarters of that growth attributed to Indianapolis and its surrounding counties. Meanwhile, the population decreased in 49 of the state’s 92 counties, many of which consist of rural communities.

The Associated Press contributed to this report
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