On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Pence will be in Elkhart to join local leaders in celebrating the decision by the Indiana Economic Development Corp. Board to provide the region with $42 million in state funding under the Indiana Regional Cities Initiative.

There’s clearly reason to celebrate because of the positive impact this could have on Elkhart, St. Joseph and Marshall counties. There is also a lot of hard work ahead.

For starters, it’s imperative that the Indiana General Assembly approve the additional $42 million in funding requested by the IEDC board and supported by Pence. Elkhart County legislators expressed optimism to The Truth’s Tim Vandenack this week that the additional funding would get the legislative OK. However, some Republican leaders in Indianapolis weren’t quite as optimistic.

The money would come from the state’s tax amnesty program, which has collected more than $137 million so far. The funds are available and using that money for the Regional Cities Initiative is a smart use of those dollars that will pay long-term dividends.

There has been some criticism of the program from those who equate it to a government handout for the private sector. Some critics say the state is picking “winners and losers” by providing state funds to some projects and not others.

Assuring a thorough and transparent vetting process in selecting projects for the program is a legitimate concern, however, it’s important to note that the private sector will have to step up on all the projects included in the plan. State funding is only 20 percent of the overall project cost. Local government also will kick in 20 percent and the private sector will have to provide 60 percent. So, the state and locals are not handing out taxpayers dollars without first ensuring there is adequate financial backing from the private sector.

Assuming that the General Assembly approves the additional funding, it’s vital that the local group that will be deciding which projects are approved — the Northern Indiana Regional Development Authority — is extremely judicious in deciding which ones qualify for funding.

Group members, working with area leaders, came up with a list of 39 projects with a total capital investment of more than $700 million. Quite frankly, some of the projects on that list appear more worthy of consideration than others.

For example, creating a “Market District” in Elkhart along Jackson Boulevard east of the Elkhart River, is a strong proposal, developing hundreds of new residential units, building a new community health facility and establishing a sports center and outdoor multi-use sports fields. Others on the list may merit more scrutiny.

Local leaders spent countless hours and solicited input from more than 2,000 stakeholders in developing the north-central Indiana plan. We’re hopeful that same level of thoroughness, scrutiny and public input will be in place as the RDA starts deciding how the funds should be allocated.

The Regional Cities Initiative clearly has the potential to have a dramatic and long-term positive effect on Elkhart, Marshall and St. Joseph counties.

Pence and local leaders will celebrate at the Lerner Theatre to mark what could be a milestone in Elkhart County’s history. Once the governor walks out the door and heads off, those involved in this initiative will need to go to work and make sure the same thoughtful process that went into developing this plan is carried out through its implementation as well.

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