AUBURN — Now that northeast Indiana has been chosen to receive a $42 million state grant, a regional board must decide how to spend it.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. last week awarded $42 million each to three regions of the state — including northeast Indiana — for projects aimed at attracting and retaining talented new residents. A proposed increase in the program from $84 million to $126 million will require approval by the Legislature.

Jeff Turner of Auburn chairs the five-member Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority that will make decisions on using the state grant.

Turner said the authority’s mission is to decide, “How can we best leverage this money to improve northeast Indiana as a place people want to be?”

The authority has approved a list of nearly 70 potential projects spread across the region’s 11 counties. Early next year, supporters of those projects can begin applying for shares of the $42 million.

The goal is to get projects moving as quickly as possible, Turner said.

“Those who are ready first are going to be the most likely ones to receive funding,” he said. “They should be working now on getting their funding and all the pieces together.”

Northeast Indiana must use half of the $42 million in 2016 in order to receive the second half of the grant, Turner said.

“All of it has to get out there working in the region in the first two years, or we lose it,” he said.

Every project on the list will have a fair chance at receiving money, Turner said.

“If they’re on the list, that meant community leaders felt they’re important to their community,” he said. The projects are divided into four categories: arts and culture, greenways and “blueways,” education and industry and downtowns and community development.

“Those who come earliest … are going to have likely a better chance,” Turner added. “We’re not going to go out the communities and say, ‘This is the one we like — apply to us.’”

Board members will look at a number of factors from each project in making decisions about funding, he said.

“Do they have financing, community support, does it fit the goal of enhancing quality of place?” Turner said. “Does it have a broad enough impact to … keep and attract talent to northeast Indiana, which is the whole goal of the RCI?”

The authority will not pay the full cost of any project.

“We’d like it to probably be in the 20 percent range,” Turner said. “and there will be some approved at much smaller (levels), like 5 or 10 percent.”

He added, “Part of the application will be to show us that we’re sort of the last peg in the financing to make the thing a reality.”

If the authority receives applications exceeding its budget, board members will evaluate the impact of each project.

“Is this really going to contribute to people moving here, staying here, improving quality of life here?” will be a deciding factor, Turner said.

“It’s both the hard part and the fun part,” to make those judgments, Turner said. “I can assure you the five members have no preconceived notions. We are coming at this with a blank slate and an open mind.”

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