Good work: Gov. Mike Pence applauds during the Regional Cities Initiative meeting in Indianapolis on Tuesday. He praised the growth of cooperation among neighboring cities and counties throughout the state.Tribune-Star/Jim Avelis

Good work: Gov. Mike Pence applauds during the Regional Cities Initiative meeting in Indianapolis on Tuesday. He praised the growth of cooperation among neighboring cities and counties throughout the state.Tribune-Star/Jim Avelis

Local officials were dismayed Tuesday that west-central Indiana will not receive full funding through the state’s Regional Cities Initiative, but remain committed to a list of projects aimed at boosting the area’s population.

The Wabash River Region — encompassing Vigo, Sullivan and Knox counties — did not win one of the $42 million grants up for grabs in the statewide competition. But the state could help identify public or private avenues to fund in the continued development of the region’s plans, in a second phase of the initiative.

Meeting in Indianapolis on Tuesday, the Indiana Economic Development Committee’s board of directors voted to fund regional development plans for the South Bend, Fort Wayne and Evansville areas. The remaining four regions, including Wabash River, could still receive financial backing from the state depending on fund availability.

“We’re disappointed, but we’re of the opinion ... we got in the game we developed some great relationships and we’re in for the long haul,” said David Haynes, president of the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce who has been active in the Wabash River Region initiative. “We hope this funding continues, and we’re going to develop more projects and do some more planning, and we’ve been encouraged to do so.”

Wabash River’s proposal included the renovation of the former ICON building on First Street into apartments and space for entrepreneurial collaboration; a precision agriculture center for Ivy Tech Community College; and a facility for academic equine programming at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

Sullivan’s ongoing civic center project and renovations of historical buildings in Vincennes were also included in the proposal.

The plan fell short of requirements to impact a minimum of 200,000 people and create a positive estimated return on investment, according to the strategic review committee that presented funding recommendations to the board.

“However, this region has made tremendous strides in a very short period of time,” a summary of the committee’s discussion reads. “The momentum gained from the increased level of collaboration should continue to inspire more of the region’s elected officials, business leaders and community organizations to become engaged to build on what has been accomplished alone.”

The plan came together over the summer, involving representatives from the chamber, higher education institutions, the City of Sullivan and the Knox County Development Corp. Regions were also required to form a regional development authority, tasked with prioritizing funding of proposed projects.

RDA member Bob Baesler said the region didn’t work quickly enough to build the coalition necessary to meet the population criteria. As a result, he said, “we knew it was going to be questionable whether we would get anything in the first go-around.”

In its final report, the review committee suggested the region identify additional partners and conduct more planning and research to demonstrate a positive estimated return of investment.

While praising the key role of higher education, the committee also recommended tapping more into the private sector to expand the plan.

The plan should also better explain how the proposals leveraged the Wabash River and other key assets to achieve the region’s goals, according to the report.

Gov. Mike Pence, in a news conference following the board’s vote, called all of the regions “winners” for collaborating on economic development.

“Because in so many ways, we’ve catalyzed conversations between communities that weren’t there, dividends in investment and prosperity for generations to come,” he said.

Wabash River Region representative Greg Goode, executive director of government relations at ISU, told the Tribune-Star the RDA would continue to meet as development of the proposals move forward.

“The overall experience has been an extraordinarily positive experience for western Indiana,” he said.

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