Bolstered by $3 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding, the Indiana legislature has budgeted $500 million for Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative or READI grants. The program seeks to fund large projects to “make Indiana a magnet for talent and economic growth,” according to the Indiana Economic Development Corp. website.

Each READI region, consisting of two or more municipalities, could get up to $50 million for a project. The deadline to create economic development regions was July 1. Again according to the IEDC website about the grants, “the state will encourage neighboring counties, cities and towns to partner to create a shared vision for their future, mapping out the programs, initiatives and projects that are critical for them to retain talent today and attract the workforce of tomorrow.”

Boone County announced on Wednesday that it was establishing a region which included Hendricks, Montgomery and Putnam counties and many cities and towns within those counties to collaborate on a project. 

Boone Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Molly Whitehead said the grant has a very quick timeline.

“The state will review the proposed regions, select those that are chosen to move forward in the process, and then those that are able to move forward have until Aug. 31 to develop a plan,” she said. “There is a public match that would be required and a recommended philanthropic private match on top of that.”

Whitehead said the project is broadly defined by the guidelines and could promote the quality of place or quality of opportunity. She said it could be a building or an infrastructure-related project or perhaps programming. She said she is leaning towards a workforce development project to address a real need in the area.

“I am leaning more towards workforce development-oriented programming,”  she said speaking for herself and not the partnership. “I think the key is looking at what can be easily replicated amongst many counties.” 

She added that the way taxation works, it would be difficult to place physical infrastructure in another county and get an adjoining county’s taxpayers to pay for it.

In Boone County, Lebanon, Advance, Jamestown and Whitestown are joining the effort. Zionsville declined to participate in the partnership.

Whitehead said much of Boone County’s workforce comes from Montgomery and Hendricks counties.

“We already have that connection,” she said. “I’m positive that this four-county region, if we are chosen to move forward, I think it will be a good mix and manageable.”

There is state money available to pay consultants to assist with the creation of a plan. However, the first step is to be selected to move on. Whitehead said she was told by IEDC officials that selections will be announced shortly.

“We just need to get the go-ahead from the IEDC to start moving,” Whitehead added.

It is unclear why the timeline is so tight. However, many officials have mentioned that the federal coronavirus relief funds must be spent by 2024.

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