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A view from the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s Main Street office in downtown Fort Wayne. The Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority plans to work with cities and counties in the region to apply for up to $50 million in Indiana Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI) grants being offered by the state.

Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority is getting READI, or at least it hopes to get a piece of the $500 million in state grants.

In May, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the Indiana Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI), a transformational endeavor to promote investments that will attract economic growth to the state.

The Indiana General Assembly funded the program as a part of its new biennial budget during its last session. Holcomb said he believes READI will attract at least $2 billion of local public, private and philanthropic match funding that will propel investment in Indiana’s quality of place, quality of life, and quality of opportunity.

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation will award up to $50 million per region, which can be defined however the applicant wants.

The Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority, or RDA, voted at its June 8 meeting in Fort Wayne to send its intention to apply for a READI grant. It also voted to spending up to $125,000 for a consultant and $25,000 for the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership for expenses incurred related to the READI grant process.

Michael Galbraith, RDA administrator, described to the board the tight deadline that the group will be under. It must submit its notice of intention by July 1 and have its full application in by Aug. 31. It will work with the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership on the project.

“Each of the 11 counties will need to give their input. There will be a number of projects,” Galbraith told the board.

The group has two things that will help smooth the process. First, it has overseen the $42 million in Regional Cities funding from the state for its transformative Road to One Million Projects. Those projects, including money for the separate Fort Wayne Clyde Theatre and Wabash Eagles Theatre renovation projects, Phase 1 of Fort Wayne’s riverfront development and 25 others around the region, brought in $260 million in investment, Galbraith pointed out.

The region is facing new “economic realities,” he said after the meeting.

“The economy has changed around it but a hundred percent of it hasn’t changed, elements of it have changed, so we’ll look at that,” he said.

However, it won’t be a matter of just picking the 20% of projects that didn’t receive Regional Cities funding. Some of those projects can never be done. For instance, one proposal had to do with use of the property in downtown Fort Wayne that is now a University if Saint Francis parking lot, Galbraith said.

“Some of those (pitches for funding) were addressed by other initiatives of the state” such as broadband, he said. The state’s 2022-23 budget includes $250 million to expand broadband to underserved areas, just one of several recent broadband funding programs.

Secondly, the RDA will be able to “piggyback” off the work that a consultant is doing for Greater Fort Wayne, which does economic development work. Ellen Cutter, GFW’s vice president of economic development, had high praise for TIP Strategies of Texas. It is led by a woman whose resume includes leading the Greater Houston Partnership and working for two governors. The firm is overseeing a 5-year economic development action plan for the city of Fort Wayne and Allen County and its public partners. That plan will be wrapped up in September, but TIP has already conducted focus groups and collected a lot of data, Cutter said.

“So much of the work had already been done,” Galbraith said. “We’re asking them to jump through a huge number of hoops to get this done by the end of August.”

It will be a time crunch for counties and cities to work together to get the projects ready, RDA Board President Gene Donaghy said. “And they’re not just bricks-and-mortar this time,” he said. “They’ve talked like talent initiatives and things like that that would help. We have a few jobs in Northeast Indiana that aren’t filled right now, he said with a laugh, “so we need to bring in people to work and grow our Northeast Indiana region.”

CEO of Ortho NorthEast and Regional Opportunities Council chair Raymond Kusisto, in a news release issued later, highlighted the support from the business community, a group called on to provide necessary private-sector match dollars for the projects.

"Business leaders understand and support this investment in our regional quality of place. This initiative, like the Regional Cities Initiative, enhances the quality of life for all residents and bolsters our employers’ efforts to attract new talent to the region,” Kusisto said.

New board member needed

The Northeast Indiana RDA also announced the plan to schedule a board vacancy election, as State Rep. Craig Snow has resigned his RDA board seat. Snow, a resident of Kosciusko County, was elected in 2019 and has served as RDA board vice president representing Silveus Insurance Group. The RDA membership, which elects the RDA board, is comprised of the mayors and county commissioners of the 11 counties of Northeast Indiana. An election will be held in the coming months to fill this board vacancy. Current board member Andrew Briggs of Farmers & Merchants State Bank was elected as board vice president at June 8's meeting.

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