A shortsighted decision on Regional Cities Initiative

Count us among those baffled by Indiana putting the brakes on funding for the Regional Cities Initiative.

Launched in 2015, the program awarded $42 million each to the north central, northeastern and southwestern regions of Indiana. Among the recipients were St. Joseph, Elkhart and Marshall counties, where the money helped to serve as a catalyst for hundreds of millions of dollars in development.

The initiative, created by former Gov. Mike Pence, aims to help increase population and boost quality of life in Indiana communities. The program has been lauded by leaders throughout the state with Michael Hicks, an economics professor at Ball State University, saying it “will likely become a national framework for revitalizing urban growth in Midwest and southern cities that are failing to thrive in the 21st century.”

According to a study conducted by BSU, Regional Cities could expand the state’s workforce by nearly 8,000 people over eight years.

Area projects that have received funding include the Renaissance District-Studebaker Building 84, a technology district on the south side of downtown South Bend, and the Elkhart Center Aquatics and Community Center.

Officials from the first three regions to benefit from the program had urged lawmakers to consider additional funding for a second round of subsidies.

Instead, neither lawmakers nor Gov. Eric Holcomb — whose administration said the program functioned well — sought to include money for additional grants in the budget adopted last month.

It’s a disappointing, shortsighted decision. In its early phases, the program has had a positive effect on communities. That’s not to suggest that the initiative should be funded in perpetuity, but why cut off such a promising initiative before fully exploring the possibilities?

In a December 2015 visit to Elkhart, Pence praised the northcentral region’s plan as well as the collaboration the process fostered. He called it “a new way of thinking” and noted that by spurring developments that lead to population growth, the program will help develop a workforce for the future economy. “It’s easy to think about bricks and mortar here,” he said, “This is really about people.”

Pence was right. This is about people, and the move to halt funding for the Regional Cities Initiative is an ill-considered one for residents and would-be residents.