Seymour and Jackson County officials hope to tap into some of the $500 million available through a new statewide initiative to create investments to attract talent and economic growth to the state.
Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the Indiana Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative in May.
To obtain state funding, regions of at least two continuous counties must band together and develop a plan identifying the region’s vision for its future and state the strategies and projects to achieve that vision. Up to $50 million could be awarded to each region. READI funds require a 1:1 local match.
Eric Frey, executive director of Administrative Resources association, discussed the initiative with Seymour City Council members Monday night and Jackson County Commissioners on Tuesday morning.
The association, which is owned by 11 southern Indiana cities, provides assistance in the planning and financing of community and economic development projects.
Frey said there are three phases for receiving READI funds: Defining a region, developing a plan for that region and obtaining the funding.
The entire process is self-determined, Frey said, with regions being defined by which neighboring counties, towns and cities decide to work with each other. Regions also have the liberty to decide what projects to complete.
At this time, the plan is for Jackson County to join Jennings, Bartholomew and Brown counties as a region for the initiative.
Possible projects include workforce housing developments; infrastructure, such as improving walkability and expanding or enhancing public parks; purchasing land or buildings for development; redevelopment projects for blighted or vacant properties; development of physical spaces that serve as innovation hubs and homes to industry-driven public-private partnerships; and cultural amenities.
A coordinating organization, such as a regional development authority or nonprofit organization, must lead regions to receive READI funding. Every region has to identify itself and its coordinating organization by July 1.
Regional plans are due by Aug. 1, and the first round of investment decisions and financial partnerships will be announced in December.
Once funds are distributed, regions will operate on a five- to 10-year plan to finish proposed projects.
Frey said officials from North Vernon, Vernon, Nashville, Brown County and Jennings County have said they want to be a part of the region. He is still waiting to hear back from Columbus and Bartholomew County officials if they will join.
Seymour Mayor Matt Nicholson said he was in favor of the city joining the region.
“The region is developed with or without us at this point,” he said. “The question becomes do we want to have a chance to prosper from this in the long run or do we want to decide now that we’re not in?”
Councilman Chad Hubbard asked if there were any repercussions if the city didn’t join.
Frey said there is a lot of flexibility, including the ability to opt out of certain parts of the initiative and opt in on others.
Councilman Bret Cunningham asked if Columbus, which has a larger population and more access to funding for local projects than others in the region, would potentially want to get its share of the regional funding before anyone else.
Nicholson said that wasn’t the impression he received from Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop.
“He understands that it takes a regional approach for any partner to get funding,” he said.
Cunningham said he asked his question for clarification about READI but thought it would be foolish not to join the initiative.
Nicholson signed off on Seymour becoming a part of the READI region at the end of the city council meeting.
Commissioner Matt Reedy told Frey during the commissioners meeting at the courthouse in Brownstown that after four days of learning about READI, he still had questions but thought it would be ideal for the county to opt into the region.
“If it’s a way to get (funding) and we’re not going to get it if we don’t, then we would disenfranchise taxpayers to not do it,” Reedy said.
Reedy and Commissioner Bob Gillaspy both voted for Jackson County to opt into the region with a 2-0 vote. Drew Markel was absent.
According to the Indiana Economic Development Corp., READI is expected to attract at least $2 billion in local public, private and philanthropic match funding that will propel investment in Indiana’s quality of place, quality of life and quality of opportunity.