Commissioners discuss Regional Partnership

April 5th, 2018

By Andrew Christman | The Herald-Press

The Huntington County Commissioners on Monday met with the president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership (NIRP) for an update for what is happening in the region.

John Sampson, president and CEO of NIRP, explained that Huntington is receiving more than $1.8 million from NIRP for various projects. Huntington is one of 11 counties that are members in the regional organization.

“Those (dollars) are to make sure the community is vibrant and seen as an active place to live and work,” Sampson said. 

Sampson said the partnership is now looking ahead to 2030.

“The mission of the partnership remains to build, market and sell,” he explained. “With the selling work of the region, going active in a road has really been heartening to see the economic developers in the region step up and be willing to participate as time and budget allows. We believe we are building a regional sales model with their help. We are also starting this year to develop what we are referring to as a regional brand.”

Sampson also noted rural communities, Huntington included, have been challenged with population decline. In order to combat this, he stated a need for building communities and expanding the demand for high-quality jobs in the region.

Huntington County Economic Development Executive Director Mark Wickersham credited the commissioners with forward thinking and collaboration for the work done on County Road 900.

“Without the work that you all did with the Allen County Commissioners, that only you all could have done, we wouldn’t have that road,” Wickersham said.

Sampson noted Regional Cities funding for the region has already been committed, though he said the Regional Development Authority, which was created to distribute said funds, has a need for future funding that would be allocated to member counties.

“There are efforts ongoing to see if we can free up a food and beverage tax state-wide, which could be used partially to keep the RDA funded so it could do other regional projects in communities. The (Regional Cities) grant has been largely expended, but in our view we need to use the RDA as a tool,” he said.

Commissioner Tom Wall expressed concern about a tax being put into an entity the county has no control over.

“We voted to put them in that position (on RDA), but we have no control over them, and that was one of the talking points among us as elected county officials. That’s tax dollars, and you have a handpicked group that we have no way to take them off the committee if decisions were made,” Wall said. “I think that’s going to be a long discussion before you can get that into one pot and disperse that.”

Sampson noted only mayors and commissioners have the authority to select or replace RDA board members.

Wall also expressed a desire to see better communication with the RDA board, as well as more representation on the NIRP’s website and a need for dedicated broadband in Huntington County.

The Commissioners then agreed to sign a contract with NIRP.