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County Cooperation: Regional Development Authority off to promising start

July 14th, 2015

News Coverage:

July 14, 2015 1:01 AM

County cooperation

Regional Development Authority off to promising start

Board members

The Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority five-member board was selected by representatives of 11 counties and 16 cities. 

Jeff Turner, attorney and senior vice president, Metal Technologies, Auburn

Brad Bishop, executive director, OrthoWorx, Warsaw

Andrew Briggs, president, Bank of Geneva, Geneva

Gene Donaghy, vice president of energy services, Northeastern REMC, Columbia City

Bob Marshall, executive vice president, Campbell & Fetter Bank, Kendallville

Between the reality of more vibrant northeast Indiana communities and the investment necessary to create them lie some housekeeping details. An essential one was completed Monday with organization of the Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority, moving us closer to the prospect of a $42 million infusion to support the Regional Cities proposal.

The steering committee representing the 11-county effort created a strong case for northeast Indiana. The new regional development authority steps up as largest in the state and also the strongest multi-county collaboration. Its five-member board – with no Fort Wayne or Allen County representatives – demonstrates the broad buy-in from all of northeast Indiana, not just the region’s largest city.

Gov. Mike Pence and the Indiana Economic Development Corp. proposed the Regional Cities Initiative as a public-private partnership to create dynamic communities beyond Indianapolis and its environs. The General Assembly, in spite of discouraging state revenue projections, allocated up to $84 million to fund two regional proposals.

Northeast Indiana wasn’t waiting for an incentive to develop revitalization plans, but the initiative presented the perfect opportunity to launch them. John Sampson, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, told the regional development authority at its organizational meeting Monday that planners did not start from scratch.

“This was not a blank document when we started,” he said. “Communities had significant projects in hand.”

IEDC is eager to show results from investment in a program envisioned as a 10-year, $1 billion initiative. A proposal with detailed projects ready to implement stands a better chance than a rough outline.

Fort Wayne’s ambitious river-front development plan is undoubtedly one of those projects, but complete details of the proposal are under wraps while the Indiana Business Research Center completes a required Return on Investment study of northeast Indiana’s proposal. When it’s finished – likely in the next couple of weeks – the authority will meet to approve the proposal and submit it to the IEDC before the Aug.31 deadline.

The RDA is now in place to oversee matching funds to fuel the ambitious quality-of-place projects. John Stafford, a consultant to the Regional Partnership, told authority members the state’s enabling legislation gives them most of the powers of local elected officials, although the committee’s role is chiefly to serve as the link between state funds and the local public and private investment supporting individual projects.

Auburn business leader Jeff Turner was elected chairman of the RDA, and the panel designated the Regional Partnership staff to oversee administrative details. The 27-member caucus of county commissioners and mayors and the region’s representatives to the Local Economic Development Organization will continue to serve as advisers.

Stafford noted another detail: A last-minute legislative change requires project approval by the State Budget Committee. It’s another layer of oversight for the state’s investment but shouldn’t present a problem for a package that appears to have been created with all of northeast Indiana’s interests in mind.