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Northeast Indiana delivers its bid for $42 million in state funding

August 26th, 2015

News Coverage:

Northeast Indiana delivers its bid for $42 million in state funding

By Bob Caylor of The News-Sentinel
Wednesday, August 26, 2015 - 12:01 am

The campaign is called the Road to One Million, and its northeast Indiana's best shot at $42 million.

On Tuesday evening, about 250 people gathered at the Mirro Center for Research and Innovation to cheer the completion of the “Road to One Million” plan. Greater Fort Wayne Inc. and Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, which led in developing northeast Indiana's bid in the state's Regional Cities competition, unveiled the application for that state funding. It's more than a grant application. It makes a case for what sets this region apart, recaps progress the region has made and establishes a higher goal for the future.

That goal is a population of 1 million in an 11-county region which stretches from Warsaw in the west to Lagrange and Angola in the north to Bluffton and Berne in the south.

“It's an ambitious goal,” said Ellen Cutter, director of the Community Research Institute at IPFW. She oversaw the production of the application for the Regional Cities funding of $42 million in the next two years, with the possibility of more funding over the next eight to 10 years.

Northeast Indiana's population is now 772,337. At our current rate of growth, the population is likely to grow by only 53,000 in the next decade. But if this region grew at a rate comparable to the strongest comparable regions -- Boise, Idaho; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; and Des Moines, Iowa -- its population would hit 1 million in 2031.

One problem with continuing to grow at the modest .7 percent annual pace we now grow -- 53,000 more people in 10 years -- is that it would amount to losing ground. “Because of the impacts of retiring Baby Boomers and lagging growth among Millennials, our labor force will actually shrink, and our gross domestic product and wages will stagnate. Northeast Indiana knows it can, and it must, do better,” the Regional Cities application says.

The plan submitted to Regional Cities aims to do better by combining public and private funds for hundreds of millions of dollars for dozens of projects throughout the region, providing new amenities and creating new opportunities. The application includes 38 projects in the next two years, representing $400 million in investments. If longer-range elements of the Road to One Million plan are carried out, 32 more projects in the plan would increase the total investment to $1.4 billion. They include downtown revitalizations, improving access to natural attractions, greater cultural offerings, increased regional access to broadband and more innovation and entrepreneurial centers.

A few examples:

*Improvements or new trails in every county in the region, including the extension of the Pufferbelly Trail into a north-south artery for biking and hiking that stretches from Pokagon State Park north of Angola to Oubache State Park southeast of Bluffton. Cost: $72.5 million.

*The first phase of Fort Wayne's Riverfront Development, including a promenade on the north and south banks of the St. Marys River, an expansion of Lawton Park, a rail-themed attraction and a parking structure. Cost: $68 million.

*Renovating four floors of the hotel attached to the Embassy Theatre. A feasibility study showed strong support for a plan that includes a two-story-high ballroom, rooftop garden, breakout and rehearsal spaces, classrooms, history center and improved public access and concessions areas. Cost: $10 million.

*The Northern Indiana Lakes Country Enterprise Center in Angola. This project would convert an existing 70,000 square-foot complex into a traditional business incubator space, including co-working space and a dedicated industrial training facility complete with welding and CNC machining training equipment. Additional classroom space is planned for basic math, blueprint reading and computer training. Cost: $2.5 million.

How to pay for it?

Sticker shock is understandable when development organizations talk about hundreds of millions in new spending. The Indiana Economic Development Corporation, which is supervising the Regional Cities program, sets out specific targets for how investment ought to be shared under Regional Cities: 20 percent state funding, 20 percent local funding and 60 percent private funding.

As northeast Indiana's application spells out, there are many forms local funding can take:

*County Economic Development Income Tax, or CEDIT, brings $52.5 million this year to the 11-county region, and all counties have adopted CEDIT.

*In Fort Wayne, the Legacy Fund established through the lease and sale of the old City Light utility to Indiana Michigan Power has about $30 million available now, with $27 million in payments due between now and 2025. How best to spend that money is a source of considerable contention among city leaders, yet they've agreed on an array of projects that dovetail with the Regional Plan, from building trails to helping fund college building projects to providing matches for private investment.

*Tax Increment Financing captures a stream of property tax revenue from a given area and devotes it to paying for development in that area.

*Only Allen County and the town of Shipshewana have a food and beverage tax, but that tax brings about $4 million a year to Allen County and $85,000 a year to Shipshewana.

*Economic Development Revenue Bonds are issued by local governments and used to finance loans to businesses to pay for buildings or other capital expenditures.

*Foundations. Foundations have given millions to support cultural, educational and civic-improvement projects in northeast Indiana, and they are already helping fund projects in the Road to One Million plan, as for example, the Foellinger Foundation's $225,000 gift in support of Fort Wayne's Riverfront Development project.

In 2007, the Lilly Endowment began research that ultimately led to a $20 million grant to support workforce-development activities in the region.

Also, every county in the region has an active community foundation, and these are likely sources of funding to contribute to local projects.

*Arts United has spent and leveraged millions in support of cultural activities throughout the region, including $939,047 in grants in fiscal year 2015.

*Although the counties in northeast Indiana established a Regional Development Authority as a requirement for applying for Regional Cities funding, it doesn't rope them into funding projects.

“The way it is structured, joining the RDA doesn't commit a county to funding projects,” Cutter said. Instead, she sees the development authority as an agent that “crafts interlocal agreements among communities,” as for example, to fund a trail.

What sets us apart

The biggest advantage northeast Indiana brings to this competition is a history of coordination and cooperation that began long before the General Assembly put $42 million on the table.

“We have a history and a track record of being able to collaborate on difficult decisions, focusing not on one another but on the issues that have to be addressed,” said John Sampson, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

More than a decade ago, civic and business leaders in the region began advocating more regional cooperation in economic development, which led to the creation of the Regional Partnership. That organization has been supported by local governments in each of its 10 member counties. (Kosciusko County is not a member, but it joined with northeast Indiana in this Regional Cities bid and the plan produced for the Regional Cities application.)

Sampson tracks the pedigree of the plan revealed today to the 2009 Vision 2020 plan, which identified a broad range of priorities for regional development, from better workforce training to infrastructure and quality-of-life initiatives.

Another measure of the region's strength is its size. Eleven counties are cooperating in the application. The next largest region, including the cities of Muncie and Anderson, has only six counties. The region that includes South Bend includes four counties, and the region that includes Evansville has four counties.

Sampson and Cutter both cite another telling indicator of the degree of cooperation in the region: Only four of the 77 county council members who voted on creating a northeast Indiana development authority voted against it. Nine county councils endorsed the development authority unanimously.

Win or lose, the region emerges from the $285,000 project of compiling this application with the most detailed picture ever of what its communities want to become in the 21st century.

The IEDC says it will announce the Regional Cities winners in December.

More Information:
To see the full plan

To find out more about the Regional Cities program and to read the full details of northeast Indiana's application, go to www.neindiana.com/vision/the-vision/regionalcities

Who's in northeast Indiana?
Eleven counties have joined in applying for funding under the state's Regional Cities program: Allen, Adams, Wells, Huntington, Wabash, Kosciusko, Whitley, Noble, DeKalb, Steuben and LaGrange



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