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Northeast Indiana leaders working to build community support for millions in state funding

March 19th, 2015

Northeast Indiana leaders working to build community support for millions in state funding

Regional Cities initiative can speed up projects such as riverfront development

By Jaclyn Goldsborough of The News-Sentinel

Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 9:23 am

More Information

Get the details:

WHAT: Wunderkammer Company, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. and the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership present an educational meet up for people to learn more about House Bill 1403 and the Regional Cities Initiative. This initiative is focused on enhancing regional quality of place by providing additional state funding to fast track our progress.

WHEN: 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25

WHERE: Wunderkammer, 3402 Fairfield Ave., Fort Wayne

INFORMATION: For more information about the event visit the Facebook event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/768487896592559.

Learn more about the initiative:
-To read House Bill 1403 visit https://iga.in.gov/legislative/2015/bills/house/1403.

Business investment, job creation and talent retention is vital to the future of Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana, but how important is it to you?

A forecast by the Indiana Business Research Center found that the working-age population will abandon many of Indianas cities and rural areas over the next 25 years.

However, community leaders are working to enhance talent retention by improving the city's quality of life by competing for state funding that can fast track programs like riverfront development, but they need the help of residents and grassroots support.

The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. and Wunderkammer Company are partnering for an educational call-to-action meeting from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25 at Wunderkammer, 3402 Fairfield Ave. At the meeting, the community is encouraged to learn more about the Regional Cities initiative and write letters to legislators supporting the initiative.

Competition for state funding

The Regional Cities initiative, or House Bill 1403, is a public-private partnership proposed and led by Governor Pence with support from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC). The goal is to transform Indiana's approach to economic development by creating communities that attract and retain talent. To achieve those goals, regional cities can submit project proposals to IDEC by July 1 with a slate of projects developed to improve quality of life in the area.

The House Ways and Means Committee passed a bill Feb. 16 that sets out details of the Regional Cities initiative.

Of course, The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and Greater Fort Wayne Inc. are already working tirelessly on the proposal, hoping Northeast Indiana will be one of the two regions chosen to receive state funding.

Fourth Economy, a consulting firm from Pittsburgh, is already working with area supporters as a guide through the process, offering technical advice and providing a framework for complying with requirements of the proposal.

In the proposal to the deciding committee, the group plans to create a final slate of approximately 50 to 60 projects based on existing plans such as Vision 2020, Thrive, Stellar and Riverfront Plan. Ultimately, if chosen, the funding would support existing project and fast track progress.

The proposals will be reviewed based on greatest economic potential, degree of regional collaboration and the level of state financial commitment and potential return on investment.

Pence's proposal suggests that $86 million be granted to support development projects over the next two fiscal years. However, it's still unknown as to the amount of state funding. On March 3, House lawmakers slashed funding to from the proposed $86 million to $20 million between the two regions.

The state program provides 20 percent state funding and requires a 20 percent local-government match in addition to a 60 percent private investment. Through the state, local and private sector, the partnership estimated the initiative could leverage nearly $1 billion over 8 to 10 years.

Supporters hope the Senate will restore funding to the level proposed by Pence, but it remains to be seen whether lawmakers can do that without pulling from existing funds such as the Underground Storage Tank Excess Liability Trust Fund, which cleans up leaking storage tank sites, by providing $40 million of the $86 million proposed by the governor.

As of now, the Regional Cities initiative is assigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee and is scheduled for hearing on Thursday, March 26. However, with amendments, it could take until the end of the session to pass.

Amy Hesting, Vision 2020 Manager for the Northeastern Indiana Regional Partnership, said Northeast Indiana needs to make sure the region stands out.

“We know that there are approximately eight other regions in the state that are vying for this funding. We think it will go to two locations and we think we have a very, very strong possibility of being chosen. I think we are a very strong contender for this, but we want it to be at the higher level of funding. So we need to make sure our legislature knows that we want this money to be bumped up to that higher level, and it's very, very important to our state,” Hesting said.

A grassroots movement

As budget negotiations continue through the end of the legislative session, the mission is still clear for Northeast Indiana leaders - empower residents to jump start Fort Wayne's quality of life to attract young professionals.

Courtney Tritch, the Director of Marketing for the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, said Indiana is not doing a good job of attracting talent, and that's is clearly economic development issue.

“Young people are choosing where to live before they are choosing where they are going to get a job so we want to put a real emphasis on quality of place. This is, to my knowledge, the first time the state has really put this topic first-and-foremost saying, 'Hey we really need to care about quality of place because this is an economic development issue,'” she said.

But the fight for funding is necessary with nearly $1 billion on the line.

“We want funding restored and we want to be the ones chosen in the state to get said funding. That the premise of this. We were trying to figure out who cares the most about quality of place and that's young people. At the event, we think it really says something when you see millennials gathering together the night before the hearing to make sure their voice is heard,” Tritch said.

Dan Swartz, curator at Wunderkammer and an organizer of the event, said the event will be a complete resource for anyone and everyone wanting to learn more about the initiative.

At the event, people can learn more about the bill and fill out the electronic form of support to send to legislators. There will also be creative postcards where people can add in their own vision of Fort Wayne's future with a personalized touch as well as light snacks and refreshments.

“It's minimal investment for folks. One thing I am really looking for is photos of the event. I really want to see, you know, old dude in business suit standing next to young kids with tattoos or something because I don't think that happens very often. I think those images will impact legislators more than words might,” Swartz said.

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