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Region eyes ‘transformative’ projects

March 4th, 2015

News Coverage:

Region eyes ‘transformative’ projects

It faces July 1 deadline to submit proposal for Regional Cities Initiative

Posted: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:38 am, Wed Mar 4, 2015.

By Barry Rochford
brochford@kpcmedia.com

If northeast Indiana is to grow — in population, in economic activity, in jobs — it’s going to have to don the gloves, get into the ring and compete.

There’s really no alternative. The bell’s already been rung.

“That competition is not coming. It’s here,” said Dave Koenig, executive director of the Steuben County Economic Development Corp.

The competition is for people. Skilled people, often young people. The fight to attract them isn’t being waged against communities across Indiana or throughout the United States. It’s global.

If northeast Indiana can’t land those people, it runs the risk of being knocked out.

“We have to have a reason to attract those skilled people who want to reside in northeast Indiana and Fort Wayne,” Koenig said.

That’s why regional leaders are working quickly to identify a slate of quality-of-life projects from throughout the 10-county area and submit a proposal to the Indiana Economic Development Corp. for possible funding. At the same time, they’re discussing forming a regional development authority to provide financial backing for getting those projects off the ground.

“If we don’t do this, we could be left behind in much more than just dollars that come to this region,” said Ken McCrory, executive director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Partnership.

“We will lose the initiative and the momentum with which to make this region stand out from other parts of the country, and even other parts of the state,” he said.

Formed last year by the IEDC, the Regional Cities Initiative would provide state funding to regional development authorities for transformational projects intended to improve communities’ quality of life. Two “regional cities” would be selected each year, with the RDAs expected to contribute their own locally generated funding to the projects, and private or commercial backers providing the majority of investment.

These regional cities — in this case, Fort Wayne is considered to include all of northeast Indiana — face a July 1 deadline of turning in a proposal that’s expected to cover the next eight years.

Koenig and McCrory are members of the steering committee that will craft the region’s proposal and help determine which projects from northeast Indiana to put forward. At a Regional Cities Initiative kickoff event Monday in Fort Wayne, examples of such quality-of-life projects included those that have not yet begun — developing Fort Wayne’s downtown riverfront, for example — and those ongoing or already in place — such as revitalizing Angola’s Public Square, and the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum and annual ACD Festival.

“(The state is) looking for a transformative plan. They’re looking for big ideas,” said John Sampson, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, which organized the kickoff event with Greater Fort Wayne Inc.

“We have the capacity and the capability to do this,” he said.

Because of the region’s track record of working cooperatively on efforts such as Vision 2020 and the Big Goal Collaborative, northeast Indiana should be at an advantage when vying for state funding, say area proponents of the Regional Cities Initiative. In addition, plans for many of the projects that would be included in the region’s proposal already exist.

It also doesn’t hurt that the Regional Partnership and Greater Fort Wayne have hired the same firm, Pittsburgh-based Fourth Economy Consulting, that worked with the IEDC to develop the Regional Cities Initiative to help put together northeast Indiana’s proposal.

The proposal will be fashioned even as some things are still in flux. State funding for the Regional Cities Initiative is yet to be finalized, and legislation making it easier to form regional development authorities is still being tweaked in the General Assembly.

As that’s unfolding, those involved with the Regional Cities Initiative know they’ll have to address concerns that the effort is focused on Fort Wayne.

“The more people appreciate what the goal is, and what the competition is, and what the challenge is that lies ahead, I think we’ll find a more willing audience,” Koenig said.

Regional Cities Initiative

Area representatives on the initiative’s steering committee are:

• Ken McCrory, executive director, DeKalb County Economic Development Partnership;

• Dave Koenig, executive director, Steuben County Economic Development Corp.; and

• Tom Leedy, president of the Dekko Foundation (Noble County).

A representative from LaGrange County has not yet been announced.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp.’s Regional Cities Initiative study, “Benchmarking U.S. Regional Cities: A Study and Guide for Transformation,” can be viewed with the online version of this story at kpcnews.com.