Regional city status worth more than just dollars

March 22nd, 2015


March 22, 2015 1:02 AM

Regional city status worth more than just dollars


When: 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Wunderkammer Company art gallery at 3402 Fairfield Ave.

What: A postcard-signing effort for expressing local support for the Regional Cities Initiative to state legislators

A statewide initiative proposed by Gov. Mike Pence could jump-start Fort Wayne’s riverfront development.

House Bill 1403 would support community efforts by encouraging growth through collaboration and public-private partnerships. The governor’s budget proposed $84 million for the initiative over the next two years, allowing regions to compete for matching grants and loans.

The idea is to attract talent through quality-of-life improvements to specified regions, which consist of any self-identified group of counties.

Eric Doden, president of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, told reporters in October that although Indiana’s population increased from 6 million to 6.4 million people over the past 10 years, the number of Indiana residents of “prime working age” – from 25 to 44 years old – is declining.

The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, representing a 10-county region, and Greater Fort Wayne Inc. have developed a proposal to make a bid for our region’s share of funding. Proposals are due July 1. But area officials learned recently that there could be about $60 million fewer up for grabs than initially expected.

The House-approved version of the budget reduces funding for the Regional Cities Initiative to only $20 million over the next two years, but money could be restored before the final two-year budget plan is approved next month.

In the meantime, local businesses and organizations are rallying to restore the proposed funds in hopes that Fort Wayne could get a generous portion, according to Courtney Tritch, vice president of marketing for the partnership.

“The region has a proven track record of getting things done, and we think this bodes well for us in becoming one of the first Regional Cities,” Tritch said.

Young residents are getting in on the conversation with a postcard-signing effort at Wunderkammer Company art gallery at 3402 Fairfield Ave. “This is about Fort Wayne as a whole,” said Wunderkammer founder Dan Swartz, 29. “It’s about catalytic projects with substantial benefits for our community.”

And as much as regional quality-of-life projects are aimed at attracting the next generation of Hoosier workers, they can also have an effect now.

John Urbahns, executive vice president of economic development for Greater Fort Wayne Inc., said the reason to support restored funding is a matter of speed in developing the riverfront and other projects with regional impact.

Long-term goals for quality-of-life improvement are going to be met regardless of what happens with the state budget. But if we secure more funding now, we’re more likely to see brick-and-mortar results immediately.

When it comes to attracting young talent, execution is everything. As the Ash Brokerage project brings more jobs to our urban core and more housing options take shape downtown, now is the time to focus on regional quality-of-life plans to attract young workers before that spark of excitement burns out.

Every spring, a new class of college graduates chooses where they want to invest their time and talent. Let’s give them another reason to choose us.