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Tour highlights region’s virtues

March 19th, 2015

News Coverage:

Tour highlights region’s virtues

It will assist in creating a list of quality-of-life projects

Posted: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 11:00 pm | Updated: 6:23 am, Thu Mar 19, 2015.

By Barry Rochford
brochford@kpcmedia.com

In cities and towns across northeast Indiana, the group paused to listen to the community’s story — where it came from, where it is now, and its aspirations and dreams for the future.

The group walked along Kendallville’s Main Street, learning some of the history of its more than century-old buildings. It ate at the Blue Gate Restaurant in Shipshewana and visited one of the shops that has helped make the town a tourism powerhouse. It saw how Trine University is working with businesses to accelerate their innovation, while also providing real-world experiences to students.

The group was made up of community and business leaders, and members of a consulting firm — all tasked with crafting a proposal to obtain state funding for dozens and dozens quality-of-life projects that would be completed throughout the region in the coming years.

The hope was for the group to come away from the experience with the sense that northeast Indiana as a whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.

The group’s tour of the region, which included stops Monday and Tuesday in all 10 counties, was organized by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. The partnership and Greater Fort Wayne Inc. are leading efforts to be one of two regions selected by the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to receive state funding through its Regional Cities Initiative.

The state funding — which presently stands at $20 million over two years in a bill under consideration in the General Assembly — would be used to leverage private investment in the quality-of-life projects. It also would be matched by funding generated locally through the formation of a regional development authority, to which member cities and counties would contribute some of their revenue.

The projects could be regional in scope, such as development of northeast Indiana trail system or expanded broadband access. Or they could focus on specific communities, for example, riverfront development in Fort Wayne. Plans for many of the projects already exist and will be bundled together in northeast Indiana’s Regional Cities Initiative proposal that must be submitted prior to July 1.

The two economic development organizations have contracted with Pittsburgh-based Fourth Economy Consulting, which assisted the IEDC with its Regional Cities Initiative, to help develop northeast Indiana’s proposal.

Collectively, say those involved in the Regional Cities Initiative, the projects would make northeast Indiana more attractive, increasing its population, business and the number of jobs available.

On Monday, the Regional Partnership-led group, composed of Regional Cities Initiative steering committee members and Fourth Economy representatives, made stops in Fort Wayne, Decatur, Bluffton, Wabash and Huntington. The tour of northeast Indiana continued Tuesday with stops in Auburn, Angola, Shipshewana, Kendallville and Columbia City.

“The idea of this was: How do you get everybody thinking about the region?” John Sampson, president and CEO of the Regional Partnership, said about the tour.

At the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum in Auburn, Executive Director Laura Brinkman explained the museum’s significance to DeKalb County and the region. It’s part of a countywide alliance of nine museums, attracting 50,000 visitors a year from about 40 different countries, and this year it’s building a new education and events plaza.

In addition, the Labor Day weekend ACD Festival and accompanying collector car auctions attract more than 100,000 to Auburn.

“It has developed and become an asset to the community in ways that I never dreamed,” said Mayor Norm Yoder of Auburn’s continued love of automobiles.

In Angola, Steuben County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Dave Koenig detailed plans to turn a former manufacturing facility on South Wayne Street into a proposed enterprise center that would offer skills training, business incubation services and co-working space. And he gave an overview of Angola’s desire to create a more than 1,200-acre certified technology park at the intersection of Interstate 69 and U.S. 20.

Jason Blume, executive director of Trine University’s Innovation One, showed how the center can partner with businesses to improve their products or processes, while also giving students the ability to apply what they’re learning in the classroom.

After a lunch at the Blue Gate Restaurant in Shipshewana, the Regional Partnership group visited Annalea’s Boutique, which specializes in women’s fashion and is among the unique shops that attract people to the town.

“There’s literally a lot of people from all over the world who come to Shipshewana,” said owner Leanna Martin, who started the business four years ago.

Following a brief history tour of downtown Kendallville, the group heard about Noble County’s natural resources, its resurgent manufacturing industry and efforts to connect students with potential careers.

“We’re thinking more regionally and more collaboratively than we ever have,” said Kendallville Mayor Suzanne Handshoe.

Members of the Regional Cities Initiative steering committee will help organize county meetings in April to solicit feedback about projects to be included in northeast Indiana’s proposal. Among the steering committee members are: Koenig; Tom Leedy of the Dekko Foundation; Lora Tormanen of the LaGrange County Economic Development Corp.; and Ken McCrory of the DeKalb County Economic Development Partnership.

The Regional Cities Initiative proposal is expected to be finalized in June.

Sampson said while the projects that might be contained within the proposal, such as a regional trail system, will be important, what they represent will be equally significant: that northeast Indiana is willing to invest in itself and pursue opportunities to raise its quality of life.

And that will go a long way in attracting people and businesses to the region.

“It’s not the trail, it’s the whole thing,” Sampson said.

Regional Cities Initiative

• More information about the initiative is available at neindiana.com/vision/the-vision/regionalcities and indianaregionalcities.com.