INDIANAPOLIS – An area focused in Hancock County was awarded only about 10% of the funds it sought from a large state grant program intended to support accelerated regional development.
The Indiana Economic Development Corporation and Gov. Eric Holcomb recently announced the awards in their Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative program, also called READI. The program had a budget of $500 million to support regional development plans, but received requests for triple that amount from 17 regional partnerships across the state that included representation from every county.
The 70-40 Mt. Comfort Corridor Region, located in Hancock County along with part of eastern Indianapolis, requested $48 million and was awarded $5 million. It was the smallest award received by any of the 17 regions that were allocated grant money; it is also the only region to be made up primarily of just one county. The town of McCordsville participated in a separate, larger READI region.
“The amount is certainly less than we had applied for, so I think we’ll have to be really thoughtful about how the dollars are disbursed,” said Hancock County Community Foundation president Mary Gibble, who was part of the board that guided the READI process.
A steering committee made up of government, business and community leaders from Hancock and eastern Marion counties put together proposals for 33 potential projects in the area, all outlined in a document submitted to the READI review board. They included a broad spectrum of potential projects, including ones aimed at post-high school education, affordable housing, road development and attracting businesses.
One core project area, the Hancock Gateway/Innovation Education Center, is focused on the Mt. Comfort area. The proposals include a 25-acre parcel of land set aside for a future hospital.
Another core project area is the “Hancock County Thrive Center,” envisioned as a physical hub for workforce development and continuing education. Other areas include the State Road 9 corridor and health-focused projects centered on the east side of Indianapolis.
“The region evaluated projects based on several factors, which included alignment with regional goals and strategies; economic development potential; benefits to residents, workforce and employers; potential for collaboration within the region; and the likelihood of success,” the group wrote in its document.
Which of those projects will come to fruition remains to be seen. The document outlines the funding already secured and the funding requested from READI for each individual project. While some are already fully funded, others requested substantial amounts of money, with some individual projects requesting amounts well over the $5 million total awarded.
County Commissioner Bill Spalding, who also helped lead the process, said the amount awarded was “maybe disappointing but never discouraging.” Other regions, he said, were also awarded less than they asked for and will have to make the same decisions about how to prioritize their spending.
“I think we’re going to have to sit down and discuss what are the projects we want to prioritize and how we do that,” Spalding said.
Christine Owens, assistant town manager in Cumberland, was involved with putting together the region’s submission. She said she doesn’t feel disappointed by the amount of money the state chose to award.
“I think we’re just pleased to be awarded and given a chance to show what our region can do,” Owens said.
Owens said the next step for READI stakeholders will be coming together to evaluate what projects to prioritize. She said the board has prepared several criteria for evaluating projects, including how they contribute to overall regional goals, sustainability, economic development potential, and what funding is already in place. .
Gibble said even though the region wasn’t awarded as much money as it asked for, the process of putting together a proposal was one that created meaningful projects and relationships that will continue to be valuable.
“That means we keep plugging along,” she said.
McCordsville is part of a READI coalition of communities on the White River basin, including Hamilton, Marion and Madison counties and Zionsville along with several other communities. The group applied to READI for $49 million and received $20 million.
Tonya Galbraith, McCordsville town manager, said she’s waiting to see how the funds will be divided among the coalition’s members.
“It was hard enough, really, because it was $200 million in projects originally that we got down to $49 million,” Galbraith said. “So now we’re at $49 million, we need to get down to $20 million.”
Of the original ask, McCordsville sought $4.3 million for help with the town center leaders have been working on.
“Which also was one of the smaller amounts,” Galbraith said. “…I am fearful that we may not do well.”
Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, praised the state’s awards in the program in a press release.
“I commend the READI grant applicants for their hard work and dedication to improving our community and creating a positive outlook for Indiana’s economic future,” Crider said. “I look forward to seeing the local impact these grants will have in Senate District 28, for present and future generations.”
Gibble said the state was so impressed with the proposals for the program that a second round of READI grants for 2022 is already being considered, to which the region could re-submit programs that it isn’t able to fund this round.
“We’ll be ready for READI the next time it comes around,” she said.