INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Communities across Indiana are set to find out Tuesday whether they will share in $500 million that state officials are giving out for regional economic development projects.
Proposals covering all 92 Indiana counties were submitted for the money coming from federal COVID-19 relief funding, with those requests from 17 regional organizations totaling some $1.5 billion toward plans for making their areas more appealing to new residents and business investment.
The Indiana Economic Development Corp. board is scheduled Tuesday afternoon to consider recommendations from an advisory committee on awarding the grants for up to $50 million.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, who is the economic development board’s chairman, pushed for creation of the grant program and has called it a “bonanza” toward boosting community growth across the state.
“It’s about attacking population scarcity, attracting talent, retention and recruitment to our state,” Holcomb said.
The Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative program comes as Indiana has seen many years of uneven economic and population growth. The 2020 census found that Indiana’s population grew 4.7% over the past decade, with Indianapolis and its surrounding counties seeing three-quarters of that growth. Meanwhile, much of rural Indiana lost population as 49 of the state’s 92 counties had few residents.
Many of the grant proposals included plans aimed at encouraging more housing construction, building new recreation facilities and attracting businesses.
For instance, the application from a group of seven rural western Indiana counties included a plan for giving vacant land in the small town of Sullivan to home builders and covering 10% of builders’ utility costs in order to address stagnant housing availability. The coalition of six rural counties between Indianapolis and South Bend has plans for subsidizing construction of hundreds of new houses and apartments, along with supporting projects such as tarmac improvements at Grissom Air Reserve Base near Peru and upgrades at the Kokomo Speedway.
Groups centered on urban areas also look toward improving their appeal.
One such application proposes several new park and recreation facilities along the White River from Anderson and into Indianapolis. The South Bend-Elkhart Regional Partnership proposal includes assisting a planned $30 million upgrade to South Bend’s Morris Performing Arts Center and plans in Goshen for a 10-court indoor tennis facility and an outdoor ice rink and pavilion.
Pete McCown, chairman of the South Bend-Elkhart group, told the grant program review committee earlier this month he believed its members had a difficult task picking among all the applications.
“I found myself pulling for all 17 regions,” McCown said. "This opportunity and exercise will be good for the Hoosier State, and I do not envy your responsibility.”
The Republican-dominated state Legislature initially dedicated $150 million toward the program that Holcomb proposed in January. That funding total was increased to $500 million in April as the state budget was bolstered by $3 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding.
Indiana Democrats have faulted Republicans for claiming credit for the regional grant program while the state’s entire GOP congressional delegation opposed its funding source, the American Rescue Plan signed in March by President Joe Biden.
“Thanks to the Rescue Plan, READI’s $500 million will bring transformational change for communities in all areas of the state — despite all Indiana Republicans voting no and describing the program as ‘socialism,’” Indiana Democratic Party chairman Mike Schmuhl said.