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Indiana counties teaming up to pursue $84M in state grants

June 17, 2015

Counties around Indiana are starting to form coalitions in an effort to win potentially millions of dollars in new state grants for regional development projects.

The counties are establishing Regional Development Authorities to compete for $84 million in funding included in the state budget over the next two years, WNDU-TV reported. Elkhart, Marshall and St. Joseph counties have teamed up, and so have 11 counties around Fort Wayne, including Kosciusko and LaGrange counties.

Those 11 counties, most of which have been working on a regional approach toward development since 2007, form the state's largest coalition, said spokesman John Sampson of the Northeast Regional Development Authority.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed legislation in May creating the Regional Cities Initiative. The new program will allow the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to award grants or loans to regional groups for infrastructure or amenity projects that could help attract businesses and people to those areas. The money would be granted to just two regions every two years.

Landing just one of the $42 million grants would be a 20-percent co-investment into larger portfolio projects totaling $210 million in investments, according to Regina Emberton, president of the Michiana Partnership.

"And this could be anything from entrepreneurial programs that are done, trails, infrastructure, it could be the South Shore connection to Chicago, enhancing that, the frequency of those trains and our connectivity through a 90-minute ride to Chicago," said Emberton. "The Metro Net and creating dark fiber connectivity throughout Elkhart and St. Joseph County, as well as further in Marshall."

IBJ reported June 9 that Westfield, Carmel, Indianapolis and Greenwood are also considering applying for one of the grants to help it fund the first phase of a regional rapid-transit route for electric buses.

The Clark County Council voted unanimously last week against joining the regional development authority proposed among Indiana counties and cities near Louisville, Kentucky. Council members raised concerns about giving too much control to an appointed five-member board.

The southern Indiana initiative's steering committee has discussed trying to ensure adequate water supply and establishing Wi-Fi services in rural areas.

Applications for the Regional Cities Initiative should be submitted by July 1.

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