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EDITORIAL: Collaboration made Regional Cities a winner

December 19, 2015

We’re disappointed that Indianapolis lost out on millions of dollars in the state’s Regional Cities program, but there are lessons to be learned from the winning bidders—and a broader message to heed: Regional cooperation is a good idea even when there isn’t a state-funded jackpot at stake.

Earlier this year, the Legislature approved the $84 million grant program, proposed by Gov. Mike Pence as a way to boost the appeal of the state’s urban areas by funding quality-of-life improvements. The theory was that the resulting amenities will make the areas more competitive, leading to population and job growth.

A committee of artists, tech company leaders, higher education officials and others vetted seven proposals and made recommendations to the Indiana Economic Development Corp. In selecting regional projects anchored by Evansville, Fort Wayne and South Bend, the committee and IEDC favored initiatives that felt truly regional and that broke new ground for those communities.

The Indianapolis entry would have applied the money to initiatives already in the works: The 16 Tech innovation district just northwest of downtown and a section of the Red Line Bus Rapid Transit line between the University of Indianapolis and Broad Ripple. The Red Line would ultimately extend from Westfield to Greenwood and is part of a comprehensive transit plan for the region.

Those behind the city’s bid expressed optimism both projects would proceed even without the Regional Cities money.

The successful bid from the Fort Wayne region, called Road to One Million because of its goal of raising the region’s population to 1 million, is representative of the winning bids. The plan was created using grass-roots input from 12 counties and calls for new performing arts spaces, recreational areas and live-work developments, among other things.

The legislation creating Regional Cities called for two $42 million grants to be awarded. In awarding three grants, the Pence administration signaled its intent to expand the program to a total of $126 million if the Legislature will sign off. The tax amnesty program that will fund Regional Cities has collected $50 million more than anticipated, money the Legislature should approve for the third grant.

But lawmakers should resist pressure to add even more money to the pot to fund the unsuccessful bids from Indianapolis, northwest Indiana, the Wabash River region and Muncie. It’s better to wait and see whether the millions to be spent in the winning regions has the desired effect.

Regardless of the cost, we hope the Regional Cities program persuades communities across the state to collaborate with their neighbors rather than work against them. College graduates looking for a place to live and companies searching for places to expand don’t care about county boundaries. They look for regions with amenities that transcend invisible borders. Creating that appeal requires creativity and collaboration. That’s good business, and not just when there’s a contest to be won.•

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