Editorial: Give READI grants to the best proposals

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The Indiana Economic Development Corp. is set next week to approve some $500 million in Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative grants that are aimed at helping areas of the state better compete in the race to attract talent and economic investment.

Seventeen regional groups—five of them in central Indiana—are competing for up to $50 million each to jump-start hundreds of projects meant to improve “quality of place,” considered an essential ingredient in the economic development toolbox.

The Legislature has not allocated enough money to fund all the requests, which total more than $1 billion. And so—if IEDC board members stick within their budget—they’ll be making tough choices about which regions receive money.

We know that will be tough—and we don’t envy the job. But we urge members of the IEDC to be ruthless in their decisions.

It might be tempting to sprinkle money all around the state, giving partial grants to every region that applied. And if the proposals the regions submitted and their presentations over the past two weeks indicate that’s the best route, then so be it.

But we suspect some proposals outshine others. And state funding should go to the regions that are most organized, most ready to put the dollars to good use and have the best ideas for attracting and retaining talent for Indiana.

There is a lot of money at stake. Not only is Indiana investing $500 million, but the regions must provide $4 in matching funds through public-private partnerships and philanthropic contributions for every $1 they receive from the state. That is a tremendous opportunity to leverage significant investment—but it also increases the need to make wise decisions about funding.

That does not mean READI grants should go to urban areas or those that have the flashiest proposals. Those areas often already have access to capital and private investment to do major projects. We think smaller communities and rural areas are just as likely to have big ideas that just need help getting off the ground. And their efforts are an important part of a larger strategy to attract remote workers and others who might be sick of living in a big city with a high cost of living.

We are excited to see what the IEDC chooses to fund in what we hope will be just the first round of READI grants—and we can’t wait to see what communities do with the money.

A review of the similar Regional Cities Initiative created under Gov. Mike Pence found that three years after the state awarded $42 million each to three regions, some $1.2 billion in total (70% from the private sector) had been invested in 64 quality-of-place projects in 18 counties.

As was the case then, not every region will likely be funded this time. The IEDC should work with those regions that don’t win money this time to refine their proposals for another round. And the IEDC and Gov. Eric Holcomb should ask the Legislature for more money to keep the program going—but only if the ideas appear worthy. We suspect they will.•


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