Editorial: Holcomb’s regional grant program holds great promise

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With $500 million set aside to boost regional growth across Indiana, Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative—or READI—positions the state well to take full advantage of the post-pandemic economic recovery.

We’ve been supportive of the concept since the governor outlined it in his State of the State address in January, but the history of similar programs gave us doubts about whether the Legislature would adequately fund it.

Our doubts evaporated when state revenue projections spiked unexpectedly and the federal government gave Indiana $3 billion in pandemic relief, making it politically impossible for the Legislature not to properly fund an array of priorities, including the READI grants.

As Holcomb outlined this week, the program will encourage neighboring counties, cities and towns to partner and apply for grants of up to $50 million per region. The plans must be focused on retaining, developing and attracting workforce talent through strategies designed to boost innovation, entrepreneurship and improving quality of place and life.

The program requires each region to provide $4 in matching funds for every $1 awarded by the state, meaning the program could attract at least $2 billion in investment through public-private partnerships and philanthropic funding.

The governor’s hope, and ours, is that the investment will be used on everything from housing to infrastructure to cultural amenities to entrepreneurial support services, anything an area needs to attract and develop the talent and economic investment required for Indiana to continue to thrive and grow.

The governor and the Legislature are to be commended for laying such visionary groundwork. Now it is up to local community leaders, businesses and foundations to come together and form regional plans that embrace the governor’s goals.

There is no time to waste. Under the timetable the governor established this week, planning must begin immediately as the state prepares to award the grants by the end of the year.

Local communities must self-identify their regions and inform the Indiana Economic Development Corp. of their intent to apply for a READI grant no later than July 1. The state will then provide $50,000 planning grants to each region to help convene area leaders, develop a plan and submit a final grant application by Aug. 31.

Some of the framework for regional planning should already be in place, thanks to earlier programs such as the Indiana Regional Cities Initiative and the 21st Century Talent Regions Initiative.

Still, it will take a lot of work to bring together all the stakeholders in a particular region and secure the matching funds needed to take full advantage of the $50 million grants.

A diverse array of local elected officials, school leaders, major employers, area foundations, cultural institutions, economic development officials and more must all come together to make the magic happen.

So huddle now. Come up with an amazing plan. And don’t squander this potentially transformative opportunity.•


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