Groups to vie for up to $50M in READI funding

Up to $50 million in grants is becoming available to regions of Indiana to build their future economies, workforces and populations.

Next week, a broad group of town and county leaders has been invited to come together and talk about what partnerships and projects might be possible for Brown County.

The READI program (Regional Economic Acceleration Development Initiative) is offering regions across the state up to $50 million each to “advance economic growth, grow talent attraction, and create long-term strategies for prosperity,” explained Maddison Miller, CEO of the Brown County Community Foundation, in an email last week.

On Thursday, June 24 at 8 a.m., representatives from town and county government, redevelopment commissions, schools, philanthropic organizations, industry leaders and other “anchor institutions” have been invited to an initial listening session to learn about the program and discuss the “priorities, opportunities and needs of our community.

“This information will become part of the long-term strategic development plan for the region, a requirement for a READI submission,” Miller explained.

If Brown County applies for funding, it must be done as part of a region. Brown County is already in the 11-county Indiana Uplands region, and six years ago, a planning process started for how that region could work together if funding such as this became available. However, Brown County does not have to apply with Indiana Uplands; it could apply with a different region. That could be one of the topics of conversation at the meeting, Miller said.

Brown County has to decide if it is interested in applying for READI and if, so, with what region, by July 1, Miller said. Then, the READI funding proposal has to be submitted to the Indiana Economic Development Corporation by no later than Aug. 31.

READI literature suggests that counties look at their geographic “labor shed” to decide what region they should be in — where their county’s employees come from and where their residents go to work. Counties will need to give some sort of explanation for why they are in the region they’re in, Miller said.

She said she didn’t know what leadership role the community foundation would play in this; for now, they’re a convener to get people in the same room, learning about the opportunity.

This is the largest potential pool of grant funding that Brown County could be able to share in since the town and county tried for a Stellar Communities designation in 2014. That bid was not successful. Residents had various concerns about entering into the Stellar program, including how quickly the application was submitted and what they felt was lack of public input about what projects were going to be; and about how much match money was required and where it was coming from.

READI requires a 4:1 match, with a 1:1 match with public funding and a recommended 3:1 match from private sources like industry and philanthropy. That translates to 60 percent from private sources, 20 percent from the local community, like local government, and 20 percent from READI, Miller said. Considering the percentage needed from private sources, partnering with counties that have more industry would make that level of investment more possible.

In terms of public input on projects, Miller said they’ll learn more about the process at this June 24 meeting, but she knows it involves a planning grant and those usually require public input. She’s already sent out more invites to people than will fit in the community foundation’s small meeting room, but there will be more meetings after this one if Brown County decides to move foward.

Program materials say that “each region seeking funding will propose data-driven strategies based on the area’s unique landscape that, when implemented, will remove barriers to growth and advance economic activity. The IEDC urges regions to select strategies that will make positive developments in quality of place and quality of life, quality of opportunity, innovation, entrepreneurship, and talent attraction and development.

“These strategies can be physical projects, such as infrastructure, workforce housing developments, the revitalization of blighted or vacant properties, and cultural amenities, as well as sustainable, multi-year programs, such as talent attraction initiatives, public-private partnerships to advance industry innovation, and small business support services.”

Miller stressed that having the county’s major employers in the June 24 listening session is “a huge necessity, because I do think there are proposed projects that could be helped by READI dollars, and if they’re in the room, it might help offset the cost they were going to pay out of pocket anyway.”

Applications will be reviewed in the fall and the IEDC will announce which will be funded before the end of the year.

“We need to use this opportunity to dream big as a community because there’s so much money coming in so quickly between federal and state stimulus dollars,” Miller said. “The temptation is to get money out the door as quickly as possible .. rather than being strategic, but I think there’s opportunity to leverage some work that we’ve done over the past five years and really dream big about what we want for the future of our community and region — and quickly.”