While communities of all sizes face challenges in recovering from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, rural Indiana, which had economic challenges pre-pandemic, is perhaps most at risk. And while acknowledging the challenges, state leaders say don’t count out small town Indiana just yet. ”I truly believe that there is a chance for rural Indiana to lead the revival, that road to recovery,” said Denny Spinner, the former Huntingburg Mayor who recently took over as executive director of the Indiana Office for Community and Rural Affairs.
Spinner and Indiana Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch talked about the state of rural Indiana and OCRA’s efforts to distribute tens of millions of dollars to rural communities on this weekend’s edition of Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick.
Spinner says communities are taking advantage of funding opportunities to prepare for their futures, pointing to OCRA’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, which has doled out nearly $25 million to help communities deal with the impact of the pandemic, everything from personal protective equipment to food insecurity.
OCRA expects to distribute another $20 million early in 2021 for mental health, childcare and rental payment assistance support.
OCRA also administers a federal grant program that assists communities in planning for projects ranging from sewer and water systems, community centers and quality of life programs.
“We know that rural Indiana is our next great economic development frontier,” said Crouch, who expects rural broadband connectivity to continue to be a high-profile issue in the upcoming budget-writing session of the Indiana General Assembly.
Crouch says the state’s primary commitment to broadband expansion – the $100 million Next Level Connections Broadband Grant program – reflects the importance of internet access to economic and community development and quality of life.
In addition to the Next Level fund, the state was recently informed that it will receive nearly $170 million from the federal government through its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction.