The Indiana Communities Institute at Ball State University has launched a training program designed to boost the skills of regional economic development leaders. The program, which will begin later this year, is tailored for people working at regional planning organizations and federally-designated economic development districts, who can earn a regional leadership certificate. The institute says the certificate demonstrates the participants have "completed courses and have the knowledge to accelerate and deepen their impacts in community economic development."

The U.S. Economic Development Administration awarded the institute an $885,000 grant for the three-year program to serve the six states served by the EDA’s Chicago office: Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio.

The ICI operates out of the Miller College of Business at Ball State and Executive Director David Terrell tells Inside INdiana Business why the program is necessary.

"There’s going to be a big turnover of staff because we have, like in a lot of other industries, a lot of staff (who) are aging out," said Terrell. "So there’s younger staff that needs to develop this training probably on more of a fast track. Of course you get on-the-job training, but this is more formal training. The other reason is just the constant changing of, for example, tax policy, local tax policy, just the different ways of doing business as an organization; it’s constantly changing. So this is an effort to really build up that capacity to address those needs."

The ICI says the training and certification will be customized in collaboration with the agencies for which the participants work. The participants will spend 11 days learning from staff and expert practitioners at Ball State, with courses covering subjects such as local government finance, organizational leadership, community development, project management, fiscal management, and administration.

The regional program follows a pilot run by the ICI, which served economic development personnel in Indiana. Terrell says the pilot was a success and caught the attention of the EDA office in Chicago.

"They saw what we are doing in Indiana and our client regions in Indiana have been very, very happy with the work that we’ve been doing, so this has really kind of become a model. So we were approached by the EDA to develop this and extend the pilot to the surrounding states in the Midwest. This also has national intentions from the National Association of Development Organizations. There’s strong interest in developing some kind of certification program; it’s like a regional certification program along the lines of economic development certification."

Terrell says one of the institute’s long-term goal is to get the program implemented in regions throughout each of the six states, which is currently ongoing. He adds another goal is to develop a community economic development academy.

"We envision, even as early as next year, offering these classes through an academy approach to the general public along with other courses that we already have been putting on for several years. We have a portfolio of really rigorous classes for practitioners out in the field who want to increase their knowledge in this arena of community economic development."

The ICI says it will partner with Ball State’s Sponsored Projects Administration, Center for Business and Economic Research, and Bowen Center for Public Affairs, in addition to universities and professional organizations in other states, to further develop the program.

David Terrell tells Inside INdiana Business why the program is necessary.