The Indiana Regional Cities Initiative is many things – it’s a program built around collaboration, big ideas and passion. I’m an architect by profession, so this is in my wheelhouse. This is what gets me excited. The re-development of abandoned buildings, the revitalization of downtowns and a commitment to making our communities more vibrant places to live makes for an even better Indiana.
I could talk your ear off on the subject, to be frank. But in the spirit of collaboration, I’m going to let our partners and leaders across the state help me illustrate the significance of this initiative.
"For more than two years, thoughtful state leaders have pushed the need for Indiana to focus attention on population growth," Michael Hicks, renowned Ball State University economist, wrote. "Indiana’s Regional Cities Initiative [is] one of the most creative and thoughtful public policies to come out of any state in a generation."
As the pieces of this project came together, elected officials, economic development groups and business leaders crossed county lines to brainstorm projects and identify their future as a region. "There was spirited conversation, give and take," Wayne County Council member Jeff Plasterer said. "It was fun to watch. It was very productive."
And indeed it was. Because this idea is novel. Never before at this scale have communities set aside traditional loyalties and come together to think about all the assets that the region offers. "It’s been really fascinating to work on a project of this kind because it’s so different," Greg Wathen, president of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana, told the Evansville Courier & Press. "It’s changing how we think about economic development and what matters to a community."
"[It] has already proved successful in that more than 2,000 leaders from throughout our region have been working together on transformational projects that will benefit every man, woman and child in our three-county region," added Dallas Bergl, president and CEO of INOVA Federal Credit Union in Elkhart.
The inspiring part, to me, is that this progress has really been driven on the grassroots level. While Indiana Regional Cities sets the framework for collaboration, each region’s future and the plan to achieve it is unique. Chris White, publisher of the Times of Northwest Indiana, put it well: "Working together doesn’t mean we all follow the same flag or march under the same banner, but we will all move the region forward."
In Indiana, our business-friendly climate is attracting new investment and new jobs every hour of every day. We’ve worked hard to create an environment that is now consistently ranked among the best in the nation. And this initiative, this way of thinking about and investing in our communities, is the next step.
"It’s all about attracting people," said Sullivan Mayor Clint Lamb. "And once you attract people to your community, business follows."
"The competitive landscape among U.S. cities and regions has changed significantly in the past decade," Indy Chamber CEO Michael Huber added. "A traditional, deal-making economic development approach is not enough. We must attract and retain top talent, develop great places and neighborhoods, all of which help businesses reach their full potential."
As Hoosiers, we know that Indiana is the best place to live, work and play. And we won’t stop until that story is heard in all corners of the world. "Good is not good enough," penned John Sampson of Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and John Urbahns of Greater Fort Wayne Inc. "We share a vision of bucking Midwest trends and breaking new ground."
We asked regions to be bold. And with seven applications that total more than 420 quality of place projects with a combined $3.78 billion in investment planned, they delivered.
"The state’s Regional Cities Initiative was bold enough that 70 percent of the state’s residents now live in regions with an honest and realistic plan to attract more people to their areas," wrote Hicks. "That alone is a monumental policy achievement as significant as anything that has been tried by any state in a couple decades."
On December 15, the Indiana Regional Cities Strategic Review Committee will convene one last time to present its recommendation for state funds to the IEDC Board. But even after months (and in some cases years) of long-term planning from the regions and four months of in-depth evaluation and deliberation from the review committee, this is really just the beginning. As we look forward to celebrating Indiana’s bicentennial next year, this initiative and this progress will carry us into the future and transform our communities to improve the lives of Hoosiers for the next 200 years.
Jim Schellinger is president of the Indiana Economic Development Corp.