FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Kosciusko County is the latest to join the Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority, making it the largest in the state at 11 counties. The RDA has been formed to apply for a Regional Cities Initiative grant that the state created last month.
Regional development authorities are the only ones eligible to receive the matching funds available through the state program. This corner’s RDA is made up of Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wabash, Wells, and Whitley counties. The RDA will not add any more counties.
Kosciusko County selected northeast Indiana over the South Bend region. “Our Chamber did a study in 2012,” stated Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer. “In it, we found out that people in our community do their shopping, entertainment, healthcare, transportation in Fort Wayne. That was quantifiable.”
Each community can only be a part of one RDA, which made leaders in Kosciusko County a difficult one. “We had a careful decision,” the mayor added. “We love our connections to the South Bend region, and by no means do we want to cut ties. We consider ourselves fortunate to have both regions to work with.”
Urbahns added to what Thallemer said.
“Having Kosciusko County join us makes us stronger,” said Urbahns.
As a collective whole, the RDA is competing for up to $42 million in state matching funds by submitting proposals with a slate of game-changing, quality of life projects.
Two regions will be named Regional Cities and be awarded $42 million for projects over two years. That money will have to be matched with local dollars and private investments.
The state is expected to name the winning regions in September.
“We’re putting together a plan that will be submitted to the state sometime around July 1 that shows how we’re working together, from a project prospective and a programmatic prospective,” John Urbahns, executive vice president of economic development at Greater Fort Wayne, Inc., said. “If you look at what’s going on in those counties from an economic development standpoint, it will look very compelling to the state.”
Urbahns added that the counties in the RDA have a decade-long history of working together on economic development.
If the region is awarded a grant, the tough decision will be which projects to fund.
A survey has been setup to gather public input on every project. Click here for the survey. The survey closes Monday.
The money will not get divided evenly per county, or by population, but will go to projects that have are expected to have the biggest impact on the entire region.
Regional leaders have already formed a steering committee that has begun a planning phase, conducted interviews, and focus groups. Huntington University President Dr. Sherilyn Emberton, who sits on the committee, said she is not worried about how the money is spent, if it’s awarded to the northeast.
“When we went looking through all the projects, we saw such synergy,” Emberton said. “It really would be a win-win for everyone.”
Thallemer offered similar remarks.
“We understand the focus of the Regional Cities in northeast Indiana is at Fort Wayne,” Thallemer said. “Anything that makes Fort Wayne a great place to live certainly helps our community.”
An RDA, according to the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, may be created between two or more adjacent counties or second class cities (population of 35,000 to 599,999). No funding commitment is required by member communities to create or join. The RDA can apply to the new state funded Indiana Regional City Fund, which the Indiana Economic Development Council oversees, for matching grants and loans; it may also accept loans, grants, and other contributions from federal, state, and private sources.
According to the Regional Cities website there are currently eight regions competing for the grants.
Next step for the Northeast Indiana RDA is creating a five-member board, as outlined by state law, which will work with the state to get funding for selected projects in the area.