When the state sees how its $500 million investment yields billions in positive returns through assorted initiatives to create jobs and spark growth, it’s natural for economic development professionals to ask for more.
Gov. Eric Holcomb said during the Ignite the Region annual luncheon Sept. 27 he supports providing more funds to the Indiana Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative, more widely known as the READI program. It provided hundreds of millions in funding to 17 regions around Indiana, which have used the dollars for a range of efforts to stimulate economic growth and improve quality of place.
The Region, led by the Northwest Indiana Forum and its Ignite the Region plan, received a $50 million share of the $500 million in READI funds in December. Ignite the Region is a long-term strategy to strengthen Northwest Indiana’s economy, which the Forum and its partners have been working on how to implement and achieve its goals since 2018.
While Holcomb supports more READI funding, he said other government programs also need state dollars.
“Personally, I’m supportive of READI round two or READI repeat,” he said. But dollars provided to the initiative in the last budget meant shifting resources from elsewhere.
“We have to see what we can afford,” Holcomb said. “There are a lot of competing interests.”
Holcomb and other state leaders were encouraged by the collaborative environment created statewide by the READI program.
“This wasn’t just the state saying here’s what you’re going to do to fix your problems,” he said. “This started at the street level and what we needed to do to take (our state) to the next level.”
Heather Ennis, president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum, said communities must change to evolve.
“There is some pretty cool stuff happening in Northwest Indiana,” Ennis said, referencing the massive passenger rail improvement projects now under way in addition to the Ignite plan. Implementation teams are focusing on five pillars including business development and marketing, entrepreneurship and innovation, talent, placemaking and infrastructure.
“Cooperation will sustain us,” Ennis said.
U.S. Rep. Frank Mrvan, who represents the 1st Congressional District, said federal action including passage of the Creating Helpful Initiatives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) for America Act, is one example bringing long-term benefits to Indiana. SkyWater Technology of Minnesota announced in July it will invest $1.8 billion to build a semiconductor facility in the Discovery Park District at Purdue University in West Lafayette, which is projected to create 750 jobs.
Though SkyWater isn’t building the facility in the Region, Northwest Indiana and other communities will benefit, Mrvan said. He pointed to production stoppages by Ford in Illinois because of lack of computer chips.
“We’re dependent on foreign sources for those chips,” he said. “If we can shorten that supply chain and return that manufacturing here, it will help us.”
Another event highlight, Bill Hanna, former president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, and current executive director of the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation, was presented a Sagamore of the Wabash award by Holcomb. The RDA, under Hanna’s leadership, was among the agencies that played a key role in securing funding for the West Lake rail extension project and the South Shore double track project.
The Sagamore of the Wabash is one of the highest civilian honors bestowed by a sitting Indiana governor, which recognizes service to Indiana or the governor.