A Ball State University study found the state's Regional Cities Initiative has improved quality of place and helped communities compete for skilled workers.
Indiana awarded $126 million in matching funds for various quality-of-place projects to three regions in 2015. Projects across the state have included riverfront development, trails and a downtown medical center. Ball State's survey of economic development and chamber leaders in the winning cities found the state's program, aimed at attracting and retaining human capital, has helped improve communities.
“Regional Cities funding is designed to help attract and retain talent, but it’s also changing how current residents view their communities,” said Beth Neu, director of public policy and engagement at the Indiana Communities Institute. “Taken together with previous research, it’s clear that collaborating as regions has a long-term future in Indiana.”
The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority had sought $42 million in Regional Cities funding to help pay for the double-tracking of the South Shore commuter rail line from Gary to Michigan City, but the state instead awarded grants to the Fort Wayne, Evansville and South Bend-Elkhart regions.
The state has since then pledged $6 million annually for 30 years to the South Shore project.
The three Regional Cities areas have said the funding was a success that attracted more private investment than expected and sparked more enthusiam among residents.
“This figure is consistent with historical measures for job-creation incentives at the state level, but produces something even more valuable in new residents,” said Michael Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State. “While this study shows positive initial results for this one-time influx of state investment, sustaining the existing momentum and expanding it statewide will require further contributions by state government.”
The Ball State report recommended that the Regional Cities Initiative should be continued to better allow Indiana "to compete with other states for a talented workforce."