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Study: Regional Cities Initiative Creating Better Places to Live, Work
Indiana Ag Connection - 10/08/2018

The Regional Cities Initiative (RCI) has accelerated quality-of-place improvements, helped Indiana compete for talented workers, and sparked community pride among residents and visitors, says a new report from Ball State University.

Qualitative Impacts of the Regional Cities Initiative examines the effect of RCI, based on about 30 interviews with economic development and chamber leaders as well as on-site visits. This is the second phase of a study about RCI, an effort within Indiana counties that aims to attract and retain talent through improving communities. The study was initiated by the Metro Chamber Alliance.

"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."

Three regions of Indiana (Northeast, North Central, and Southwest) were awarded state funding as part of RCI.

Common themes from the interviews include:

- RCI has been a success in all three regions -- even more successful than most had hoped or predicted.

- The initiative has already helped to attract more private investment than was projected.

- The initiative has sparked increased enthusiasm from residents and visitors about their communities.

- Communities working together as regions makes the state more attractive to new residents and maximizes the benefits of limited resources.

- The initiative helped improve communities of all sizes; leaders were pleasantly surprised by the importance placed on improving smaller communities.

- Indiana should continue RCI to compete with other states for a talented workforce.

"If we want to grow jobs, wages, and the economy, we must build communities that our residents see as too good to leave, and that newcomers see as too good to pass up," said John Urbahns, executive vice president of economic development at Greater Fort Wayne Inc. "The Regional Cities Initiative has been an incredibly effective tool in our efforts to build a nationally recognized economy."

The Regional Cities program was a game-changer for the South Bend-Elkhart region, said Jeff Rea, president and chief executive officer of the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"It served as a critical catalyst for key quality-of-place improvements across our region that are driving economic growth and helping us attract new people to the region," Rea said. "But more importantly, it has helped us instill a new culture of regional cooperation and collaboration that is now part of our DNA. Years from now, we'll look back at this initiative as the program that changed the trajectory of our region."

The initiative benefitted the southwest part of the state, said Beth McFadden Higgins, Southwest Indiana Regional Development Authority board chair.

"Neighbors have started improving their properties near the Poseyville Regional Medical Center, for example, and this has inspired the entire community," she said. "And the partnerships that have been developed between communities will live beyond today."

Phase one of the study, released in December 2017, found that the initiative helped fund 64 projects across the Northeast, North Central, and Southwest regions of Indiana, focusing on creating better places to live, work, play, and visit.

The projects total more than $1.2 billion in investment, $835.5 million of which is private-sector investment. The state has committed $122 million to these projects to date, of which $54.7 million would be returned to the state in the first three years through increased tax revenue.

In addition, the investment is expected to lead to 7,960 new Indiana residents over the next eight years, above and beyond current population growth projections. Taken together, the initial net state investment of $72 million and the 7,960 new residents produce a metric of $9,045 per new resident.

"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."

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