Southern Indiana

Some Southern Indiana development projects may be a step closer to receiving funds from a state-run grant program.

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s administration established the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative, known as READI, to improve quality of life across the state by funding regional projects.

Nearly 20 regional development authorities (RDA) across the state’s 92 counties are competing for up to $50 million.

“Coming out of the recession that spiked because of the pandemic, I think the State of Indiana looked at a way to use some of the Federal Recovery Act funds in a way that would not only spur regional collaboration, but also hit some of the big-picture goals the state has, and one of the goals is population growth,” said Wendy Dant Chesser, president of One Southern Indiana (1si). “We are looking for ways for Indiana not just to be a flyover state, but to truly be a destination for people with talent.”

The Our Southern Indiana RDA comprises five counties near the Ohio River: Clark, Floyd, Jefferson, Scott and Washington. Chesser and 1si, the region’s chamber of commerce, work alongside the coalition.

Last week, the RDA’s board of directors unveiled its rankings of 54 projects submitted from its region. Chesser said the board of directors focused on seven criteria when scoring each proposal, including whether it creates a destination for the region, aligns with education and workforce development opportunities, and utilizes natural resources.

“They’re all very, very different in who they’re going to benefit, who’s going to drive the projects, and what that regional impact is going to be,” Chesser said. “The score sheet that the RDA directors used did as good of a job as possible of identifying those key drivers in our region and where we wanted to go forward with this.”

Chesser said the RDA directors intend to include all 54 projects in its final pitch to the state, but they will highlight the projects that will put the region in the best position to receive grant funding.

Six projects from Clark and Floyd counties ranked in the region’s top 10 proposals. Some of them offered recreational opportunities, like Star Valley Destinations in Borden, but infrastructure and economic development plans also fared well.

Clark County’s Commerce Connecter, a new road from its regional airport to River Ridge, tied for the top spot, with Origin Park and a broadband internet installation plan that would affect multiple counties.

County Commissioner Jack Coffman said the new road will be a financial boon for the entire region. In addition to making travel between the airport and commerce center easier, he said it will also alleviate traffic congestion on other nearby roadways.

“We had the best improvements when, finally, the two bridges were built,” he said. “Now, it’s time for us to pay more attention to our infrastructure locally that will help tie all this together.”

Coffman said the 3.6-mile commerce road will impact about 25 acres. That land will then be open for commercial and residential development.

Floyd County’s “64 Innovation Corridor Project” also ranked in the top 10. It includes the Novaparke Innovation and Technology Campus near Georgetown.

Shawn Carruthers, president of the Floyd County Commissioners, said the campus would bring about 400 jobs to the area. Instead of focusing on manufacturing, like River Ridge in Clark County, Carruthers said Novaparke will focus on research and STEM jobs.

“In Floyd County, we don’t have the wide-open spaces like a River Ridge, so we don’t want to compete in that arena,” Carruthers said. “We want to focus on what we’re good at — a technology portion and research. Those types of things can be done in smaller buildings, and we’ll attract those people with that skillset to Floyd County to work here.”

New Albany’s Monon Freedom Trail was the final Floyd County proposal to rank in the top 10. The regional plan will be submitted by the end of September.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.