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Study: SW, northern Indiana communities benefitted from initiative

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(The Center Square) – Indiana communities that participated in a state-run economic development program created during then-Gov. Mike Pence’s time in office outperformed other Hoosier regions in terms of economic and job growth. That’s according to a recent report published by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University.

Researchers from the center examined the impact the Regional Cities Initiative generated on the three regions awarded funds from the 2015 project, which sought to improve quality of life and draw workers to the targeted areas. Under Pence, the state awarded more than $120 million to coalitions of counties in the southwestern, northeastern and north central parts of the state.

The funding those regions received led to the creation of nearly 1,100 new jobs and $37 million in added gross domestic product annually, the study claimed.

“Funding provided through the Regional Cities Initiative likely accelerated some existing projects and provided key funding for projects not yet started,” said Michael Hicks, the George and Frances Ball Distinguished Professor of Economics at Ball State’s Miller College of Business who co-authored the report with CBER Research Director Dagney Faulk. “This study is rare in evaluations of place-based programs because it included a treatment and control group of counties to be evaluated. The results can be interpreted as causal.”

The study found the gross domestic product in Gibson, Posey, Vanderburgh and Warrick counties in the southwest corner of the state grew by 11.8% from 2015 to 2020, more than double the 5.2% statewide growth rate. The north-central counties of Elkhart, Marshall and St. Joseph saw theirs grow by more than 6%.

Meanwhile, the 11 counties in the northeastern corner experienced a population increase of 2.7% over that same period. Counties that chose not to apply for funds reported marginal growth of less than .7%.

The north central counties’ proposal outlined nearly 40 projects with a total investment of more than $700 million. That included improvements to the South Shore commuter rail line connecting the region to the Chicago area.

Northeastern counties focused their plan on quality-of-life measures, such as trails, kayak launches and other recreational attractions. Those 11 counties, along with the southwestern ones, also planned to improve housing options and expand broadband access.

The RCI did not receive additional funding under current Gov. Eric Holcomb. However, the Holcomb administration unveiled the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative in 2021, which made $500 million available across all 92 counties. Last month, a second round of $500 million was awarded to groups of counties for quality of life and other important projects.

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