State gives update for READI regions

After a great deal of planning and teamwork across county lines, a region made up of Jackson, Bartholomew and Jennings counties, along with the town of Edinburgh, was awarded a $30 million grant for economic development in December.

However, winning the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative grant award isn’t a finish line for officials in the South Central Indiana Talent Region — it actually means that their work is just getting started.

Representatives from all of the READI regions recently attended a webinar meeting, said Eric Frey, executive director of the Southern Indiana Housing and Community Development Corp. The SIHCDC was the lead applicant on the local region’s proposal.

The competitive READI grant program encouraged Indiana communities to partner together on proposals for future growth and improvement in their regions, particularly in regards to talent attraction and retention. As part of the program, these regions were required to attract a minimum 4-to-1 match, including a 1-to-1 match from local public funding.

The South Central Indiana Talent Region’s plan had a total proposed budget of more than $378 million, with $49.5 million coming from READI funds. Awards were announced in December, with the local region receiving about 60% of the amount it had requested.

Frey said that Tuesday’s meeting included a presentation from the state and its consultant, Ernst &Young, on the grant program and its next steps, such as how regions will move into implementation and construction. He said a major takeaway is that the state and its consultant are looking through each region’s plan to see how the proposed projects fit with the state’s funding source.

“They’re using the ARP (American Rescue Plan) funding that the state received,” he said. “So the U.S. Treasury has just come out with the final guidelines. And so everybody was kind of saying, ‘We’re still interpreting those guidelines, how they are applicable to certain projects or your projects. And we’ll be working with you to kind of see how those kind of mesh and how we may need to proceed with maybe adjusting narratives or getting maybe even a clearer picture of details of the project.’”

The state also discussed processes that it would use due to these being federal funds and the reporting that would come into play.

Frey added the following the “high-level information” that was shared at the webinar, the regions will go through focused, weekly training on items such as grant administration and project management. He believes this will take place for about four weeks, with regions meeting with the state and Ernst &Young each Tuesday.

Additionally, the state and consultants have set up an email address so that regions can send in their questions, which will be addressed in FAQ documents sent out to everyone. Local officials also plan to have a smaller meeting between the state and the South Central Indiana Talent Region in February.

The local region also has homework to do in regards to reading up on federal guidelines. There will be a lot of documentation and regulatory steps required, said Frey and this adds “complexities to this already-complex program.”

“Now we know specifically the funding source they’re using and that the Final Rule from treasury has come out, we’re trying to dig into that and find out, basically educate ourselves on the funding source and what that entails and how our projects can overlap with that funding source,” he added. “…The executive summary’s, like, 40-some pages, and the whole document’s 420-some. So you can tell what I’ll be doing the next few days. I’ll be sipping coffee and reading federal regs.”