READI grants: Local region awarded $30 million in economic development funding

Graphic provided A view of the planning area for the Columbus Regional Health development on Columbus’ west side.

State officials announced Thursday that a region comprised of Bartholomew, Jackson and Jennings counties, along with the town of Edinburgh, have received $30 million in funding through an expanded state economic development initiative.

The announcement was made following a meeting of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. board of directors that was chaired by Gov. Eric Holcomb in Indianapolis. State officials awarded $500 million in funding to regions across the state for the second round of the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative, which has been dubbed “READI 2.0.”

“We feel very fortunate to get this award,” said Columbus Mayor Mary Ferdon, who is a member of the regional steering committee that submitted a proposal for the funding. “It was the second highest per capita in the state. I think that shows that the application we submitted was well received.”

Currently, regional officials are working to determine the next steps, as the region, called the South Central Indiana Talent Region, had requested $75 million in funding, which was the maximum possible award through the initiative, but received $30 million. The READI 2.0 funding was not tied directly to any single project, with state officials emphasizing that they wanted to better understand each region’s overall strategy, rather than just considering a specific list of proposed projects.

Ferdon said the regional committee will likely first look at projects that were mentioned in their proposal and look at how the funds could be deployed across the region, though officials may reach out to the community to see if there are any ideas that have arisen since the application was submitted. The committee’s next meeting has yet to be determined.

Additionally, regional officials are still waiting to hear how an additional $250 million in grant funding made available through the Lilly Endowment Inc. will be rolled out.

Ferdon said some of the projects that the local region is interested in pursuing may qualify for some funding through the organization. She tentatively expects to know if the region will be receiving any funds through the Lilly Endowment Inc. later this month or in May.

“Lilly has very graciously given $250 million through an award program,” Ferdon said. “It has yet to be determined how it’s going to be used, but we definitely believe that we have a number of projects that would qualify for that funding, which can then be taken off the list of (projects) to be funded through READI.”

The local region’s application focused on innovation and entrepreneurship, education and workforce development, housing and quality of place. State officials said the themes of the local region’s application were “inspire and cultivate collaboration among companies and communities to build powerful technologies, prosperous communities and a resilient future by focusing on innovation and entrepreneurship, education and workforce development, housing and quality of place.”

The application highlighted a few potential projects in its funding proposal that regional officials thought could be a good fit for READI 2.0 funds, including a potential vehicle innovation center at the former Walesboro airport.

The center would be a collaborative effort between LHP Engineering and FORVIA to design, prototype and test and next-generation mobility technologies, including electric vehicles and alternative fuel technologies, said Jason Hester, president of the Greater Columbus (Indiana) Economic Development Corp., who also is on the regional committee.

FORVIA refers to one of the world’s largest automotive suppliers, which was formed after France-based Faurecia acquired a controlling stake in German automotive parts supplier HELLA in 2022.

Another project that regional officials listed in their proposal was the CityView District, which is an effort by Columbus Regional Health to develop about 700 acres of agricultural land that the hospital system acquired on the city’s west side in 2018.

A master plan released by CRH last year includes a 100-acre CRH campus on the north side of the site, as well as a variety of residential neighborhoods, mixed-use commercial and retail, office space, civic, community and green space, among other potential development opportunities.

The agricultural land, also known as the Garden City Farms property, stretches from Interstate 65 almost to State Road 11 and is located south of the westside Walmart and the north of the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds.

Ferdon said previously that the committee thought that some infrastructure and design work for the project could be a good fit for READI 2.0.

However, none of that has been set in stone at this point, officials have said.

The second round of funding comes just over two years after the local region was awarded $30 million of funding through READI 1.0, which local officials at the time described an “unprecedented” opportunity and a “game-changer” for the region.

While local officials later needed to make some tweaks as they navigated federal guidelines for the funding, several projects in the region received READI 1.0 funding.

Some of those projects include the Columbus Riverfront Project, NexusPark, a project to develop a single-family home subdivision in North Vernon, the renovation of an inpatient unit on the third floor of Schneck Medical Center in Seymour and the extension of Main Street in Edinburgh, among several others, according to the Indiana Economic Development Corp.