ANDERSON — Plans to explore the city’s best opportunity for growth has led to a regional partnership with other communities struggling to spur their economic growth.
“Mainly, we are all working together because we have similar backgrounds – our large manufacturing sector is gone,” said Mike Fischkorn, Anderson’s deputy director of economic development.
“We are trying to figure out ways to move beyond that legacy and this might be a good opportunity for us to pool our resources and help the region in general,” he said.
The city is working with Muncie and New Castle to develop a strategic plan with funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA). The EDA has approved a matching fund grant for $150,000 to assist with planning. Each city has pledged $50,000 creating a total investment of $300,000 for the project.
The tri-county effort promises to benefit the region’s combined population of 297,000.
In their application for funding the cities say, “these communities recognize both their shared challenges and strengths and that their individual economic development success hinges critically on their ability to work together.”
Officials say more than 40,000 jobs have been lost from Madison, Delaware and Henry counties with the closure of the General Motor plants, Borg Warner and other suppliers, and service positions were lost.
“With an aging population and deep workforce training needs, this coalition of communities recognizes the time is now to develop a bold and achievable vision for the future,” the application states.
The East Central Indiana Regional Planning District plans to administer the project on behalf of the region.
“I have been working with two Democrats and one Republican to make this happen,” said Roy Budd, president of the East Central Indiana Regional Planning District.
Budd said Anderson originally applied for a grant to revitalize American manufacturing, but they were competing with cities like Cleveland and Milwaukee and their application was denied. He said he was then contacted by the EDA about funding that was available for a regional application.
The three-city proposal is the only region in the state to receive approval for a planning grant and only one of 10 in the nation that will be competing for a $20 million grant, Budd said.
“We have a pretty good chance at this,” he said.
In a letter attached to the application, Anderson Mayor Kevin Smith said the city will use $50,000 from its food and beverage fund to pay for its portion of the matching grant funds. Muncie plans to use funding from its economic development income tax and New Castle is pooling funds from tax increment financing districts and $20,000 in staff time.
The planning process for the strategic plan is scheduled to be completed within nine months and will begin on Nov. 11. Applications from consulting firms or planning services are being accepted by the East Central Indiana Regional Planning District.
“Hopefully it’s successful,” said Rob Sparks, executive director of the Corporation for Economic Development of Madison County. “Anytime you can regionally collaborate it makes everyone stronger.
“Regionalism is a big component of our ability to grow and be strong in the future.”
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Strength and assets In their U.S. Economic Development Administration grant application, Madison, Delaware and Henry counties say they have a combined region with: ◆ A workforce skilled in manufacturing innovation ◆ A student population of more than 33,000 ◆ Historic downtown riverfonts ◆ Affordable housing ◆ Nearby lakes and state parks