RDA allows Indy metro to seek ‘Regional Cities’ grant, strengthen the state’s economy through talent-attracting initiatives like transit
On July 13, the Indianapolis City-County Council voted in favor of joining the cities of Carmel, Westfield and Greenwood in a new Regional Development Authority (RDA). The alliance of Marion County and communities in Hamilton and Johnson allows the RDA to participate in the state’s new Regional Cities Initiative.
The Indy Chamber was a strong legislative advocate for Regional Cities, a competitive grant program aimed at enhancing quality of life and talent attraction efforts in Indiana’s metropolitan regions. The Indianapolis metro is the only area of the state projected to grow its working-age population over the next 25 years, but faces a fierce competition for skilled workers with the nation’s other large regions.
“The Indy region is about 10% of the state’s land, but represents a third or more of its population, jobs and tax collections,” said Indy Chamber President Michael Huber. “Our continued growth will shape Indiana’s economic future; through the RDA, we’ll be asking the state to help us go faster on projects that will bring national attention and appeal to the educated workforce that attracts new business.”
The Indy Chamber is completing a year-along Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) for the metro area. The plan is being developed by a steering committee of 100+ corporate, civic and elected leaders; the group solicited input from 2,100+ employers, policymakers, and residents, and engaged national economic development experts to provide competitive and industry-specific analysis.
The CEDS process is identifying critical economic priorities with widespread public and private support; many of its recommendations will focus on the region’s need to strengthen its human capital.
“This is a thoughtful strategy for growing the state’s biggest economy,” noted Huber. “Because our Regional Cities application is built on CEDS, the proposals are thoroughly evaluated and chosen for maximum impact and return on investment.”
Among the projects that the Indy metro RDA will submit to the Indiana Economic Development Corporation for Regional Cities is the Red Line, a 35-mile Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line that will ultimately connect Westfield and Carmel through downtown Indianapolis before extending into Greenwood.
Planned as the first BRT line using fully-electric vehicles, the Red Line will position the region as a green transit innovator. Its route is in walking distance to more than 170,000 jobs and 109,000 residents as it serves some of the region’s most challenged urban neighborhoods and fastest-growing suburbs.
According to Huber, the Red Line is a shovel-ready magnet for young talent, meeting the Regional Cities mandate of reversing Indiana’s population decline and accelerating economic growth. The project is in the advanced planning stages, and Regional Cities funding could quickly help leverage another $50 million in federal construction grants.
“It’s well-known that access to transit is an important attraction for young workers, and the Red Line is the kind of ambitious project that will improve quality of life today as its appeals to tomorrow’s workforce,” he said. “Twenty percent of the region’s jobs are within a quarter-mile of the proposed route, and it connects major employers, college campuses and cultural destinations.”
A recent survey by the Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation for America showed that a majority of Millennials living in large metro areas would move to another region for better public transportation options, and ranked transit among the top three criteria helping them determine where to live and work.
“The region’s we’re competing with for young talent – places like Chicago, Nashville, Denver and Charlotte – have strong transit systems or are growing their existing service,” Huber noted. “Indy is committed to building more attractive, accessible transit, and we hope the state will join us as a partner.”
Other Regional Cities priorities for the Indy RDA include initiatives for growing the state’s $59 billion life sciences industry – where Indianapolis ranks among the top ten metros nationally by employment – and improving regional walkability.
Regional Development Authorities around the state are preparing Regional Cities proposals now, for an August 31st deadline and consideration by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation in the fall.