Indiana's Great Southwest Takes Unique Approach in Forming RDA and Board

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Southwest Indiana knows about collaboration as it passed a state first joint four-county ordinance to form a Regional Development Authority, a necessary step to be considered for the Indiana Regional Cities Initiative-a transformative quality initiative designed to attract talent.

For the past eight years, we have worked hard to effectively interact as a combined region and that is why we took the unique step of passing a four-county ordinance to demonstrate regional cooperation - a key criteria in being named a Regional City.

Through a first in Indiana joint four-county ordinance, the Southwest Indiana region or Indiana's Great Southwest took the final step to unanimously pass and create the Southwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) - a step required to receive designation as an Indiana Regional City. The Regional Cities Initiative was established this year by the Indiana Legislature and championed by Indiana Governor Mike Pence and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC). If chosen, the initiative could infuse as much as $42 million into Southwest Indiana for designated projects that would help attract and retain talent as well as build a better quality of place. Two “Regional Cities” will be selected to receive a combined total of $84 million.

In addition to establishing the RDA, the four counties also created the five-member RDA board, who will implement the region's plan. Those board members include Beth McFadin Higgins, Mt. Vernon, Indiana attorney, McFadin Higgins & Folz; Dan Potje, Vice President of Administration, Toyota Indiana; Rick Schach, Senior Vice President Utility Operations, Vectren Corporation; Howard Nevins, President, InTerraChem, LLC; and, Jim Ryan, Executive Vice President, Old National Bank. The Southwest Indiana region consists of Gibson, Posey, Vanderburgh and Warrick Counties as well as the City of Evansville, Indiana’s third largest city; and, as a second class city, is allowed to be a partner via the Regional Cities statute. All five RDA Board members also serve on the Board for the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana. Formed in 2006, the Coalition is a public/private regional non-profit corporation, which serves as the region's umbrella economic and community development entity. Since passing the RDA joint ordinance and establishing its board, the next steps will be the final selection of projects, completing the region's proposal and preparing a formal presentation.

“The Regional Cities Initiative has continued to validate my decision to work and live in Evansville,” said Brandon Scott, Director of Brand Strategy + Digital for Ten Adams. “As a millennial, this process encourages you to come to the table, contribute and add value to the conversation. It is inspiring to see the collaborative energy to provide sustainable national amenities for our local community.”

The Coalition has taken the lead in managing the process and has retained the combined services of the Lochmueller Group, Garner Economics and VPS Architecture to craft the proposal. The Coalition helped to establish a 25-member steering committee and a more than 70-member working group from the four-county region to collectively select projects that fit the criteria of the initiative. The final proposal must be submitted by the Southwest Indiana Regional Development Authority to the IEDC before an August 31 deadline.    

“The regional cities initiative could not have come at a better time for Southwest Indiana,” stated Greg Wathen, President & CEO of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana. “For the past eight years, we have worked hard to effectively interact as a combined region and that is why we took the unique step of passing a four-county ordinance to demonstrate regional cooperation - a key criteria in being named a Regional City."

Though there have been more than 100 ideas floated with significant input from throughout the region, the final projects to be included in the proposal are still under consideration and include an event center and downtown mixed use student housing in partnership with Oakland City University; expansion of the broadband footprint; water front and mixed use development in Evansville; expansion of Warrick Wellness Trail; and, conversion of a closed school in New Harmony for arts center and redevelopment of closed bridge.

According to Wathen, recommendations will be made by the steering committee with final approval from the Southwest Indiana RDA board that best fit the criteria of the Regional Cities initiative and that are truly transformative in their ability to attract and retain talent while building a better quality of place.

About the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana

The Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana acts as the marketing arm as well as the regional economic development and community development organization for Gibson, Posey, Vanderburgh, and Warrick Counties in Southwest Indiana. The Coalition works with its local county economic development organization partners to facilitate attraction and business retention activities along with supporting efforts to enhance the business climate through regional capacity building.    Since its formation in late 2006, the Coalition has helped to secure nearly $3 billion in new investment and 3,568 new jobs from existing and new companies such as Haier America, Berry Plastics, Mead Johnson, Toyota Boshoku, Midwest Fertilizer Corporation and AT&T.

Another important aspect of the Coalition’s multi-faceted job description is helping the communities it serves build new capacity for future development in its role as a regional planning organization. The Coalition has helped secure more than $73 million in grants for key quality of place infrastructure such as expansion of water and sewer systems; building new community centers; and, making improvements to the region’s levee system, which protects thousands of acres along America’s inland waterways.

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