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Indiana encourages regional collaboration among cities to improve 'quality of place'

by Laura Tomaka ~ June 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
With $84 million set aside in the new state biennial budget as incentive, Indiana is challenging its cities to work more closely together on projects that make their part of the state a more attractive place to live and work. In emphasizing collaboration over competition, the Regional Cities Initiative marks a new approach to economic development in Indiana. But as Rep. Ed Clere notes, it seeks to address an old problem.
“The biggest economic issue we’re trying to address is attracting talent by improving quality of place,” he says. “Population stagnation has been identified as a significant threat to Indiana’s economic growth.”
Indiana’s increases in population lag behind the nation’s, and very little of the state’s growth has been due to population migration. Instead, 80 percent of the population rise between 2000 and 2010 was due to birth rates exceeding the number of deaths.
By improving “quality of place,” Clere says, the state and its various regions can attract more people and private investments.The $84 million in state funds will go to regions of the state where cities have developed collaborative, long-term strategies to attract new businesses and residents based on the area’s existing assets and strengths.
Regions will also be asked to leverage local financing to match the state’s investment.
“It provides a strong economic incentive for communities to put aside differences and rivalries and come together to achieve much more than any single community could achieve on its own,” Clere says.
This new approach to economic development, he says, will lead not only to new regional partnerships, but to “bold, transformative thinking” as well. In October 2014, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. released a study that helped lead to passage of this year’s Regional Cities Initiative and that could also assist local leaders as they develop new growth strategies.
In the study, researchers explored how 11 U.S. cities of varying size successfully transformed their economies and increased population. One of the study’s conclusions was this: Long-term, regional collaborations, guided by nonpartisan thinking, help lead to economic growth. Other factors, researchers say, include strong local leadership, private-sector investment and higher-education partnerships.
“The area I represent [in southern Indiana] is part of the Louisville metropolitan area,” Clere explains. “Much of our economic development focus in recent years has been on regionalism. I saw the initiative as a singular opportunity to continue to advance regional economic development in my area.”


Article written by Laura Tomaka, CSG Midwest staff liaison for the Midwestern Legislative Conference Economic Development Committee.