Franklin County's Economic Development Commission got together Nov. 14 for its monthly meeting, welcoming as a guest Julie Golliher of Indiana Farm Bureau. Golliher is regional manager for the area that includes Franklin Co. 

She's been overseeing six counties since taking the position in February, saying she wants to learn what's going on in the county and offering her “assistance in any way, shape or form.”

After introductions, discussion continued on the county's involvement with a handful of like-minded regional groups regarding shared ideas or projects that may produce local benefits. 

One of these is the I-74 Corridor that stretches from Shelbyville down to Dearborn County. 

Nick Lawrence (The Wheatley Group), county's economic development consultant, briefly recounted the corridor's importance.

“It's primarily LEDO-led (Local Economic Development Organization) but also has Hoosier Energy, Vectren and other bigger utility players involved to get (the county) closer to more resources and opportunities,” he noted. 

He added it's unfair to compare Franklin to Decatur Co./Greensburg or Shelby County on an “apples to apples” basis but aligning with I-74 could bring more trickling activity.

Lawrence admitted that while the I-74 group's work has largely been overshadowed of late by the state's Regional Economic and Acceleration Development Initiative (READI), there was no harm in belonging to multiple initiatives.  

Commission president John Palmer agreed, saying no one knows whether or how the READI program will be funded for 2023 or beyond. The Southeast Indiana READI group – to which Franklin Co. belongs, with five other counties – and I-74 could be competing, in a sense, to create projects that fit the FCEDC's mission. 

To that end, a motion was requested to pay the 2022 dues to I-74 (approximately $2,000) and budget for the 2023 dues (same amount) to be owed next year. This passed unanimously. Lawrence further noted the group offers helpful continuing education seminars. 

As for READI, Palmer said most of the regional funds should be committed by the first quarter of next year. There's a process whereby projects must ultimately be approved by the Indiana Economic Development Corp. 

Based on what he's heard across the state, people are calling it “phenomenal and more successful than anything else the state has tried in economic development for a long time.” He urged the board to encourage legislators to promote its renewal; READI allows counties/regions to choose their own projects. The state was not interested in each county getting an even share of the money, it was more about a regional approach. They want projects that “have a significant effect on the area and build for the future,” said Palmer. 

Lawrence noted that some regions had already been established as regional development authorities (RDA) for several years, thus they were more polished in going after the READI pool. 

“One issue was (SEI READI) turned in $50 million of projects and got $15 million, so that's a great way to make friends real quick,” he quipped. Additionally, he's hopeful that should the program be renewed, it would come with fewer capitalization restrictions. 

One small READI project is already moving forward, that being a study done on the State Road 1 corridor from St. Leon to Brackney's to determine what, if any, enterprise can be undertaken there. 

In other news, Palmer said the Sycamore Gas line moving north up Hwy. 101 is nearly complete. The new Reid Health facility will eventually hook to that. Member Greg Orschell asked if United Refractories (Uni-Ref) on Golden Road would be connecting. 

Lawrence said they supported the application; he believed it made sense for them to do so but added they have not committed yet. Palmer said the line is open for both residential and commercial hookups. 

Jessica Hansel, member representing the town of Brookville, said a dozen buildings have been selected for the Main Street façade grant ranked on things like location and impact. She believes funding is available to work on all 12 after getting firm commitments from property owners, who would be responsible for just 5% of total cost as well as cost overruns. 

Hansel was still waiting on cost estimates and renderings but was excited to get the okay to call selectees last Monday with the news. She estimated construction to start in February with a completion deadline of March 2024. 

There was more discussion on the ongoing fiber optic high-speed internet installation across the county by several companies – Spectrum having the largest footprint – with no cost to the county. Palmer wished to accept credit for the last item, saying at least one provider initially requested a large sum from local government. 

Instead, money came via the Federal Communications Commission's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and Indiana's Next Level Connections. Palmer said the county's witnessing rapid growth in connections, up from 20% of residents to almost 80% (see broadbandmap.fcc.gov/ for coverage detail). Once grant requirements are met, companies will go back to determine who still needs service.

Palmer pointed out that many people think there's a fiber optic line running nearby that they should be able to connect to. He said this isn't the case, that lines are often run to connect control systems for power plants or security companies like ADT. Another example was a dedicated line that links Mt. Carmel School to Laurel Elementary through Brookville's schools. This is not for public use but the same company that installed it put in another one just like it as part of this latest push. 

“Connections are wonderful, there have been few complaints and it should be good for farmers,” added Palmer. 

As part of the I-74 work, Lawrence and Orschell have been identifying ag-related industries locally that may benefit from an Economic Development Administration grant that's receiving admin support from Purdue University. Lawrence has business lists, and the pair will strategize which businesses to visit.