For the first time in a long time, all seats were filled around the Franklin County Economic Development Commission's table during Monday morning's monthly meeting.

Jessica Hansel, currently director of special projects for the Town of Brookville, attended her first EDC meeting since being appointed by Brookville Town Council to fill the remaining vacancy on the econ board.

“We're so glad you're here,” said welcoming president John Palmer.

Thus, most of the approximately half-hour meeting was spent apprising her of current projects and grant cycles in the works. Along with Palmer, member Greg Orschell and county consultant Nick Lawrence of the Wheatley Group brought the newest member up to speed.

Work proceeds on the READI (Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative) project, though words like “cumbersome” and “very involved” were utilized to describe the process. 

In 2015, Lawrence recapped, Indiana began a program called Regional Cities which eventually favored urban areas of the state. It was funded through the state with discretionary money ($120 million) from a tax moratorium period. Counties were asked to join regionally to compete for the funds – “the best project plans would get an allocation.” Three regions received $40 million each for quality of life/place projects.

By 2021 focus started to shift to rural regions. Similarly, counties needed to band together and identify themselves as a region. Then a regional plan was to be submitted along with quality of place projects intended to draw more residents. From a former group known as Southeast Indiana Growth Alliance grew the Southeast Indiana READI group (Dearborn, Franklin, Ripley, Union, Switzerland and Ohio counties).

The plan was presented to the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and a series of judges. SEI was awarded $15 million; since funds come from the American Rescue Plan Act, there are federal guidelines to how projects are carried out. Money must be obligated by end of 2024 and expended by 2026.

Palmer summed up the HELP (Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program) grant.

ARPA funds were given to Brookville and the county, who were required to set aside 15% and work together – along with the city of Connersville and Wayne County - toward common goals. One million dollars will be set aside, then matched by the state as projects are approved. Palmer said the collaborative effort will likely be “low cost and low impact.” A new coordinator position to help facilitate the grant should be announced by the end of the year.

Palmer briefly spoke on the ongoing effort to install fiber optic lines in the county, making high speed internet more accessible. A handful of companies are operating or plan to operate in the county, the biggest area being worked by Charter Communications/Spectrum.

Orschell met with Katrina Hall of Indiana Farm Bureau on this topic. She encouraged doing repeat connectivity tests online where residents can punch in their address to see what's available in their area.

Lawrence also gave a briefing of the I-74 regional economic development group that is working with Purdue University and others on a rural economic development model – originating from an Economic Development Administration grant. This involves identifying second-stage companies in the region that are closely related to agriculture. The idea is to proceed with site visits for Business Retention and Expansion purposes. Data is then sent back to Purdue for analysis. 

Next meeting is Sept. 12, 11:30 a.m.