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Newest economic initiative top priority for South Bend region commerce and tourism

FILE PHOTO: Brandon Smith/IPB News

A new economic initiative for Indiana’s commerce and tourism is a top priority for the upcoming General Assembly — READI 2.0. This is the second version of the 2021 Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative.

According to Indiana Economic Development Corporation, READI 1 was was expected to attract at least $2 billion in local public, private and philanthropic match funding to “propel investment in Indiana’s quality of place, quality of life and quality of opportunity.”

As a result of READI 1, more than 800 projects were proposed and 17 regions in the state were awarded grants. St. Joe County and the surrounding areas received $50 million from the state in investments for commerce and attraction.

Part of the funding for READI 1 was getting funding from the state for regional cities, as this area received $43 million. This benefitted projects for development, such as the Mill in Mishawaka and the South Shore Double-Track in South Bend. It was also a benefit for attractions like the Elkhart Aquatic Center.

South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce President, Jeff Rea said this region had an almost $100 million turn of investment in infrastructure and tourism since receiving the money.

While the READI 1 was successful in some regions, other regional projects did not get approved for funding. Rea said it was uneven in Northern parts of Indiana. Which is why Rea is pushing for passage of READI 2.

The primary objective of READI 2.0 is also to attract even more tourism and talent than previous initiatives.

However, both versions of READI have the same goal — to attract people to Northern Indiana and make them want to stay there. Whether that be young professional, families or retirees.

“We’re trying to build quality of place type project in the region that helped people want to live there,” Rea said.

Notre Dame drives in a young population during the school year. But, Rea is worried about the retention of young people in the region. Indiana has historically had young people move away, rather than stay.

“If we have some spaces that are cooler that make you feel like it's a bigger city, and if we have good jobs for them, then we have a better chance of retaining them,” Rea said.

Once READI 2.0 is passed, Rea said each city will look at different ways they can attract tourism and commerce. While housing is a concern for some areas, tourism is more important in others.

Rea hopes that READI 2.0 will help fill those gaps and is optimistic about the Indiana General Assembly approving READI 2.0.

“I think they've seen the real benefit in the last two investments that they made, and how much actual new tax dollars or tax revenue was generated from those investments,” Rea said.