State support helps downtown apartment project develop

As he did March 23 for the Blue Buffalo plant expansion groundbreaking, Gov. Eric Holcomb visits Richmond and Wayne County for celebrations.

Whether ground-breaking or ribbon-cutting ceremonies, investments by new or expanding companies providing new jobs are celebrated.

Thursday morning at Blue Buffalo and later during an Indiana Economic Development Corporation board meeting at Ivy Tech Community College Richmond, the city and state celebrated a successful first quarter of 2023 attracting new investments. Locally, investments totaling $378 million dollars have been announced in the Midwest Industrial Park by Viking Group, Liberation Laboratories and Blue Buffalo. Those would add more than 200 new jobs.

“Lots of money is pouring into this city right now, and we have to capitalize and continue our momentum in the direction it’s headed,” Mayor Dave Snow said. “It’s an exciting year. We hope to pull the governor back a lot more for a lot more events. We hope to keep him busy.”

Snow told the IEDC board and those attending the public portion of the board’s meeting that the state’s support has helped push another local project close to celebration time. That project would construct 150 market-rate apartments at the former Elder-Beerman site downtown.

“In this particular project, the awarded redevelopment tax credits coupled with a $2.95 million READI (Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative) allocation have played a key role in bringing us very close to finalizing a $38 million investment into our downtown,” Snow said.

During the community-driven development of the Richmond Rising plan, market-rate apartments were identified as a need. A following study showed a 1% vacancy rate in Richmond’s market-rate apartments, Snow said during his address.

“We knew this was a prime initiative that needed to be addressed, and, more importantly, we knew it was too large of a project for any one entity to tackle alone,” Snow said. “To secure this historical investment into our downtown was going to require all of us as at the table.

“Now, there are many things I could list as necessary to having brought the project as far along as we have; however, nothing has been more impactful or critical as our partnership and collaboration across the city, county and state governments.”

State investment is similarly helping other Hoosier communities, too, according to reports during Thursday’s IEDC meeting. During the first quarter of 2023, 63 development projects have been announced statewide that are expected to add 5,770 new jobs with a payroll of $427.9 million for a $35.66 hourly wage.

“If you had to break it down and describe it in one word, it’s ‘momentum,’” Holcomb said of the 2023 successes. “It’s unprecedented momentum, too.”

There were 60 project announcements during the 2022 first quarter with a $442 million payroll and $33.10 average hourly wage. The $35.66 hourly wage is $10.47 from the anticipated average hour wage from 75 development projects announced during 2020’s first quarter.

“It’s about the quality of these careers, not just jobs, the quality of these careers and the wages that they generate to lift Hoosiers up,” said Brad Chambers, the state’s secretary of commerce.

He credited the state’s plan to focus on the built environment, build an economy of the future, invest in entrepreneurship, navigate the energy transition and tell the state’s story through external engagement.

During the board meeting, committee chairs reported first-quarter successes. Those included an IEDC trip to Great Britain that included Valerie Shaffer, the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County’s executive director, and the READI program.

The READI program provided $500 million split among 17 regions for projects impacting quality of place (43%), quality of life (34%) and quality of opportunity (23%). Wayne County’s $2.95 million for apartments came from the $15 million allocation to its eight-county Eastern Indiana regional group. Housing was frequently identified as a need.

“One thing to note, and something that we would like continue to see moving forward, is a true focus on the need to invest in housing long-term, with nearly half of the money that’s been requested so far going into housing, single-family, multi-family and the infrastructure needed to support those projects,” said Mark Wasky, the IEDC’s senior vice president for community affairs.

Snow said Richmond’s new downtown apartments would bring more than 300 people to live, shop, eat and recreate in the city’s center, with the investment changing the downtown’s trajectory.

“Here in Richmond, we are rising, and this momentum, as the governor spoke about, is in large part a direct result of the state support of our efforts,” Snow said.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 29 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.