GUEST OPINION: Regional partnerships could aid Brown County

By LARRY PEJEAU, guest columnist

In 2013, industry leaders, organizations including 11 community foundations, partners and local officials who are committed to the economic success and prosperity of southwest-central Indiana (SWCI) convened a series of meetings and community conversations throughout the region.

A steering committee was formed with the express purpose of leveraging our assets to enhance our communities in a long-term and sustainable way. With a generous planning grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. the steering committee employed a number of strategies to understand and exploit the most compelling opportunities of SWCI.

The steering committee’s primary consultant throughout the nine-month research project was Battelle Memorial Institute, Technology Partnership Practice.

They also employed local consultants such as the Indiana Business Research Center, the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs and conducted a number of benchmarking studies of comparable regions in the United States.

In 2014, the “Strategic Plan for Economic and Community Prosperity in Southwest Indiana” was released for the purpose of fostering new growth and capitalizing on identified assets in the region. This rich and varied 11-county region containing 48 cities and towns and home to 400,000 people proved to be rich in cultural and physical amenities as well as home to world-class manufacturing and research and innovation assets.

The challenge was how to develop a strategy to allow these 11 counties to:

  • Coalesce into a collaborative thinking and planning region;
  • Take advantage of distinct industry and attraction opportunities;
  • Develop the region’s workforce by aligning K-12 and post-secondary education with regional opportunities and demand;
  • Develop stronger collaboration and connectivity between Indiana University and Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane; and
  • Build a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem.

In 2016, Lilly Endowment Inc. awarded a grant totaling $42 million to three organizations to fund a number of the regional development initiatives from the strategic plan.

These grant dollars were divided between Regional Opportunity Initiatives receiving $25.8 million, Central Indiana Corporate Partnership for the Applied Research Institute receiving $16.2 million, and the Indiana University Rural Center for Excellence receiving a planning grant of $122,600.

I would like to share information on the Regional Opportunity Initiatives that has the most potential to directly benefit Brown County.

The mission of the ROI is to advance economic and community prosperity in the 11 counties of SWCI.

ROI is implementing an education and workforce plan and regional opportunity fund for quality of place investments.

Your Brown County Community Foundation has participated in the SWCI project from the beginning and I am happy to share some grant opportunities that could benefit Brown County.

I know that Brown County Schools and your Community Foundation already have or will be submitting applications for some of these grants.

Ready Schools Initiative: ROI will assist three cohorts of school districts over the next three years to align curricular and programmatic offerings with the workforce needs of their communities and region. Districts could receive grants up to $150,000 to employ District Readiness Coordinators to oversee the activities that could be potentially eligible for implementation funding.

Career Pathways Initiative: ROI is convening a three-day symposium to bring together education and industry in developing common understandings and the articulation of three pathways toward careers in key SWCI sectors.

Adult education: ROI will convene adult education organizations to align education with workforce needs.

STEM Fellows: Elementary educators nominated by their principals will be compensated to engage in professional development centered on topics relevant to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and become STEM resources to colleagues.

Advancing out-of-school STEM learning grant: ROI will grant $25,000 to local community foundations to support exceptional out-of-school STEM programming or develop new programs that offer young people the opportunity for hands-on learning in STEM subjects at the elementary, middle and high school level outside of the formal school day schedule.

Cybersecurity Challenge: ROI, in partnership with Indiana University and Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane, is creating a cybersecurity challenge to engage high school students in all 11 counties of SWCI.

Educator Boot Camp: ROI will coordinate a boot camp in June for teachers, counselors and school leaders to increase awareness of the knowledge and skills required for regional workforce needs by spending time in employment sites across the region.

Skill UP Work and Learn Internship Program: ROI will fund placement for post-secondary students with regional employers in a three-to-two work-and-learn model, in which students attend class three days a week and work two days a week. Students receive a scholarship for coursework leading to an IT certificate, “soft skills” training and $12 per hour for a 14-week internship.

The ROI’s initiatives are focused on supporting K-12 education and lifelong learning in SWCI as well as enhancing quality of place throughout the region.

These grant dollars can prepare our future workforce for identified, in-demand careers in SWCI. This can lead to greater community prosperity, a better quality of life and have the potential to attract population growth, improved infrastructure and new investment in the region to ensure sustainability.

Your community foundation, Brown County Schools and interested stakeholders are fully participating and engaged in this effort to maximize the value of these grant dollars.

We invite you to get involved by reading the history, the research and learning the facts about ROI initiatives at swcindiana.org.

Larry Pejeau is the CEO of the Brown County Community Foundation. He can be reached at 812-988-4882 or larry@bccfin.org.