Wednesday a team of South Bend – Elkhart regional leaders representing more than half a million people in Elkhart, Marshall, and St. Joseph counties, presented the region’s “Smart Connected Communities 2030 Plan” (The Plan) to the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) and members of the READI review committee. The Plan focuses on increasing talent attraction and retention, improving overall quality of place and quality of life, and amplifying the impact of the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and innovation economy. 

Launched by Governor Holcomb and led by the IEDC, the Indiana Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI) builds on the framework and successes of the Indiana Regional Cities Initiative and the 21st Century Talent Initiative, encouraging regional collaboration and data-driven, long-term planning that, when implemented, will attract and retain talent in Indiana. 

The presentation represented the final phase of the region’s READI application process, following the Plan submitted in September of this year. Considering additional public and private investments that would serve as matching funds to the READI grant, the overall impact is significant. Based on the example projects included in the South Bend – Elkhart region’s Plan, the $50 million funding request from the State of Indiana would generate over $461 million of total investment, comprised of 11 percent READI grant funds, 14 percent local public funding, and 75 percent private sector funding.

Shannon Cullinan, Executive Vice President of the University of Notre Dame opened the South Bend – Elkhart region’s presentation by thanking the State of Indiana for the development of READI as well as the IEDC and the READI Review Committee for agreeing to serve in this process. Cullinan acknowledged their engagement as “an act of citizenship and selflessness given the extraordinary amount of time dedicated.”

During the presentation, Cullinan shared the stage with four dynamic regional leaders including Amish Shah, President and Chief Executive Officer of Kem Krest, Andrew Wiand, Executive Director of enFocus, Kristin Pruitt, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of Lake City Bank, and Dr. Pete McCown, President of the Community Foundation of Elkhart County.

“We all agree that there is an economic movement underfoot in our region that is bigger than each of us and hugely important to our collective future,” said Cullinan. 

Cullinan highlighted the 2030 goals of The Plan stating that by 2030 the South Bend – Elkhart region will be a region with post-secondary education attainment levels above 50 percent, 275 new technology-enabled startups, 20 percent more jobs in high-pay traded industry clusters, and in the top 20 percent of metro areas for minority income equality, emphasizing the resulting population growth.

Amish Shah, President and Chief Executive Officer of Kem Krest and a life-long resident of Elkhart, Indiana shared his story of following in his father’s footsteps and launching his own business, Kem Krest. Today, Kem Krest handles over 80 percent of the automotive fluids delivered to every automotive dealer in North America. 

“Businesses like mine are under tremendous pressure for talent, technology adoption, and global competition,” said Shah. “Even with a strong advanced manufacturing sector and innovation assets on which to build, it is an increasingly challenging environment with industries rolling up, the pace of technology advancement, and broad access to impactful resources that can move the needle.” 

Shah, who also serves on the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership’s Board of Directors and chairs of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, shared that to remain competitive, the South Bend – Elkhart region is focusing its efforts on building the links between the industrial base, research assets, skilled workforce, and accessible risk capital to create a diversified economy of the future based on technology and advanced manufacturing.

“In 2019, with the support of a transformational $42 million Lilly Endowment grant, our region launched the LIFT Network and associated iNDustry Labs at Notre Dame with a vision to become a global competitor in next-generation manufacturing powered by data analytics and technology platforms,” said Shah. “Lilly saw the opportunity and infrastructure we have built and trusted us to execute. But this only the first step.”

Andrew Wiand, Executive Director of enFocus, highlighted the South Bend – Elkhart region’s talent development and talent attraction goals and key strategies outlined in The Plan.

“We need to retain talent, beginning with the 42,000 students enrolled in our nine colleges and universities,” said Wiand. “We also need to attract others here, through projects like our WE + YOU brand campaign, remote worker initiative, and international talent strategy. As well as increasing opportunities for training and development to upskill the current workforce. We need to make sure not to displace our workers with new trends in automation, but to provide opportunities for training and increased wages for new and better jobs. And lastly, we must increase postsecondary attainment to prepare for jobs of the future to ensure our future workforce is prepared, by focusing on our K-12 and college institutions career pathways.” 

Kristin Pruitt, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of Lake City Bank, then discussed the role that quality of life plays in retaining and attracting talent.

Pruitt detailed four critical areas the region is focusing quality of place investments toward which include recreation, trails, athletics, health and wellness; arts and culture; economic development; and housing. 

“We are at an inflection point in our economic trajectory and national reputation thanks to dedicated stakeholders motivated to make the region a model of innovation and destination for talent,” said Pruitt. “We look forward to the READI opportunity to build on the positive momentum and collaboration inspired by the Regional Cities Initiative to continue the transformation of our region into one that our kids and grandkids will be proud to call home.”

In closing, Dr. Pete McCown, who serves as Chair of the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership Board of Directors, recognized the IEDC’s thoughtful approach to catalyzing regional collaboration across Indiana and welcomed a financial partnership through the READI program.

“If together, we scale and accelerate the comeback that is now underway, then these years will go down in history as the pivotal decade of our smart, connected, communities,” said McCown.

To view both the “South Bend – Elkhart Region Reflects on Regional Cities” video and the “WE Are The Tradition. YOU Are The Transformation” video played during the presentation, click here. For photos from the event, click here