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This week, a group of regional corporate, civic and elected leaders ventured deep in the heart of Texas for the Indy Chamber’s annual Leadership Exchange – this year, we visited San Antonio.

The eight-county San Antonio metro is a little bigger than Indianapolis (by about a half-million residents, amid the Sunbelt population boom), but shares many common challenges and opportunities.  We spent a productive three days talking regionalism, downtown redevelopment, capitalizing on competitive advantages in growth industries like the life sciences, and tackling tough issues like homelessness.

“Remember LEX 2019!” is a less catchy rallying cry than “Remember the Alamo!” but now we have to keep the lessons from this week in our minds and apply them to our economic development, advocacy and community-building efforts back here in Indy.

(And we’re excited to announce that next year’s LEX destination is San Diego, our ‘sister city’ in the inaugural Brookings Institution Inclusive Growth Learning Lab.)

Far from home, plans to end homelessness:
Speaking of inclusive growth, homelessness is one cruel consequence of economic isolation and growing gaps in the social safety net. It’s become an increasingly pervasive problem in larger cities like San Antonio and Indianapolis.  Our LEX agenda included an engaging discussion with the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless (SARAH).

SARAH has developed and is now delivering on a comprehensive strategy to address homelessness, taking a systematic approach in collaboration with other public, private and philanthropic partners. We discussed the similarities and variances with our own Coalition for Homelessness Intervention & Prevention (CHIP) and the Indianapolis Community Plan to End Homelessness.

The Chamber supports the City and CHIP’s plans to expand services and launch new programs in pursuit of more comprehensive, compassionate and enforceable solutions for homelessness – with a strong emphasis on data and measurement to ensure our efforts make a lasting impact.

Big issues, big ideas, big data
The focus on collaboration and metrics were key takeaways from San Antonio.  There was an impressive commitment to the ‘SA2020’ strategy, pulling together public, private and non-profit partners around priorities like downtown development and neighborhood redevelopment, public safety, transportation, educational performance and economic competitiveness – and tracking more than 60 performance indicators to track progress and create accountability.

We’ve certainly made great strides in working cooperatively across the Indy Region, tracking outcomes and continuing the legacy of public-private partnerships that helped shape our city.  But we have to raise our game; our wrap-up discussion on these issues might be summed up with ‘three C’s:’

  • Candor – the need to face up to tough issues like poverty and homelessness…and keep having honest conversations about regional challenges like infrastructure investment (and local revenue disparities);
  • Consensus – building regional support around priorities, solutions and how we measure success; and
  • Connectivity – not just physical connections through infrastructure and transit (though planning and paying for these assets have to be part of our regional consensus), but connecting more people to economic opportunities (and basic needs like housing).

…the ‘small’ details matter, too.
We came back from San Antonio inspired to think big.  But we returned to a reminder that ‘small’ details can have a big impact: A minor misinterpretation of the state road funding formula (based on the size of Indy’s ‘fire protection district’ after a wave of consolidations among the Indianapolis Fire Department and township departments) has shortchanged Indianapolis, city and state officials discovered recently.

State Auditor Tera Klutz and Mayo Hogsett’s administration found the discrepancy and announced a reallocation of state funds, amounting to a net gain of about $12 million next year.

This is good news, but only addresses a fraction of the local shortfall in infrastructure funding. A bigger issue in the funding formula is no mistake – distributing aid based on road miles instead of lane miles disadvantages larger cities with wider thoroughfares.  And even though state funding for roads is important, there are even broader challenges around the equitable distribution of local tax revenues to fund infrastructure.

Roadways & riverfronts
Last week, the Chamber’s Local Government & Fiscal Policy Council got a preview of some upcoming research showing Marion County among the most fiscally-constrained communities in Indiana – facing a structural deficit between average revenue capacity and the costs of providing basic public services.

A growing region needs a healthy urban core, and Indianapolis continues to fall behind with regard to infrastructure and other critical investments.  We’ve talked about the importance of regionalism and a revenue structure aligned with our shared future, and we continue to work towards a solution that can earn buy-in locally and at the Statehouse.

To bring it back to LEX, many of you have heard about San Antonio’s success driving downtown redevelopment with the ‘River Walk’ district leading the way.

Here in Indianapolis, the transfer of the city’s water and stormwater systems to Citizens Energy yielded new revenue capacity to modernize water infrastructure and curb the environmental impact of combined sewer overflows (through the ‘DigIndy’ deep tunnel project) – creating a cleaner White River poised to be a truly regional asset and catalyst for new development on a similar scale.

Check out the White River Master Plan, and you’ll see how these investments have transformative potential across political boundaries.  But we can’t reply on finding new and creative financing models to keep Indianapolis ‘afloat’ as the heart of the metro…we need a revenue system and governance model that supports regional success.

It’s one example of a transformative investment with impact across political boundaries.  But we can’t reply on finding new and creative financing models to keep Indianapolis ‘afloat’ as the heart of the metro…we need a revenue system and governance model that supports regional success.

On September 30th, the interim legislative committee on Fiscal Policy will hear testimony on restructuring Regional Development Authorities – we’ll report back on that discussion and more in our next update.

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