During my entire life as a resident of South Bend and my years working and serving within St. Joseph County, I have never felt as optimistic as I do now about our future.

This year’s state budget, passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor, directed $500 million federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan to be distributed across Indiana in the form of Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative Grants. Our region, South Bend-Elkhart, was awarded $50 million, the maximum amount possible. For us to have done so well in a field of competitive applicants speaks volumes to the dedication of our citizens and the promise of our community.

Our proposal was the result of an exceptional creative process. As well as convening businesses, applicants and region leaders, grant writers invited the public to comment and give feedback at every point throughout the process. They understood that no one is better equipped to understand the struggles (and possible solutions) facing our community than the people living in it. Local input is essential in these kinds of community investments and I’m so proud that the process was kept open, transparent and democratic every step of the way.

Investments in local initiatives are often more than the sum of their parts—they have the potential to create long-lasting, region-wide (even statewide) impacts. Already, the $50 million given to South Bend-Elkhart is predicted to generate $411 million in matching funds from local governments, businesses and the private sector. This money funds projects that will address longstanding issues in our community and create impacts that last for generations.

For example, the proposal identified talent attraction and retention in our communities as a key issue. The South Bend-Elkhart region has nine institutions for higher education, not including certification and apprenticeship programs. Every year, over 40,000 students call this place home, but many leave after their graduation. READI proposal projects would invest millions in community centers, high-wage manufacturing jobs, high school readiness programs and postsecondary training programs in South Bend businesses. Making sure current students can graduate directly into available local jobs is essential in keeping talented young people in our community and in our state. This will lead to the generation of new ideas and new connections, which in turn will provide us the best opportunity for creating a lasting supply of high-paying jobs for our local workforce.

Taking problem solving and funding down to the local level, as we have here, yields big rewards. Leaders across the state recognize it, as do residents of the cities and towns Hoosiers call home — it’s why the READI grant program was so popular. In every region, the amount awarded was far outstripped by the investments made by local businesses, citizens and governments who see the value in these grassroots initiatives. By that measure alone, the program is a success. In fact, Gov. Eric Holcomb has announced that he will be seeking additional funding for READI grants, given the tremendous level of interest. I sincerely hope the legislature will give this due consideration, especially given the billions our state has in available revenue. Every region of our state deserves the opportunity to grow, adapt and progress to its fullest potential.

In the most recent census, South Bend’s Common Council announced that the city’s population had grown by thousands. In my mind, there are few places that show as much promise, as much resilience or as much commitment to change as our community. I am so proud of our region and its citizens for their exceptional dedication to bettering our home — you have once again proven that thinking local yields tremendous change.