Commissioners commit dollars to attract remote workers, map broadband service

·6 min read

RICHMOND, Ind. — Wayne County's commissioners committed $20,000 Wednesday for a partnership designed to incentivize remote workers moving to Wayne County.

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation is offering $120,000 matching grants in a first-come, first-served program geared toward attracting remote workers. The city of Richmond would be the local applicant in partnership with the county and the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County.

The program would involve a marketing campaign and incents and aims to attract 20 new remote workers. Commissioners unanimously supported committing the $20,000 from their county economic development income tax budget Wednesday because the first-come, first-served nature of the IEDC grant makes time critical.

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During Wednesday's discussion, which included EDC President Valerie Shaffer, Commissioner Jeff Plasterer said initial investments of $20,000 by the county, city and EDC along with $60,000 in IEDC match could implement the $120,000 marketing campaign and provide time to develop the incentive packages. That would include pursuing other fundraising opportunities for the additional $60,000 local match.

The Richmond Common Council agenda for its Jan. 18 meeting includes presentation of an ordinance to accept an IEDC grant for the program and to authorize an undetermined portion of the local match up to $120,000 from the city's local income tax funds.

In a letter to council, Beth Fields, the city's director of strategic initiatives, wrote that 20 new remote workers would create an estimated $1.8 million in economic impact during their first year. She cited a survey by MakeMyMove that shows 29% of remote workers plan to move in the next 18 months.

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The commissioners' discussion included the idea that relocating remote workers also often bring spouses and do not remain remote workers forever. The workers and spouses might then bolster the local workforce.

Shaffer said the EDC board likely would receive a recommendation for its contribution during its February meeting.

Broadband mapping

Commissioners also unanimously approved spending up to $14,500 with Thomas P. Miller & Associates to pursue a countywide broadband mapping project.

The Indianapolis business management consulting company includes Scott Rudd, who was the state of Indiana's first director of broadband opportunities.

Plasterer said the issue is important because unincorporated areas, which the commissioners govern, are more likely now to lack broadband access than a city or town. The information a mapping project would generate about local providers and broadband access would be useful for the Wayne County Broadband Task Force.

"This might be the missing piece that would allow us to formulate a plan," Plasterer said.

Commissioner Ken Paust said the project would show where the county is, where it needs to go and identify funding opportunities.

"I'm sure in favor of doing this and getting a plan in place to move forward," Paust said. "If we don't, we'll lose out to other counties."

The approved motion was for up to $14,500 because Paust plans to negotiate with the company to reduce the cost. Plasterer, who is executive director of the Eastern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, said he also would try to work out a regional aspect that might reduce Wayne County's expense.

COVID policy

The commissioners revamped their policy on paid COVID-19 sick time.

During the Jan. 5 meeting, commissioners adopted new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that reduce isolation and quarantine times from 10 days to five. That policy takes effect Jan. 14.

This week, the commissioners adapted their paid sick time policy that enables fully vaccinated county employees to receive paid time off for COVID that does not require them to use their regular sick days.

The policy applies to employees who are fully vaccinated including a booster shot. However, partially vaccinated employees may appeal to the human resources department for case-by-case decisions. That enables employees who are not yet eligible for a booster dose or have made good-faith progress toward becoming fully vaccinated an opportunity to be included in the policy.

"This gives us the ability to show compassion," Commissioner Mary Anne Butters said.

Road work

County Engineer Brandon Sanders asked commissioners to approve $2,800 for revised engineering plans involving a bridge replacement on Beard Road.

Bridge 225 over Martindale Creek northwest of Economy is currently being replaced, but Sanders said the road leading to the bridge is too narrow and approaches the bridge at a steep angle.

"It would help the safety of the traveling public," Sanders said for the road to be altered.

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He would like the project's scope to expand and involve widening and raising the roadway to improve the transition from road to bridge. He said the new engineering plans would be necessary to determine the cost of the extra roadwork.

The county would need to cover that cost because the 50% Indiana Department of Transportation match was locked in through the Community Crossings program.

Smooth EMS transition

Matthew Cain, the director of the Emergency Management Agency and Emergency Communications Center, said the transition to Reid Health EMS has gone smoothly.

On Jan. 1, Reid began servicing the entire county, except for Richmond Fire Department's coverage of Richmond and Wayne Township. Commissioners had awarded Reid the areas previously served by Culberson EMS and Red Line EMS.

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Cain said Reid, which previously serviced the area that includes Cambridge City, had handled 72 calls overall, including multiple calls at the same time, with good response times and no calls for mutual aid from RFD. Reid had shifted its ambulances from Connersville or Richmond to fill areas vacated by ambulances on calls.

He noted Reid also handled a Tuesday school bus accident in Cambridge City with no problem. It had five ambulances and its administrative staff on scene. Four children and an adult were transported to the hospital for evaluation of minor injuries.

4-H enrollment

Jonathan Ferris, director of the county's Extension office, reported that 4-H registration continues through Jan. 15.

He said 450 participants had enrolled of 750 total he expects to enroll. Participants can enroll online from the "4-H" link at extension.purdue.edu/county/wayne.

Ferris also told commissioners that 10 of the program's youth will visit Indiana's statehouse Feb. 1 for 4-H Day.

They will receive a tour during the morning and serve as legislative pages during the afternoon.

This article originally appeared on Richmond Palladium-Item: Commissioners commit dollars to attract remote workers, map broadband

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