Bloomington gets final OK from feds for $3.5 million grant towards technology center

In a news release issued Friday afternoon, the city of Bloomington announced that it had received a $3.5-million award from the federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) to help build a technology center in the Trades District.

The location is north of Bloomington’s city hall building in the Trades District, which is a certified technology park.

News about the EDA grant lends a bit of momentum for the Trades District area generally. That’s because the future technology center location is northwest of the Showers administration building. And a deal is now in the works for Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) to sell the administration building to a company called Fine Tune, so that its corporate headquarters can be located there.

The planned location of the technology center is on the southwest corner of Madison Street and Maker Way, diagonally across from The Mill, which is a co-working space. One of the former Showers Brother Furniture buildings was adapted for reuse by The Mill.

The co-applicant for the EDA grant, with the city of Bloomington, was the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation (BEDC).

BEDC executive director Jen Pearl told The B Square on Friday, that the technology center building would be operated by a non-profit entity, which would coordinate programming and services for local tech companies.

Pearl said the model for the launch of the technology center is similar to the way the city of Bloomington and the BEDC collaborated on The Mill. The city of Bloomington invested in the old Showers dimension mill building to get it renovated, while the BEDC helped to set up the nonprofit that runs it.

The target tenants for the future technology center building are technology companies that are beyond the startup phase, according to Pearl. Services and space would be available for growing and mature firms. The kinds of services that would be provided would include: connections to local and regional tech companies.

Previously, Pearl told The B Square that the feasibility study that was conducted for the project showed that a technology center providing connections between companies was not merely feasible, but needed.

On Friday, Pearl talked about the way the new technology center would fit into the history of the Bloomington economy. “We went from furniture making in the early 20th century, to manufacturing, to life sciences,” Pearl said. She continued, “We’re trying to foster future jobs, and [the technology center] is going to leverage our regional assets.”

Among the regional assets Pearl mentioned were 30 to 40 local tech companies, Indiana University, Ivy Tech, and the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center. “This is a center that will be a place where these growing tech companies can be housed,” Pearl said.

It’s the department of economic and sustainable development (ESD) that plays the city’s role in supporting the new technology center.

ESD director Alex Crowley told the city’s redevelopment commission (RDC) in early 2021, “The EDA is not in the business of building buildings—they’re in the business of generating outcomes to investments like these,” Crowley said. He added, “So they’re focused on things like job growth and investment in the area.”

Friday’s news release from the city of Bloomington says the grant is estimated to create 530 jobs and generate $51 million in private investment in the region. Pearl told The B Square on Friday those estimates were developed with help from the Indiana University Public Policy Institute.

The EDA money is being provided through the federal money, through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Work on Bloomington’s application for the grant started over a year ago. It’s Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) that is providing the local match for the federal money.

Bloomington’s RDC gave the application a green light in early August of 2020, and was prepared to make a $2-million contribution from the city’s tax increment finance (TIF) revenue to support the effort.

In September 2021, the Bloomington city council approved a resolution in support of the project.

Bloomington got an initial response from the EDA in December 2020. The EDA’s response gave an initial indication of an award in a “merits further consideration” letter dated Dec. 18. That initial positive response, which was not final, fell about $2.3 million short of the $5.83 million the city had requested in its original grant application.

That led to a revised proposal, which reduced the square footage of the planned building from 31,375 square feet to around 22,000 square feet. Accordingly, the amount of the RDC’s required local match has been reduced. That amount is now $1.6 million, according to Friday’s news release.

A reapplication to the EDA, with a reduced scope, had to be submitted by early February 2021. And since that time, the Bloomington has been responding to information requests from the EDA.

The news release from the city of Bloomington quotes mayor John Hamilton: “As Bloomington’s economy has evolved toward the tech sector, the City has made strategic investments such as the redevelopment of the Trades District to ensure that our entrepreneurial ecosystem scales up to attract employers and grow jobs for all, across many sectors. We’re glad to be able to partner with the BEDC to establish a tech center that will amplify these efforts toward our community’s sustainable economic development.”

The EDA’s news release quotes Indiana’s 9th District representative to the US House, Trey Hollingsworth: “The $3.5 million federal investment in Bloomington’s Trades District Technology Center will spur local economic investment, create jobs, and strengthen Indiana’s role in our nation’s tech space.”

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  1. In case readers are curious, the CARES Act passed the House 419-6, with Rep. Hollingsworth voting in favor.

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