Jay County Development Corporation executive director Bill Bradley announced Tuesday that the group and several local partners want to launch a program during the 2015-16 school year to help area students start a college savings account.

Also at its meeting Monday, the JCDC board heard economic development news from Bradley and got updates on several projects from community development director Ami Huffman.

Bradley relayed plans for a “Promise” program to encourage students to start CollegeChoice 529 Direct Savings Plans beginning in kindergarten. The 529 accounts are a way to save tax-deferred money to pay for education after high school.

He said the hope is to launch the plan during the coming school year.

The idea came after he, John Jay Center for Learning executive director Rusty Inman, The Portland Foundation executive director and county commissioner Doug Inman and Jeremy Gulley of Jay School Corporation made a trip to Wabash County to learn about the program it piloted and has since expanded to several other counties.

The Wabash County version of the program involves a five-minute registration process for kindergarten through third graders to open at 529 account. Parkview Health, which is a sponsor, makes an initial donation of $25 to all accounts.

Students are then encouraged each September to raise $25 in contributions to their accounts. They receive a match from public and private partners if they reach that goal.

“Studies have shown that when kids have money invested in the early years toward college, it increases the chances of going to college considerably,” said Bradley.

As of 2013-14, 72 percent of Wabash County students in kindergarten through third grade had a 529 account.
Prior to the establishment of the “Promise” program, that number was 6 percent.

Local officials plan to attend a workshop April 24 at Manchester University to continuing learning about the program.

Bradley also relayed the news of the planned $15.5 million expansion and investment at FCC that was announced at Monday’s Portland City Council meeting, and noted investments by ATI Forged Products (Portland Forge) and Moser Engineering. He said there was been interest in the former Walmart and International Paper buildings, which were previously used by Sonoco for storage purposes but are now vacant.

Huffman noted that a pre-construction meeting for Portland’s west side sewer project is set for Friday and bidding for blight elimination in Dunkirk and sewer separation in Redkey will begin in May. She is also working with Redkey on a grant application for a new fire station.

In other business, board members:

•Heard from Bob Lyons that he believes progress is continuing on the Bluff Point Wind Farm project. He said he hopes developer NextEra Energy will be able to begin construction of the proposed wind farm, which would included 70 turbines and an investment of $240 million in southern Jay and northern Randolph counties, in the first half of 2016.

•Learned from Portland Mayor Randy Geesaman that a meeting to plan for Indiana’s bicentennial celebration is scheduled for 10 a.m. April 28 at Arts Place.

•Heard from Huffman that there will be a meeting May 7 with Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs representatives about Portland becoming an Indiana Main Street (IMS) community. IMS focuses on providing economic revitalization and professional assistance in downtown areas.