In his role as executive director of the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention and Tourism Bureau, Jim Epperson is used to touting Southern Indiana’s economic development strengths — and potential.
Epperson’s job has sold itself lately, as the downtown portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project connecting Louisville to Jeffersonville — just whispers only a decade ago — takes shape piece by piece, bringing with it a level of change unseen in Southern Indiana.
The $2.2 billion project, which also includes an east end portion linking Prospect, Kentucky, to Utica, has already spurred economic growth in communities benefiting from the promise of soon-to-be built interstates and new passages emptying into booming commercial developments.
Even as a tolling mechanism is hashed out to help finance the project, sparking concerns among business owners in the region, optimism has outweighed the negatives.
At ground zero? Jeffersonville.
“It is hard to comprehend,” Epperson said. “The bridges project and the timing coinciding with development at River Ridge [Commerce Center] … probably the single most transformative series of events in Southern Indiana in my lifetime.”
An economic impact study conducted by a Boston-based research firm released in March burned red-hot with some staggering statistics.
Researchers predict that between 2012 and 2042 — a span of 30 years — that the project will generate an average of more than 15,000 jobs each year. Over that same time period, the study predicted a cumulative total of almost $30 billion in personal income and more than $86 billion in economic output, both figures not accounting for dollar inflation.
These numbers apply to Clark and Floyd counties in Indiana as well as Jefferson, Bullitt and Oldham counties in Kentucky.
To put these figures in more relatable terms: that’s like six new Amazon plants comparable to the one at River Ridge that employs 2,500 workers popping up every year in the five-county bridges region; it’s like adding the salaries of 9,800 high-tech workers at Rivera Consulting Group making $100,000 to the area over a total of 30 years; and it’s like absorbing the annual GDP of Ecuador once over 30 years.
“With this project being the largest bridge project in progress in the Midwest, it surpasses any other single project Indiana has undertaken in recent history,” Kendra York, public finance director for the Indiana Finance Authority, which funded the study, wrote in an email.
Proclamations of the sheer scale of the bridges project have been echoed across the state and across the city, too.
Jeffersonville Economic Redevelopment Director Rob Waiz, former mayor, city council member and born-and-raised Jeff man, said he has watched his hometown grow tremendously over the years because of the project.
“I would have to say we’re probably at least at the top three busiest sectors of the state,” Waiz said. “... We’ve been growing, and we’re going to continue to do so.”