Allen County attracts talent, jobs as calendar flips to new decade

FORT WAYNE, Ind. – In 2019, Allen County continued its progress as one of America’s up-and-coming mid-sized communities. In addition to setting new records for building construction and attracting and retaining talent, the community welcomed several new quality-of-place projects including Promenade Park, setting the stage for future success. These economic wins, paired with a trio of national chamber of commerce awards, made for another strong year for Greater Fort Wayne Inc. and the Allen County community.

“In today’s economy, a community’s quality of life is crucial. If we want to attract businesses and create jobs, we need to be a place where people want to live, and the numbers show Allen County is making remarkable strides,” said John Urbahns, CEO of GFW Inc. “We will continue working to build a nationally recognized economy here in Allen County, living out our core values of inclusivity, collaboration, and results.”

Talent Attraction

Allen County added 691 residents due to domestic migration in 2018, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released in April 2019. The figure was the county’s best single-year total since the Census Bureau began tracking net domestic migration in 1991.

Net domestic migration measures how many people moved into a community from other U.S. locales, versus how many moved away to other U.S. communities. It was the second consecutive year in which Allen County posted a positive net domestic migration number.

The data represents a significant turnaround:

YearNet Domestic Migration Growth/Loss

In total, the county’s population grew by 3,141 people in 2018. With this strong growth, Fort Wayne was ranked the hottest real estate market in America for five consecutive months in 2019–July through November. Rankings for December are not yet available.

Economic Development

GFW Inc. assisted companies that invested more than $139 million in Allen County during the year. Other commitments included:

  • 21 business expansions and relocations.
  • 1,187 new jobs.
  • $52 million in new annual payroll.

Major expansion and relocation announcements included:

CompanyNew JobsInvestment
Circle Logistics247$5.1 million
Continental Diamond Tool226$5.5 million
Guardian Machine Protection170$285,000
Universal Logistics130$24.5 million
Brotherhood Mutual88$25.5 million

In early September, Allen County officials announced they had issued more than $1 billion in building permits for the third consecutive year. They reached $1 billion by Aug. 27, the earliest date they had ever reached the milestone. The county had never eclipsed the $1 billion mark in any year prior to 2017.

“By mid-December, Allen County reached $1.5 billion in development that a decade ago was unheard of,” Allen County Commissioners Rich Beck, Therese Brown, and Nelson Peters said in a joint statement. “It is through a collaborative approach, exceptional customer service, and a development-friendly tax environment that we look for this to be the annual norm as we move into the next decade.”

GFW Inc. staff members made more than 500 visits to Allen County businesses in 2019. These on-site visits are designed to help current Allen County businesses thrive and retain jobs. In addition, staff members made more than 100 visits with businesses headquartered outside Allen County, including out-of-market investors and developers interested in investing in the community.

With workforce a key concern for local businesses, GFW Inc. spearheads a variety of workforce development programs including:

  • The MadeByMe Coalition – To help fill a potential workforce gap in skilled manufacturing and construction, GFW Inc. assumed leadership of the MadeByMe Coalition, making a county-wide push to spotlight career opportunities in those industries. The coalition reached nearly 2,000 high-school students in 2019, hosted on-site externships for educators, and hosted exhibits at a series of career exploration fairs.
  • The Employing People with Disabilities Initiative – A partnership with AWS Foundation, the Employing People with Disabilities Initiative is aimed at connecting local businesses with job placement agencies, specifically for people with disabilities. GFW Inc. staff members helped 49 people find employment in the initiative’s second year.

Quality of Place

GFW Inc. assisted on several major quality-of-place projects designed to help Allen County attract and retain jobs and talent, including:

  • Riverfront Development – An estimated crowd of 35,000 visited Promenade Park on its opening weekend, Aug. 9-11. The grand opening included a floating band performance, river tours, a butterfly release, and more, signaling the completion of Phase I of Riverfront Development. In December, city officials and DAVID RUBIN Land Collective released final renderings for Phases II and III, which will break ground in 2020, focusing on attracting private investment. Also in 2020, Indianapolis-based Barrett & Stokely plans to begin construction just east of Promenade Park on a $70-million mixed-use facility that will include retail space, living space, and a parking garage.
  • The Landing – The project streetscape officially debuted Oct. 24, as local leaders opened the gates on the redeveloped Columbia Street historic district. The Model Group, developer of The Landing, announced 100% of the district’s commercial space is spoken for, with businesses expecting to open by Spring 2020. The first apartment tenant moved in in June, and units on The Landing continue to lease up as they are completed.
  • Electric Works – Cleanup continues at the former General Electric campus as developers work toward lease agreements with potential tenants. More than a dozen companies have already signed letters of intent to lease space, including Parkview Health, Fort Wayne Metals, Indiana University Research and Technology Corp., and Joseph Decuis. In total, commitments cover more than 250,000 square feet of space.
  • Improvements in East Allen County – A series of quality-of-place improvements began in March with the start of improvements at Monroeville Community Park. Additional projects from the “East Allen Rural Revival” strategy are in the planning stages. In December 2018, the NewAllen Alliance won a statewide Stellar Communities designation from the Indiana Office of Community & Rural Affairs, unlocking funding for projects in Grabill, Harlan, Hoagland, New Haven, Leo-Cedarville, Monroeville, and Woodburn.
  • Boutique Hotel – Construction kicked off May 31 on a $27-million boutique hotel at the northwest corner of Main and Harrison streets in downtown Fort Wayne. The project is led by Vera Bradley co-founder Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, who aims to open the five-story hotel in Fall 2020.

“Fort Wayne and Allen County are experiencing unprecedented momentum as we work together to continue to build a great community. Collaboration is critical, and our collective emphasis on being committed to enhancing the quality of life for residents and businesses is having a meaningful impact,” Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry said. “Job growth and retention, high-wage employment opportunities, and new private investments are occurring in our community. We’re committed to being focused on doing everything possible to ensure Fort Wayne and Allen County are positioned for success now and in the years ahead.”

While implementing projects at home, GFW Inc. continued to lead learning opportunities in other best-in-class communities. In August, GFW Inc. staffers organized an Inter City Visit to Louisville, Ky., where a group of local leaders toured the Louisville community and heard firsthand the strategies used to revitalize neighborhoods. The visit complemented the City of Fort Wayne’s efforts to update its Southeast Area Development Strategy.

Chamber of Commerce

A year after winning Indiana Chamber of the Year honors, GFW Inc. won three national marketing awards from the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE): Best in Show, a Grand Award, and an Award of Excellence. Judges named three Best in Show winners, 10 Grand Award winners, and 41 Award of Excellence recipients out of more than 160 entries. Meanwhile, GFW Inc.’s VP of economic development, Ellen Cutter, was named to the ACCE’s “40 Under 40” list, which honors the best and brightest individuals under the age of 40 in the chamber industry.

GFW Inc. grew its member total past 1,350 while increasing its retention rate to 94 percent, outpacing the national average. Networking events remained popular; the 2019 Annual Meeting drew a crowd of more than 600 people, a new record. The event included the graduation of the 54-member Leadership Fort Wayne Class of 2019, as well as the debut of the “Vision to Vibrant” video showcasing the community to investors within and outside Allen County. In December, the GFW Inc. Holiday Night event attracted more than 500 attendees, the highest attendance in the event’s history.

In June, GFW Inc. launched the Bridge Program, an effort to boost the Allen County startup scene and connect the corporate community with the local startup ecosystem. Fifteen companies stepped forward as “Bridge Investors” to sponsor, connect, and mentor 15 “Bridge Entrepreneurs” for a five-year period. Plans are underway to onboard a second cohort of investors and entrepreneurs in 2020.

The Leadership 2.0 program kicked off in December, building on the Leadership Fort Wayne program. Leadership 2.0 was created in 2019 based on demand from Leadership Fort Wayne alumni who want to take their leadership skills to the next level.

Looking Ahead

Several business expansions and attractions continue to work their way through the process in several areas of Allen County. Meanwhile in downtown Fort Wayne, at least eight major building projects are expected to be in some stage of construction in 2020, representing a total investment of approximately $681 million. These projects include:

  • Riverfront Development (Phases II and III).
  • Riverfront Promenade (mixed-use development on the Premier Riverfront property).
  • The Lofts at Headwaters Park.
  • Ruoff Mortgage Headquarters.
  • Electric Works (West Campus).
  • The Landing.
  • Boutique Hotel.
  • Lutheran Downtown Hospital.

Additional projects, particularly in east Allen County, are in the pre-development phase.

To set the table for future development, staff members will work with partners from Allen County and the City of Fort Wayne to create a tactical five-year economic development strategy for the community. Also in 2020, GFW Inc. will release an executive summary of the Allen County Business Survey, which was performed in the fall of 2019.

The GFW Inc. board of directors underwent routine changes as the calendar shifted to 2020. After a two-year run as board chair, Andrew Thomas (Ridge NAPA) shifted into a new role as past chair. Beth Goldsmith (Sold by the Gold at North Eastern Group Realty) ascended to board chair as of Jan. 1, while Dave Lucas (Indiana Michigan Power) moved into Goldsmith’s previous role of vice chair. John Burda (Wells Fargo) and Allen Glassburn (Glassburn Consulting) remain in their previous roles as secretary and treasurer, respectively.

“Our sole mission is building a nationally recognized economy,” Urbahns said. “To accomplish that mission, we will keep our standards at the highest level and keep innovating. Allen County has never had more momentum, but it’s up to all of us to keep pushing and achieve our potential.”

About Greater Fort Wayne Inc.

Greater Fort Wayne (GFW) Inc. serves Fort Wayne and Allen County, Indiana, as its primary point of contact for economic growth. GFW Inc. focuses on prosperity and community vibrancy through economic development, advocacy, programs and resources that support business success, leadership development, graduate retention and community engagement.