Allen County posts strong growth in 2021

FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Allen County set new records for new jobs and construction value in 2021 and, for the fourth consecutive year, posted positive numbers for attracting and retaining talent. Also, data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed Fort Wayne was the fastest-growing metro area in the Great Lakes region, putting an exclamation point on a strong year in economic and community development.

“When we talk about building a nationally recognized economy, attracting and retaining talent plays a huge role,” said John Urbahns, president and CEO of GFW Inc. “It’s no accident that this community is a leader in the Great Lakes region. We’ve put in years of work as a community, and now we’re seeing the results.”

Talent Attraction / Retention

From a population standpoint, Fort Wayne was the fastest-growing metro area in the Great Lakes region in 2020, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released in May 2021. The Fort Wayne MSA includes Allen, Wells, and Whitley counties. Fort Wayne’s growth rate (0.89%) edged that of metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) like Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson (0.85%), Madison, Wis. (0.72%), and Columbus, Ohio (0.63%).

Meanwhile, Allen County added 897 residents due to domestic migration in 2020. It was the fourth consecutive year in which the county posted positive net domestic migration. 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. The data represents a significant turnaround within the past decade:

YearNet Domestic Migration Growth/Loss

In total, the county’s population grew by 3,181 residents (0.84%) in 2020.

Economic Development

GFW Inc. assisted companies that invested more than $498 million in Allen County during the year. Other commitments included:

  • 27 business expansions and relocations.
  • 2,600+ new jobs (a new single-year record).
  • More than $105 million in new annual payroll.

Major expansion and relocation announcements included:

CompanyNew JobsInvestment
Amazon1,000$200 million
Master Spas447$15.3 million
Lippert Components300$2 million
Acadia Healthcare170$39.8 million
Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream145$146 million

For the first time ever, Allen County issued more than $2 billion in building permits in 2021. The county had never eclipsed the $1 billion mark in any year prior to 2017 but has now passed it in five consecutive years.

“Allen County is one of the most desirable communities to be in the U.S. Even during one of our nation’s toughest years, people chose to build and expand their homes and businesses here,” Allen County Commissioners Rich Beck, Therese Brown, and Nelson Peters said in a joint statement. “The successes of Allen County have put our community in a position to be able to think long-term about economic development.  The work we do now will determine how fast and how successfully we move our community forward together through and past the challenges of today.”

GFW Inc. staffers met, often virtually, with representatives from more than 500 Allen County businesses in 2021. These visits are designed to help current Allen County businesses thrive and retain jobs.

With workforce development an increasing point of emphasis, GFW Inc. staff members and local business leaders made presentations to more than 3,300 local high-school students as part of the MadeByMe skilled-trades initiative. These presentations highlighted career opportunities in the skilled trades and advanced manufacturing in an effort to build these industries’ workforce of the future.

Staff members also assisted more than 100 people and businesses as part of the GFW Inc. Disabilities Initiative. The initiative helps employers build an inclusive workforce and create accessible workspaces, and also helps newcomers with disabilities get connected as they settle into life in Allen County.

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:

  • Electric Works – The two-year construction phase continues on the West Campus, with the first tenant move-ins expected to begin in the fall of 2021. Food merchants for the Union Street Market were revealed in November, and in December, Chapman’s Brewing Company announced it would open its flagship brewery at Electric Works. Phase 2 of the project was approved in July, paving the way for a parking garage, residential units, a child-care facility, and more to be built on the west side of Broadway just north of the railroad tracks.
  • The Bradley – The $27-million boutique hotel celebrated its grand opening in July. Located 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. In October, two family-operated businesses, Kilwins Fort Wayne and Eye Specs on Main, opened in The Bradley’s retail space.
  • Riverfront Development – Work has begun on Phase II, which focuses on attracting private investment to the downtown riverfront. The parking garage portion of the $89-million Riverfront at Promenade Park project is expected to open in early 2022, with the retail and living space expected to open in 2023. The project is being developed by Indianapolis-based Barrett & Stokely, which is also working toward a 2022 groundbreaking on The Lofts at Headwaters Park, an additional $67.5-million project near the northeast corner of Superior and Clinton streets.
  • The Landing – Marquee at the Landing, operated by Indianapolis-based Cunningham Restaurant Group, became the newest restaurant in the district when it opened in November. Also in 2021, the former Columbia Street West building, which anchors the district at the southeast corner of West Columbia and South Harrison streets, was acquired by The Model Group for further redevelopment.
  • Fort Wayne International Airport’s Project Gateway – Officials broke ground on the $47-million terminal expansion project in June. When finished in 2023, the improvements will allow for two new gates, new jet bridges, an expanded ticketing area, more convenient passenger pick-up and drop-off, and more.
  • Improvements in East Allen County – In December, crews completed a variety of projects in Leo, including downtown streetscape improvements. A series of five murals was unveiled in November across east Allen County, and in June, the Kady Gene Cove senior housing project was completed in New Haven. Additional projects from the “East Allen Rural Revival” strategy are in the planning stages. These projects are the result of the NewAllen Alliance winning a statewide Stellar Communities designation from the Indiana Office of Community & Rural Affairs, unlocking funding for improvements in Grabill, Harlan, Hoagland, New Haven, Leo-Cedarville, Monroeville, and Woodburn.

“Our community continues to lead and make a meaningful difference,” Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry said. “Through successful public-private partnerships, Fort Wayne and Allen County are united and seeing results in new jobs, construction permits, and talent attraction and retention. Our best days are ahead of us.”

In August, GFW Inc. headed up its annual Inter-City Visit, this time staying within the Hoosier state. Local leaders explored Carmel and Fishers, learning how the central Indiana communities have created effective ecosystems for startups and entrepreneurs, as well as their methods for improving their quality of place.

Chamber of Commerce

GFW Inc. was again recognized as an industry leader in 2021, being named a finalist for the national Chamber of the Year award by the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE). A panel of chamber executives from across the country noted GFW Inc.’s Bridge Program, its pandemic response in 2020, its impact in the community, and its service to local businesses as key strengths that led to its selection as a finalist.

In November, leaders from GFW Inc. and Black Chamber Fort Wayne formalized a new alliance between the organizations. As part of the agreement, Black Chamber Fort Wayne will co-locate at GFW Inc.’s office, utilizing space for meetings and taking on GFW Inc.’s address as its mailing and corporate address. Also, members of GFW Inc. and Black Chamber Fort Wayne will receive “members-only” pricing to both organizations’ events.

Additional highlights from GFW Inc. investor services and programs in 2021:

  • In December, 47 individuals graduated as part of the Leadership Fort Wayne program’s Class of 2021, the 39th cohort in the leadership development program’s history.
  • The Onboard Fort Wayne and C-Suite Social programs welcomed 145 newcomers to the Allen County community via networking events, one-on-one assistance, and online resources. The programs were launched in 2020 to welcome new professionals and their significant others/families to the community, assisting local companies with one of their top challenges: attracting and retaining top talent.
  • Twenty-four entrepreneurs participated in the GFW Inc. Bridge Program, which helps bridge the gap between startup and success. Each entrepreneur is sponsored by a corporate partner and receives business coaching, chamber membership benefits, and more.
  • GFW Inc. assisted in celebrating 17 ribbon-cutting and groundbreaking ceremonies.
  • GFW Inc. membership was steady year-over-year at about 1,300.

“We’re proud to serve businesses across Allen County, from solo entrepreneurs to our largest employers,” said Brenda Gerber Vincent, GFW Inc.’s VP of community and corporate impact. “It’s especially inspiring to see companies form key partnerships based on connections they make as GFW Inc. members. When local businesses win, the community wins, too.”

Looking Ahead

Several business expansions and attractions continue to work their way through the process in several areas of Allen County. And, the following six major building projects are expected to be in some stage of construction in 2022, representing a total investment of approximately $677 million:

  • Riverfront Development (Phase II).
  • The Riverfront at Promenade Park (mixed-use development east of Promenade Park).
  • The Lofts at Headwaters Park.
  • Electric Works (West Campus and Phase II).
  • Project Gateway.
  • STAR Bank headquarters.

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

In coming days, GFW Inc. and leaders from the public and private sectors will release the blueprint for the next 10 years of progress in Allen County. The “Allen County Together” economic development action plan is the result of months of planning in consultation with public and private partners.

The GFW Inc. board of directors underwent routine changes as the calendar shifted to 2021. After a two-year run as board chair, Beth Goldsmith (Sold by the Gold at North Eastern Group Realty) moved into a new role as past chair. Zach Benedict (MKM architecture + design) was selected as board chair as of Jan. 1, while Margaret Sklenar (Metropolitan Title) moved into Benedict’s previous role of vice chair. John Burda (Wells Fargo) and Allen Glassburn (Glassburn Consulting) remain in their positions as board secretary and treasurer, respectively.

“As strong as this year was, we can’t get complacent. It’s time to set our sights higher,” Urbahns said. “We’ve come a long way to become a leader in the Great Lakes region, and we’re already working to build a nationally recognized economy in 2022 and beyond.”

About Greater Fort Wayne Inc.

Greater Fort Wayne (GFW) Inc. serves Fort Wayne and Allen County, Ind., 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.