Community, GFW Inc. Raised the Bar in 2018

FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Allen County’s economy reached new heights in 2018, adding record numbers of jobs and new payroll thanks to a steady stream of business expansions and relocations. The community also made progress on several quality-of-place projects, paving the way for future success recruiting and retaining jobs and talent. These economic successes, combined with a statewide chamber of commerce award, made for an exceptional year, both for Greater Fort Wayne Inc. and Allen County as a whole.

“This organization is here to grow jobs, grow wages, and grow the economy. The numbers show 2018 was the best year we’ve ever had—even better than 2017,” said John Urbahns, CEO of GFW Inc. “We’re proud to play a part in Allen County’s economic success. The broader economic conditions are ever-changing, but we will keep raising the bar and demanding excellence as we work to build a nationally recognized economy.”

Allen County’s unemployment rate sat at 3.3 percent in October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, better than the state and national rates (3.6 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively). BLS statistics also show the county’s average annual wage rose by $1,456 (3.5 percent) from 2017 to 2018, outpacing the state and national growth rates (2.8 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively).

Economic Development

In 2018, GFW Inc. assisted companies investing nearly $337 million in Allen County. Other commitments included:

StatisticHighest Single-Year Total Since
33 business expansions and relocations2013
2,445 new jobsHighest on record (stat kept since 2001)
$115 million in new annual payrollHighest on record (stat kept since 2012)

Major expansion and relocation announcements included:

CompanyNew JobsInvestment
Sweetwater1,009$76.4 million
Midwest Service Supply230$1.1 million
Aardvark Paper Straws205$9.1 million
ElringKlinger150$23.2 million
Rural Sourcing130$3.4 million

In December, Allen County officials announced they had issued more than $1 billion in building permits for the second consecutive year. The county had never eclipsed the $1 billion mark prior to 2017.

GFW Inc. staff members made more than 700 visits to Allen County businesses in 2018. These on-site visits are designed to help current Allen County businesses thrive and retain jobs.

Staff members made 66 visits to businesses outside Allen County, making stops in cities across the country. These visits with out-of-market business leaders, entrepreneurs, developers, and investors opened direct lines of communication and generated leads for several potential relocations and expansions currently under consideration. GFW Inc.’s approach to nationwide business visits became a statewide model; the Indiana Economic Development Corp. (IEDC) now encourages economic development groups throughout the state to adopt a similar method for regional business development.

Travel also brought learning opportunities. In August, GFW Inc. organized an Inter City Visit to Greenville, S.C., where a group of local leaders toured the up-and-coming community and heard firsthand the strategies used to turn Greenville’s economy around. Greenville leaders shared the importance of riverfront development, high-quality design standards, startups, and more. Thanks to a grant from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, GFW Inc. also led community members on a short trip to Detroit, where participants learned about neighborhood corridor strategies, as well as the Motor City’s creative programs to build its inclusive entrepreneurial community.

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 former General Electric campus is on track for redevelopment after a local funding package was approved in November. Novogradac & Co., a national accounting firm, forecasts the finished campus will spur $387 million in annual economic impact. Developers are currently working toward lease agreements with potential tenants, with an eye toward breaking ground in the summer of 2019. In January 2018, the project garnered national media attention from The Wall Street Journal.
  • Riverfront Development – Phase I construction is expected to be completed in summer 2019. City officials and DAVID RUBIN Land Collective have begun planning for Phases II and III with a focus on attracting private investment. A Minnesota-based private developer is planning HIVE, a $62 million mixed-use facility near the Riverfront with retail space, living space, and a parking garage.
  • The Landing – The redeveloped Columbia Street historic district is expected to be completed in summer 2019. Model Group, a Cincinnati firm specializing in revitalizing historic urban neighborhoods, is overseeing the project.
  • Improvements in East Allen County – In December, the NewAllen Alliance won a statewide Stellar Communities designation from the Indiana Office of Community & Rural Affairs. This designation unlocks funding for quality-of-place improvements like parks, trails, streetscapes, and more in Grabill, Harlan, Hoagland, Leo-Cedarville, Monroeville, New Haven, and Woodburn. GFW Inc. staff members assisted NewAllen Alliance personnel, most of them volunteers, with their Stellar application and presentation.

Chamber of Commerce

In June, GFW Inc. won the 2018 Indiana Chamber of the Year award, given by the Indiana Chamber Executives Association (ICEA). Fort Wayne last earned that honor in 2003. Award applicants were judged by a panel of five chamber professionals, all located outside Indiana. GFW Inc. also won ICEA marketing awards for its website and its “Opportunity on the Edge of Greatness” marketing campaign.

GFW Inc. grew its new member totals while also increasing its retention rate to 92 percent, well above the national average. Networking events remained a hit—in post-event surveys, those who attended GFW Inc. events gave an average satisfaction rating of 4.7 on a 5.0 scale.

In May, GFW Inc. joined with AWS Foundation to start the Employing People with Disabilities Initiative. The initiative is aimed at connecting local businesses with job placement agencies, specifically for people with disabilities. In less than a year, GFW Inc. established partnerships with nine employment agencies and met with 105 companies.

Looking Ahead

Signs point toward 2019 being another strong year in Allen County. Several business expansions and attractions continue to work their way through the process. Meanwhile, in the downtown Fort Wayne area, at least seven major building projects are expected to be in some stage of construction in 2019, representing a total investment of approximately $585 million. These projects include:

  • Riverfront Development (Phase 1).
  • HIVE Mixed-Use Development.
  • Electric Works (West Campus).
  • The Landing.
  • Boutique Hotel.
  • Hampton Inn Hotel.
  • Lutheran Downtown Hospital.

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

GFW Inc. has a new, yet familiar face as CEO as 2019 begins. John Urbahns was promoted from his position as executive VP of economic development, a post he held for five years, and took over as president and CEO on Jan. 1. Urbahns has more than 20 years’ experience in Fort Wayne community development, including 18 years of service for the City of Fort Wayne. Eric Doden announced in May that he would return to the private sector at the end of 2018, after three years serving as CEO.

“Our goal hasn’t changed. We’re still building a nationally recognized economy,” Urbahns said. “We need bold leadership and a community-wide effort to achieve that. Allen County has come a long way, but we’ve only scratched the surface of what we can become.”

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.