Eric Doden, CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc., is well-versed in Indiana economic development. As a former president of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and a key player in the development of the Regional Cities Initiative, Doden has a keen awareness of what it takes to be successful.
He points to increased energy, community strength, cost of living, and the state’s business-friendly climate as just some of the reasons he believes this is an exciting time for the city and the region. But, he adds, there are a number of challenges. Namely perception.
The vision, articulated as part of the Regional Cities Initiative, looks to grow the population of the region from 750,000 to one million residents in the next ten years, and start $1.4 billion worth of projects. This growth means a significant opportunity – requirement, even – to grow the region’s metropolitan domestic product. Greater Fort Wayne Inc. is currently implementing a strategy that will facilitate such growth.
In order to accomplish the first two objectives, GFW Inc., in collaboration with regional partners, will conduct regular business visits to 500 potential businesses per year from other markets, and 300 businesses per year locally, seeking to identify growth opportunities. These meetings will focus on business attraction and retention, respectively, as well as strategies for growth, and the full retention strategy features measures that include all GFW Inc. investors.
“If we don’t have a vibrant and growing economy, then it’s very difficult for all of our investors to have a vibrant and growing business,” Doden said.
The third objective, quality of place, is a bit more nebulous, but GFW Inc. has identified concrete steps that can work together to facilitate this quality. It requires at least two $25 million projects to be started every year. In 2016, GFW Inc. suggests beginning development on an arena, riverfront promenade, and the area known as ‘The Landing’.
And the location of these amenities is important; an essential element of any thriving region is a strong urban core.
“Cores are really the soul of these [successful] communities,” Doden explained. “In our case it’s a 92-block radius [in downtown Fort Wayne]. And if that’s vibrant, then that’s where people see what you believe about yourself.”
And what people believe, Doden said, is that Fort Wayne, and Northeast Indiana, can be greater.
“I think most people are not satisfied that we are ranked number 53 in our ‘weight class’ [based on population and geography],” he said. “The goal is to be in the top 5 within the next 10 years.”
And GFW Inc. has already started on the work that it takes to get there.
“It’s about taking the vision of the region, which we’ve already defined, and implementing a process that gets us to that vision.”