Greater Fort Wayne Inc., the economic development agency serving the city and Allen County, on Jan. 6 unveiled a new, 10-year plan to build the community and its economy.
Known as “Allen County Together,” it calls for $1 billion in private investment to the downtown riverfront; getting Fort Wayne recognized as a “top-10 music city”; and attracting 2,500 new jobs to southeast Fort Wayne – all by the end of 2031.
“The progress we've seen across Allen County over the past 10-12 years has been remarkable. There's no question we've become one of the top communities in the Great Lakes region – but we can't get complacent,” said John Urbahns, president and CEO of Greater Fort Wayne. “The [Allen County Together] plan challenges us to reach our full potential as a community, and lays out the next steps to get us there.”
The plan is ambitious and aspirational. More importantly, it focuses on public policy, Ball State University economist Michael Hicks said.
“Over the past two generations or so, Americans have been increasingly focused on the character of a community they move to,” said Hicks, director of Ball State's Center for Business and Economic Research. “They're concerned about good schools, safe neighborhoods and recreational opportunities.”
Hicks said people are moving to communities with such amenities, oftentimes before they even have a job. Over the past 40 years, those communities have flourished while the rest have floundered.
“Fort Wayne is actually a good example of a place doing the right things through policy,” he said. “But that was not always the case.”
Before Lincoln National Corp. moved its headquarters from Fort Wayne to Philadelphia in 1999, Hicks said company officers had complained to city leaders about the quality of local schools and lack of recreational opportunities. Leaders of International Harvester had similar discussions with city officials before its decision to leave in 1983.
After Lincoln National's exit, “Fort Wayne went about some really old-school community organizing,” Hicks said. “It's what a community would do in 1900. It's not new, but Fort Wayne returned to focusing on its roots.”
Dan Watson, director of marketing for Greater Fort Wayne Inc., said the new Allen County Together plan is driven by the grassroots: the people who live and work here. And it incorporates existing plans that came from the community, like the Greater Fort Wayne Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Strategy, the city's Southeast Strategy and the soon-to-come All in Allen Comprehensive Plan.
Hoosier communities must focus their resources on attracting and retaining residents through quality-of-life improvements like trails, parks and community venues. That's what Greater Fort Wayne Inc. is doing.
It's why economic success has followed Fort Wayne these past 10 years. And the Allen County Together plan sets the community on a course to build on that success.