Indiana’s secretary of commerce says northeast Indiana is poised for continued growth. Brad Chambers was the keynote speaker at the Engage Northeast Indiana event in Fort Wayne, which featured robust discussion on an economy on the move, fueled by more than $1 billion of investment in downtown Fort Wayne. “Fort Wayne as a community has really come together. They’ve been super focused as a community…and it is paying off big time,” said Chambers.
Chambers and other local officials spoke with Inside INdiana Business Host Gerry Dick at the event.
“The momentum up here is incredible,” said Chambers. “The fastest-growing community in the Great Lakes region? Fort Wayne, Indiana. [It’s] the most educated community in the country or one of the most. [It’s] a great place for retirees. Low housing prices. Their GDP is growing. This community has really worked hard, and it is showing up.”
Among the major investments in the region is the $286 million first phase of the Electric Works mixed-use innovation district at the former General Electric campus in downtown Fort Wayne.
Several portions of the district have already opened, including the Union Street Market food hall and the Amp Lab, a STEM-centered lab operated by Fort Wayne Community Schools.
Fort Wayne-based Do It Best Corp. is set to move in this week as the district’s anchor tenant. CEO Dan Starr said the outlook for northeast Indiana helped him sell the idea to his board of directors.
“If you look at the economic activity and growth in northeast Indiana, and that’s not just this last year [but] the last decade,” said Starr. “It just is a vibrant community with a lot of growth potential and business movement, and so it’s an attractor of people, of companies, and that is something that is also easy to sell to someone who just looking at it as a business transaction.”
But there are challenges in northeast Indiana. Among them are educational attainment, early childhood education and affordable housing, an issue that really has come to the forefront throughout the state of Indiana.
“The affordability gap in housing is a key issue,” said John Urbahns, CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc. “When you look at some of our smaller communities…just the number of units available, when you look at the aging population and not having people leave their homes and having turnover, there’s a challenge in workforce housing in a lot of our smaller communities.”
Urbahns adds some of the northeast Indiana projects approved for grant funding through the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI) aim to address the housing issue.
Just last week, the The Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority announced $15 million in READI funding for several projects, including housing efforts in Fort Wayne and DeKalb County.