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Affirmed and Challenged: What We Know from Site Selection Experts

November 5th, 2020

USS Enterprise

Sustaining Northeast Indiana's Positive Growth

I admit it. I was pretty intimidated at the thought of reporting to my first sea duty on the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Enterprise after graduation from the Naval Academy. Graduation was 18 months earlier while the Navy sent me for more training at nuclear power and surface warfare schools prior to catching up with the massive ship moored in Subic Bay, Philippines.

After about 24 hours of “first-class” canvas seating on Air Force transports, a cabby dropped me at the end of the pier with my sea bag. I stood there somewhat dazed by the 95,000 tons of the longest naval vessel ever built, all the time wondering, “what was I thinking when I signed up for this?” Actually, I hadn’t signed up for “this.” I had pleaded with the detailer, “send me to any ship but the Enterprise.”

On reflection, that assignment at sea was one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences all in one. It provided an unlimited number of “work-based” leadership and learning opportunities that would be difficult to replicate outside of 5,500 sailors living and working, densely packed in a ship designed to launch and land planes, not to make people comfortable. 

I had supervisors and mentors who took more than a casual interest in the well-being of their teams. Front of mind daily, we lived with the reality that the lives of shipmates were at risk operating a naval vessel at sea. One of the finest leaders I worked for was Chief Engineer Mike Stout. Mike was a leader of rare quality; doling out encouragement, support and affirmations publicly while privately challenging you to achieve your higher potential.

We all knew that in one moment, the engineer would not overlook any action worthy of praise and affirmation. Equally, he relished the opportunity to “get in your face” for correction to push us beyond our comfort zones.

In the few years I served with him, both his affirmations and challenges achieved lasting impressions on my leadership.

USS Enterprise
Mike Grella

Affirmed and challenged best describes our most recent experience with Mike Grella of Grella Partnership Strategies. Mike carries a very unique blend of site selection experience from a corporate real estate perspective having founded and led Amazon’s Global Economic Development team. Mike strongly affirmed our efforts in Northeast Indiana but did not overlook the opportunity to leave us with big challenges to confront.

Mike left strong praise for our progress as a region and the numerous communities he visited during the two-day exploration. He could not overlook his direct exposure to Hoosier hospitality in the warmth, friendliness and sense of community and connectivity throughout the region. 

Mike was quick to identify numerous opportunities and amenities to brand Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana. 

“The proximity to so many world-class colleges, universities, research institutions as well as two-year colleges & technical/vocational schools, provide an unmatched talent pool to draw from.”

Our location is clearly an asset in this respect, Mike affirmed. The challenge he leaves before us is whether we will be successful in attracting and retaining the talent our geographic positioning represents.

“While location, location, and location are important and Northeast Indiana is incredibly well-placed for the aforementioned targeted industries, the future is about talent, talent, and talent, both homegrown/educated as well as attracting talent from outside the region that will call Northeast Indiana home."

The ongoing pandemic has dramatically increased the value-proposition of mid-sized Midwest communities with high-quality amenities and the infrastructure necessary to support remote workers. Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana have a unique moment in our history to grow dramatically as some workers choose to flee the congestion and high cost of major metros. The opportunity is affirming; the challenge will be in creating and executing a plan to attract these skilled individuals.

“The anticipated trend of large employers and foreign companies looking to expand into less densely populated areas (and lower cost regions) in the United States is real as is the opportunity to place regional talent in remote full-time positions that pay competitive/above market wages & benefits.  NE Indiana is well-positioned to take advantage of both these trends.”

Horrific events during the pandemic and the civil unrest that ensued have solidified the critical importance of persistent efforts towards inclusion and diversity. This message was affirmed during Mike’s visit. Not only is this an important element of national site selection, it is simply, the right thing to do.

“Drafting and operationally executing a well-thought-out plan to address diversity/inclusion, economic, educational and health disparities in neighborhoods and specific demographic groups is top of mind with C-Suite Executives and site decision-makers seeking to locate future facilities particularly in the technology industry.”

Finally, Mike urges close attention to disruptive technologies immediately before us. We must confront that the world will not stand idly by if we fail to recognize and adapt quickly to train a ready workforce to meet the needs of employers dealing directly with the threat of this disruption to supply chains and global markets. Certainly, supply chain disruptions which occurred with little warning during the pandemic should highlight the reality before us.

“It is crucial to determine these technologies will disrupt existing operations and entire job categories while creating new types of facilities with entirely new categories of high-skilled, high-paying jobs.”

Mike’s affirmations should encourage us. We have made huge strides forward in our journey together as a region in employment and economic growth. We are also aware, we have not “arrived”. His challenges must inspire us to reimagine our vision of the future. Together, we are writing a new story of revival and leadership to compete and win in a global marketplace. 

Read Mike's full letter to the Regional Opportunities Council here.