Growing a Region’s Economy by Working Together

By: John Sampson on February 5th, 2019

Northeast Indiana's Regional Vision Showcases the Power of Collaboration 

The perfectly-restored and tricked-out 1957 GMC pickup was carefully parked and cordoned off at baggage claim at my favorite airport, Fort Wayne International Airport (FWA). A couple of us couldn’t resist an up-close examination of the vehicle now transformed into a beautiful “show” car. With the perfect finish, shining chrome and spotless truck bed, I doubted that anyone would haul gravel and lumber next weekend in this once “working” vehicle. The upgraded engine would produce ample horsepower, but I am confident this truck’s working days were long past.

Fort Wayne Airport

I have to ask, in our efforts to build, market and sell Northeast Indiana, have we transformed our rich history as a “working” region into all “show?”

At our founding, the Regional Partnership was created to be a fundamental “marketing and sales” vehicle to confront economic dysfunction that had become endemic to the region. 

We started with a “stock” approach to outreach and business development. We had a modest budget and a “You Can Get There From Here” tagline to complement a rich manufacturing and logistics legacy. We hit the road, traveling to site selector conferences and industry trade shows in search of projects. 

Since those humble beginnings, we have built a collaborative region, invested heavily in talent development and building a region with the sites, buildings, infrastructure and quality of place our region needs to compete in the global marketplace.

We are now on the Road to One Million to grow our regional population to 1 million residents by 2030, and we’re also working to raise per capita personal income against the national average and increase our region’s education and credential attainment to 60 percent. That’s our Vision 2030 initiative. 

With those changes, we also updated our regional vision statement. Today, our vision for the region reads as follows:

“Working together, Northeast Indiana is a magnet for the best businesses and talent and is recognized as one of the nation’s most prosperous regions.”

Why the change? Let me provide you with some recent examples of how we work together as a region.

We work with arguably the strongest workforce development system in the state through Northeast Indiana Works. We have a Regional Chamber of Northeast Indiana and Greater Fort Wayne Inc. together advocating strong business climate policies with our state legislators.

Results: 111 Project Wins in 2018

The 111 project wins are for 2018 alone representing what “we” have accomplished together in just one year in our 11 counties. Unlike the truck at FWA, which was all “show,” our region has become a model of “workhorse” collaboration to grow the Northeast Indiana economy and drive results. However, it has not always been so.

At inception, over 40 individuals with economic development interests in the region gathered on occasion to “work together” on economic development issues. Better described as a loose gathering of public entities, private utilities and chambers of commerce with economic development responsibilities meeting to protect interests rather than to work together to win deals, share best practices and confront the compelling needs of the communities and region.

Fast forward a decade later, the Local Economic Development Organization (LEDO) Council of the Regional Partnership meets every month to confront common interests and advance the competitive position of Northeast Indiana. The Council is self-governing within the bylaws of the Regional Partnership, electing three directors to the Partnership board who directly participate in our governance. 

In January, the chairs of the LEDO Council gathered to plan their transition of leadership into the new year. They discussed accountability for leadership and strengthening their performance as a Council. This is no small feat and demonstrates the powerful and fundamental workings “under the hood” of an effective region.

Results: $660 Million in Capital Investment

In 2012, a regional benchmarking trip to Denver observed the strength of a Mayors Caucus at the heart of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation; arguably one of the strongest performing city and regional economies in the U.S. 

After the visit, our mayors and commissioners were inspired to replicate the effectiveness of the Denver Caucus through the Mayors and Commissioners Caucus of Northeast Indiana. As Mayor Norm Yoder from Auburn has come to say, “This is the one place in Indiana where the mayors and commissioners get together regularly to talk with each other and not at each other.”

Today, the Mayors and Commissioners Caucus meets monthly to find areas of common interest between counties and cities. These 16 mayors and 33 commissioners are the largest voting body in Indiana as part of the Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority. We often tout the strength of the 23 Road to One Million quality of place projects. However, the heart and soul of those projects was the leadership and collaboration of the Caucus as well as the economic development professionals. These leaders were able to form the RDA by leading county council members to vote in favor of joining forces to win a $42 million grant from Indiana’s Regional Cities Initiative. The Caucus was the basis for the “but for” test.  "But for" their collaborative relationships, the $256 million in projects in our region today would be driving another region’s economic growth.

Results: 3,637 New Job Commitments = $176 Million in Total New Wages

And, now we are on to building more strengths in regional collaboration with the Northeast Indiana Colleges and Universities. Comprised of nine institutions of higher education, these leaders work together to advance common interest and to better connect to the region’s employers.  This group of presidents and chancellors have a direct hand in closing business development projects like Shindigz and Rural Sourcing Inc. While success is never guaranteed, clearly these leaders see new opportunities for their institutions and their students in the business of higher education.

The building of trust and collaboration is messy and difficult. The biggest steps forward are through confronting difficult challenges and working through them, even when we disagree. When we disagree and commit to staying together, we become stronger through each challenge. 

The bottom line? In Northeast Indiana, beauty is more than skin deep. Our region is one that works. We’re business-led, collaborative and committed to growing our region’s prosperity together with our shared vision and focus on driving collective results.

“Working together, Northeast Indiana is a magnet for the best businesses and talent and is recognized as one of the nation’s most prosperous regions.”

Northeast Indiana's 2018 Collaborative Results

111

Project Wins in 11 Counties

$660M

in Capital Investment

3,637

New Job Commitments

$176M

in Total New Wages

Want to learn more about the region's 2018 results? Download a PDF of Northeast Indiana's Regional Scorecard. 

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