Northeast Indiana starts the new journey toward building the region’s population

August 27th, 2015

News Coverage:

Hitting the “road”:  Northeast Indiana starts the new journey toward building the region’s population

Posted: Thursday, August 27, 2015 11:00 pm

By Aimee Ambrose

Signed, sealed and delivered, northeast Indiana submits its bid for millions of dollars in state regional development money.

The Regional Development Authority’s map for the “Road to One Million” was unveiled Aug. 25 at the Mirro Center for Research and Innovation in Fort Wayne.

This map consists of nearly 70 economic development projects worth about $1.5 billion in investments. They aim to implement bold changes that uplift the quality of living in the 11-county region to a standard which attracts and retains workers in an effort to grow the population to 1 million residents over the next 16 years.

The plan also follows guidelines to win millions in matching state funds as part of the Indiana Economic Development Corp.’s Regional Cities Initiative.

Purposeful projects

The purpose of the projects outlined in the plan is to create more connections, said John Sampson, CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, which collaborated with Greater Fort Wayne Inc. to develop the plan. The region would connect with new residents and businesses through a more inclusive environment, and existing communities would forge deeper ties by working together on the various projects.

“We’ll be amazed at how people will connect over doing difficult things,” Sampson said. “These projects are not easy.”

The projects look to improve downtown areas with new housing, retail and recreational developments; build up educational programs aimed at producing more entrepreneurs and leaders; place more prominence on arts and entertainment; and enhance the region’s trail systems, rivers and outdoor activities.

About 38 projects are on a timeline to be completed over the next two years at an investment of more than $400 million. Other projects would take three to 10 years to finish. So-called “vision projects” make up large-scale ideas without a definite completion date.

“This is our call to action,” said Ellen Cutter, a project manager on the plan. “The region has put forth this portfolio of projects with the end goal of building a better quality of place that will then make people who grow up here want to stay, and that will allow us to be more competitive in attracting talent from out-of-market.”

Growing a workforce

More than 780,000 people now live in northeast Indiana, according to the partnership.

If the current growth rate of 0.7 percent remains constant, the population would reach about 840,000 by 2025, and 1 million by 2067. But the labor force in 2025 would decrease by nearly 9,000 due to retirements, Cutter said.

The number of households would grow by about a quarter of a percent, the number of people with four-year degrees would increase by 26 percent, and the region’s real gross domestic product would rise by 8.5 percent.

By taking action with projects dedicated to reversing stagnation, the population, at a target 2.1-percent growth rate, would reach 1 million by 2031. The workforce would increase by almost 124,000 workers, those with four-year degrees would increase by 112 percent and the real gross domestic product would double thanks to the younger, more educated workforce.

“The skills of our workers are going to command increased competitiveness in higher-wage industries,” said Cutter, a certified urban planner who directs Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne’s Community Research Institute. “We will be able to process higher-value goods and services through our regional economy.”

The region would also see a 30-percent rise in arts patronage and a 27-percent growth in households, with adults aged 25-44 making up more than a quarter of the population.

To bring in that key demographic, the region will connect with their desires to live around vibrant downtown areas.

“If there’s any one kind of theme that will play well with talent attraction, it’ll be with young professionals who say, ‘Yeah, I like having a downtown’,” Sampson said. “I think that will be magnetic.”


The 38 near-term projects will serve as the main thrust of the proposal because they’re shovel-ready. The IEDC wants no hesitation in kicking off projects, Cutter said.

The largest in terms of cost is the first phase of riverfront development in downtown Fort Wayne, estimated at $68 million, and a more than $75-million expansion of the regional trails network.

More than 100 miles of bike and pedestrian corridors are planned, which will serve an important role in regional development.

“We become more together and less disconnected,” Sampson said.

Private funding is expected to cover half of the portfolio’s expenses. Another 30 percent would come from local funds, while state funds would make up the final 20 percent.

The IEDC wants a balance of 60 percent in private funds and 40 percent from state and local funds in the Regional Cities race but, Cutter said, northeast Indiana’s breakdown results from the large portion of local funding in place for the trails network.

The state could decide by the end of the year how to distribute the Regional Cities funds.

Near-term projects:

Arts & Culture

Project: Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts expansion

Location: Warsaw

Cost: $11 million

Project: Eagles Theatre renovation

Location: Wabash

Cost: $5.3 million

Project: U.S. Vice Presidential Museum and Learning Center

Location: Huntington

Cost: $10 million

Project: Clyde Theatre renovation

Location: Fort Wayne

Cost: $4.9 million

More information at

Near-term projects: Downtowns & Community Development

Project: Rock City Lofts development

City: Wabash

Cost: $9.8 million

Project: Gatke Power Plant redevelopment

City: Warsaw

Cost: $3.7 million

Project: The Landing redevelopment

Fort Wayne

Cost: $20 million

Project: Aquatics facility development

City: Columbia City

Cost: $4 million

Project: Downtown facade improvement program

City: Decatur

Cost: $500,000

Project: Community reinvestment program

City: Bluffton

Cost: $1 million

More information at

Near-term projects: Education & Industry

Project: Northern Indiana Lakes Country Enterprise Center

City: Angola

Cost: $2.5 million

Project: Bluffton Food Innovation Center

City: Bluffton

Cost: $5.5 million

Project: City Campus talent incubator

City: Fort Wayne

Cost: $16.1 million

Project: Huntington University Digital Media Arts program

City: Huntington

Cost: $1 million

More information at

Near-term projects:

Greenways & Blueways

Project: Riverfront development

City: Fort Wayne

Cost: $68.7 million

Project: Regional Trail Network

Location: Regionwide

Cost: $72.5 million

Project: Outdoor recreation complex

City: Kendallville

Cost: $2.25 million

Project: Blue River/Eel River canoe & kayak access points

Cities: North Manchester and Columbia City

Cost: $245,000

More information at