Region makes promising progress on pay

November 25th, 2013

News Coverage:

Published: November 25, 2013 3:00 a.m.


Region makes promising progress on pay

Though the Vision 2020 initiative is still far from its targets, things may slowly be coming into focus.

For too long, Fort Wayne’s wages and income statistics have lagged far behind the nation’s. There have been signs this is changing, and one of the clearest yet arrived last week.

According to estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, personal income in Metro Fort Wayne (Allen, Wells and Whitley counties) rose 5.1 percent last year to $37,226.

The good news is that, as in 2011, those 2012 figures outpaced the increase in national personal income, which was 4.2 percent in 2012.

The bad news is that the area is still way behind the actual income rate nationally, $45,188 a year.

Vision 2020, brainchild of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, sees the gap between nationwide and regional income as the driving force behind its efforts to develop, attract and retain talent. Its “Big Goal” is to move the number of people in the region who have post-high school credentials or degrees from the current 32 percent to 60 percent. That, in turn, should increase the quality and quantity of jobs available in the region, eventually enhancing every aspect of life here.

But there is a vicious circle to beware of, as the partnership’s marketing director, Courtney Tritch, explained. The Big Goal is undercut if competitive salaries aren’t available. “We don’t want to just develop talent” and then have it go somewhere else, Tritch said.

“That has been for many years a challenge for us,” said Ellen Cutter, director of IPFW’s Community Research Institute. “We need to register stronger growth than the nation. … We need high-wage, high-growth jobs”; earnings and wages, she emphasized, “are the principal drivers of per capita income.”

Cutter referred to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report on jobs added here in 2012 that clearly shows how Fort Wayne closed ground on the national average.

The biggest growth was in health care and social services: 927 more jobs than the previous year, with an average income of $43,490 a year. The second-largest increase was in manufacturing, where the economy added 833 jobs with average annual wages of $52,599. Third was transportation and warehousing, with 648 jobs at an average $41,246 a year.

Seeking those jobs, which quickly bring the averages up, is where the regional partnership is placing its emphasis.

“We have brought business, educational, non-profit and governmental leaders – really everyone – to the table,” Tritch said. The discussion is not just on jobs, not just on training, but on the business climate, business structure and quality of life. “We’re really trying to change the whole system of how we’re doing things in northeast Indiana.”

Will the wage/income numbers keep outgrowing America’s this year?

So far in 2013, the biggest increases have been in less lucrative jobs, such as retail. But, Cutter said, “the fourth quarter is typically a good quarter. It’s too early to say.”

Tritch, too, was reluctant to make predictions. “We hope it will continue,” she said. “I think it’s definitely very good news.”

At least the goal is becoming clear.

As the late Zig Ziglar used to say, it’s hard to hit a target if you don’t know what you’re aiming for.