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Region Shows Economic Progress

December 3rd, 2013

News Coverage:

Region Shows Economic Progress

Posted: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 12:59 pm | Updated: 3:18 pm, Tue Dec 3, 2013.

by Joseph Slacian, jslacian@wabashplaindealer.com

FORT WAYNE – The 10-county Northeast Indiana region has made progress in creating a strong economic climate, but there is still work to be done.

That was the consensus Tuesday morning during the first State of the Region discussion which took place here at The Summit. Representatives from the various counties in the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership (NIRP) gathered to learn the results of the 2013 Regional Dashboard Update and the Northeast Indiana Manufacturing Region.

Perhaps the biggest news that came out of the meeting was the fact the region’s Per Capita Income is on the upswing, according to Katy Silliman, vice president of regional initiatives at the NIRP. Northeast Indiana saw a 5 percent PCI growth in 2012, while the nation had a 3.4 percent increase.

“Usually we’re first in, last out of the recession,” she said. “But that didn’t happen this time.

“We’re first out this time, and we’re going to knock everyone else’s socks off.”

Ellen Cutter, director of the Community Research Institute of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, and John Stafford, special projects associate of the Institute, both touched on the recession and how it affected the 10-county region.

“Northeast Indiana was hit harder by the recession,” Cutter said. “But the trends that we’ve seen as we emerge from the recession, we’ve performed stronger. This is a very important point.”

The NIPR developed the Regional Dashboard in 2012. It compares the 10-county region with 14 “star and peer regions” – various cities around the country – as a set of benchmarks for comparison, she explained. It compares data and trends from 2002 through 2012.

Job creation in the region is lagging, according to the Dashboard statistics.

“Our star communities are up 2.3 percent, while our peer communities are down 4.1 percent and we’re down 5.9 percent,” Cutter said. “We have ground to make up in terms of where we were 10 years ago.

“But, if you look at the most recent review period, we’ve done better. Specifically, in the last year we’ve outperformed both the stars and the peers. We grew 1.5 percent and the stars grew, on average, 1.1 percent.”

One of the biggest areas hit with job loss in the last decade was that of manufacturing jobs, according to the Manufacturing Study. However, Stafford noted, the region gained an average of 2,850 manufacturing jobs annually from 2009 to 2012.

“We all know manufacturing is really, really important to the Northeast Indiana economy,” he said. “It represents about 20 percent of our employment opportunities here. It outdistances any other sector. Healthcare is second, but it’s substantially behind manufacturing in importance.”

Silliman was encouraged by the various findings.

“Northeast Indiana is on the right track as we continue to recover from the last recession,” she said. “We will use the results from the two reports presented today to help focus Vision 2020’s efforts as we move forward in our mission to create a strong economic climate focused on developing, attracting and retaining talent.”

Wabash Mayor Robert Vanlandingham and Bill Konyha, President and CEO of the Economic Development Group of Wabash County, were among the more than 120 people in attendance Tuesday morning.

“The region is doing well, but not as well as we like,” Vanlandingham said after the presentations. “We’ve got to stay the course, because if we’re going to get there we’ve got to get there together.

“I’ve said all along it’s not just Wabash city, it’s not just Wabash County, it’s the whole region. I’ve said that from day one.”

A former educator, Vanlandingham likened Tuesday’s news to that of a good report card.

“If it were a report card, I’d say we’ve got a good B,” he said. “But most of us aren’t happy with B’s. We want A’s.”

Konyha said the findings were “the same gospel I’ve been preaching for seven years.”

“It’s the 21st century; it’s not the 20th century,” he said. “We have made great progress. There is great progress yet to be made. But as long as we can see little bumps and little improvements – like improvements in our Per Capita Income, like improvements in our educational attainment rate, like improvements in our average wage and median wage structure – we’re going to be OK.

“It’s a positive. It took us generations to get where we are. It’s going to take more than four or five years to change our course.”