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Regions plan for growth tempered by growing company’s recruitment challenges’

August 27th, 2015

News Coverage:

Regions plan for growth tempered by growing company's recruitment challenges

MedPro says Fort Wayne not always workers' first choice -- but is working to change its image
By Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel
Thursday, August 27, 2015 - 12:01 am

Within mere days of each other, two unrelated events showcased both the area's aspirations and potential -- and just how difficult it could be to achieve them.

When the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership unveiled its bid for $42 million in state "regional cities" funding Tuesday, the stated goal was to increase population within the 11 participating counties from 772,337 to 1 million within the next decade. That means boosting the current growth rate of 0.7 percent, which adds just 53,000 people per year.

But as I first reported Saturday, a successful and unique Fort Wayne company planning a 70 employee, $5.5 million expansion has injected a note of caution -- and hopefully motivation -- into that mission.

Here's what the Medical Protective Co. had to say buried within the application for a tax break on a proposed 11,000-square-foot addition to its headquarters at 5814 Reed Road: "Though MedPro has enjoyed its Fort Wayne home office location for nearly a century, the company's other office locations sometimes make it easier to attract talent. Nonetheless, MedPro hopes to remain in Fort Wayne for another century attracting as much talent as possible to the area."

With more than half of the company's 700-member work force in Fort Wayne, and with the new local jobs expected to pay average salaries of $57,643 per year, employee attraction and retention might not seem like a concern even though it clearly is.

But why is that? And even more to the point: What can be done about it?

I put those and other questions to MedPro Vice President-Operations & Marketing Tim Smith, who suggested that some of the region's perceived shortcomings are not its fault and beyond its control. "It's not that they don't like Fort Wayne, they simply like where they are," he said. And if those places have oceans or mountains, the contrast may be even greater.

But Smith also mentioned something the Regional Partnership's "Road to One Million" program clearly intends to address. "In some minds," he said, "Fort Wayne is typical of the Midwestern 'rust belt.' "

So the challenge for MedPro, other employers and the entire region is clear: To the degree that "rust belt" stigma is no longer accurate -- and much clearly has changed for the better -- those improvements must me trumpeted more effectively. Where the perception remains valid, the causes of the negativity must be addressed and, if possible, corrected.

Smith said MedPro has little trouble recruiting top executives to Fort Wayne, in part because of the higher salaries. And the company hires many of its entry-level employees locally. The challenge, he said, can come when trying to woo mid-level employees who are living in larger cities on relatively lucrative incomes. "Fort Wayne isn't Chicago, Denver or Colorado Springs, and it never will be," he said.

Conditions in the work place are crucial in employee recruitment, and Smith said MedPro works to make itself attractive not only through its salaries, benefits and opportunity for advancement but although through a collaborative culture and amenities such as on-site health programs and activities. And the company's own literature touts the familiar line about Fort Wayne's "high quality of life, low cost of living and warm Hoosier hospitality."

But homey slogans clearly aren't enough. The good news is that everyone finally seems to realize that -- which is why northeast Indiana can build its future on more than words.

Smith said Fort Wayne's growing arts and cultural community is an attraction, as its growing commitment to physical activity as reflected by an ever-expanding trail network and the "Fort 4 Fitness" program. And MedPro makes it a point to show would-be employees downtown Fort Wayne, where Parkview Field, proposed riverfront development and other changes are afoot. The Regional Cities money would help keep that momentum going, but Smith believes civic leaders are mistaken when they say that young people -- so-called "millennials" -- pick the city in which they want to live first, then worry about finding a job later.

"You have to have both (jobs and quality of life). You have to do it in tandem. That's why I'm so excited about 'Race to a Million.' Let's dream big," Smith said.

And if those dreams come true, maybe MedPro's headquarters -- unlike too many others -- really will remain and continue to grow in Fort Wayne.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.
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