Riverfront investment is key for growth

June 12th, 2017

By John Sampson for The News-Sentinel

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

My favorite line from my favorite poem by Robert Frost. That line expresses my main takeaway from Greater Fort Wayne Inc.’s City Exchange trip to Durham, N.C., where 40 community leaders attended. Why Durham? The Raleigh-Durham metro region surfaced in 2014 as one of several benchmarked communities in a study that led to Indiana’s Regional Cities Initiative. This metro is basking in dramatic economic and population growth in recent years.

The city of Durham and Durham County stand out given similar size and history to Fort Wayne and Allen County. Notably in Durham, the original American Tobacco Company site, once abandoned, now stands revitalized. It is credited as one of the major community projects fueling impressive growth and the resurgence of a community at one time in fatal decline. We have learned again that progress in resurging cities and their regional economies always begins with committed leadership overcoming huge resource deficits and resistance to change, achieving momentum and broad community support.

Consistently, these efforts have been accompanied by dramatic improvements in quality of place and higher wage employment. Despite our relentless search for success, we were reminded plainly: There is no secret sauce. This is all about hard work, persistence and commitment to the long term.

The good news? Hard work, persistence and commitment are characteristics with which Hoosiers are well-accustomed. There is a unique opportunity for us in the Durham journey. The ATC has a specific relevance to our GE facility redevelopment, Electric Works. We observed first hand in Durham the amazing returns the community received for their investments in the ATC.

Ironically, while in Durham we could not overlook the front page news in Fort Wayne. A coalition organized by the Americans for Prosperity announced opposition to a Fort Wayne City Council proposed income tax increase. The increase is designed to help pay for the next phase of a bold riverfront development project and future sidewalk and alley repairs. The income tax increase of 0.15 percent would amount to an increase of about $60 per year for an individual making $40,000 annually.

Not mentioned by the coalition was the fact that the Allen County income tax rate is the second lowest of all counties in Northeast Indiana’s 11-county region. Even with the increase, Allen County would only be tied for the fourth lowest rate in the region. Further, even with all tax revenues such as property tax, income tax, wheel tax, etc., total tax revenue for Allen County remains well below almost all benchmarked communities, keeping our competitive cost-of-living position intact.

Is this really about taxes? No one wants to pay more taxes, including me. But I am grateful for public servants like police and firefighters who keep our homes and community safe. I respect elected officials who step into the unique challenge of running for office and public service, and they deserve our support. I also appreciate living in a neighborhood with reliable electricity, water and sewer and neighborhoods with streets, sidewalks, trails and alleys all in good repair.

I want to live in a city and region which is home to growing and prosperous companies competing in a global marketplace and making our lives better. And I agree to pay taxes to allow good government and private industry to work together to produce strong neighborhoods, great communities and a growing region and state.

This is not about taxes. It is about choosing the type of community I am willing to invest my tax dollars to support. I believe the increased tax would be a valuable investment in the future of our region. To attract new talent and grow the region, achieving the goal laid out in our Road to One Million plan, we must think long-term. Riverfront Development is the cornerstone of our regional quality of place plan, and this funding may be critical to advance the project.

For me, this is personal. My wife and I are Hoosiers by choice. We grew up in Washington state, bounded by the Pacific and the Rockies. We moved here for work and chose to stay to raise our family. I encouraged my son, daughter-in-law and their children to move here because I believe there is a bright future to be made in Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana. I am betting my tax dollars and their future on building a better city and region than what we experienced in Durham.

The Fort Wayne City Council will meet at 5:30 p.m. on June 27 at Citizens Square, 200 E. Berry Street, to discuss the proposed income tax increase to invest in the future of my home. I will be there in support because, Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

John Sampson is the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s president and CEO.