To booster, projects reflect pride
Doden touts 2016's big investments
By Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette
This time of year, everyone is making top-10 lists.
But Eric Doden can boil down his highlight list to a top three: Wal-Mart, Dana and Michelin. Each of the corporate heavyweights announced multi-million-dollar local investment plans this year.
As CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc., Doden is chief cheerleader for the city and county.
This week, at The Journal Gazette’s request, Doden took stock of the area’s economic development wins during 2016, his first full year in charge at Greater Fort Wayne, a chamber alliance. The former head of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. officially joined GFW on July 1, 2015.
Doden considers every dollar invested, including those by small firms, a win.
“That growth is important to the local economy,” he said of expansions in the $2 million to $3 million range, the most common investment amount.
But three projects do stand out.
Wal-Mart’s new $165 million milk processing plant is expected to create more than 250 new jobs at 2322 W. Pleasant Center Road.
“That’s just a big deal,” Doden said.
Dana Light Axle Products LLC is investing $90 million in new equipment and creating 165 new jobs at its existing local factory, where it employs about 600. BF Goodrich is installing $100 million of new equipment in its Woodburn tire plant, where it employs about 1,650.
Both projects demonstrate the employers’ commitment to maintaining those local jobs for the foreseeable future.
Greater Fort Wayne this year announced investments totaling $421 million in 26 projects.
But the numbers aren’t what keep Doden grinding away. Instead, he’s buoyed by the word on the street, comments made by long-time residents who tell Doden they don’t remember people having so much community spirit.
He considers community pride a leading indicator of things to come.
“That gets me really excited about our future,” he said.
Doden presided over two recent high-profile media events.
In November, Provenance Hotels announced plans to build a $27 million downtown boutique hotel using design input from Vera Bradley co-founder Barbara Bradley Baekgaard. And this month, Doden met with reporters to unveil layout and interior design ideas for the 163 apartments and 14 townhouses included in Cityscape Flats.
That second time, Doden was acting in his capacity as a principal investor in Domo Ventures, the firm that developed the $27 million housing complex next to Parkview Field.
During his tenure with the IEDC, Doden took a leave of absence from Domo. But when he interviewed with Greater Fort Wayne’s board, the parties agreed that Doden could continue to be involved in the development firm as long as he didn’t neglect his day job, where salary is paid by business members. The organization is the former chamber of commerce.
Doden said keeping one foot in the development world actually helps him as an economic development professional whose primary responsibility is persuading people to invest in Fort Wayne.
“One of the things that really helps,” he said, “is that I’m not asking them to do something I’m not doing.”