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Figures point to economy on upswing

Looking for a silver lining among February’s gray days? Check out the Northeast Indiana Business Dynamics Report for 2012 – continued evidence of the region’s ever-brightening economic atmosphere.

Major drivers in the regional economy continued to move in a positive direction in the fifth year since IPFW’s Community Research Institute began tracking expansions, downsizings, closings, new investments and acquisitions.

Some highlights:

10 new companies relocated to northeast Indiana, along with $74 million in investments.

120 company expansions were announced, with $450 million in plant and equipment investments.

Zero layoffs were recorded.

The report is not all-inclusive, of course. The report’s authors take care to caution that reporting is based primarily on media reports, but layoffs and downsizing moves generally come to the public’s attention. The report also tracks economic activities, not just announcements. The authors confirm the numbers with evidence of a building permit, abatement or other indication that the activity actually occurred, adjusting when plans appear to fall through.

More important, the report is a good indicator because it tracks industries specifically identified as regional strengths: defense, vehicles, medical devices, insurance and more. While it breaks down activities for each of the 10 northeast Indiana counties, it excludes relocations within the region. Franklin Electric’s move from Wells County to Allen County, for example, isn’t counted as a new company.

John Stafford, director of the Community Research Institute, said the latest figures were encouraging for the number and quality of “upside” events and for the absence of major “downside” events such as layoffs and closings.

John Sampson, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, noted the report showed strength in the regional economy.

“While 2011 was an exceptional year, 2012 still had us outpacing other communities on a national level,” he said. “The recently announced Milken study placed the Fort Wayne MSA at No. 13 of the top 200 cities across the country. Another study by Garner Economics had our metro region outpacing the national average for the past two years.”

Sampson also noted that the business activity occurred throughout the region.

“Roughly half of all events, jobs created, expansion and attraction projects occurred outside of Allen County,” he said. “While the dispersion is never equal, it does emphasize the importance of working together as a region. When employers are looking for skilled workers and high-quality communities and locations for places to grow, our northeast Indiana region, collectively, represents a strong and diverse asset.”

Once again, the report illustrates what economic developers have long observed: Most new jobs don’t come from outside the region, they come from investment in existing companies. For 2012, 763 new jobs came from companies moving to northeast Indiana, while 3,007 jobs were created by investment in and expansion of existing companies.

It’s a good reminder for public officials who might place emphasis on efforts to lure employers from outside while ignoring the needs of those who have long been a foundation of the local economy. It’s also a good approach in ensuring continued success in positive business activity.