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Income growth top goal for regional economy

Sampson

– Leaders in northeast Indiana were praised for a proactive approach on economic development, but John Sampson knows officials can’t roll their sleeves down.

Indiana Vision 2025 is a long-range action plan being coordinated by the state Chamber of Commerce and a team of statewide partners.

First released in early 2012, the plan identifies 33 goals for improving the business climate. About 100 people gathered Thursday at Sweetwater Sound for an update.

Sampson, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, said that while the region earned praise for a similar effort in Vision 2020, much work remains.

The initiative, funded exclusively by foundation grants, was launched three years ago to address northeast Indiana’s per capita income level, which in 2009 fell to 79.5 percent of the national average.

The partnership touted a report this month showing that the average income in the region increased last year at a faster rate, about 5 percent, than average incomes in 14 similar Midwest cities. Still, the $35,509 average per capita income lagged far behind that of Des Moines, Iowa, which ranked No. 1 at more than $45,000.

“They can see our progress,” Sampson said of his peers at Thursday’s forum.

The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership is a public-private economic development organization formed to advance the economy of the 10-county region. “They could see that many of the goals we have are aligned with Vision 2025.”

Sampson said the area can no longer plug its low cost of living, however, because that also often means lower annual average salaries.

“It affects our ability to attract talent,” he said, “and that’s a problem.”

Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar said his organization led three Vision 2025 forums last week and three this week, including the one Thursday in Fort Wayne.

He agrees with Sampson on boosting wages in the state, a problem he says in not unique to northeast Indiana.

“We’ve been dealing with this for a number of years,” Brinegar said. “Ever since the manufacturing jobs started disappearing, we have put an emphasis on raising the skills of Hoosiers. That’s why creating outstanding talent is one of our main goals.”

Other objectives include improving infrastructure and cultural enrichment.

“And we still rank 42nd out of 50 states in the number of people with bachelor’s degrees,” Brinegar said. “That needs to change. We need to accelerate that. It can’t be baby steps.”

pwyche@jg.net

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