A who’s who of local leaders believes bold, aggressive action will bring growth and prosperity to Fort Wayne.
They are the force behind Greater Fort Wayne Inc.
More than 100 private- and public-sector executives have spent the past eight months drafting and refining essentials of GFW’s organizational structure. Elements include the nonprofit’s vision, mission, short-term strategy, long-term goals, one-year work plan and marketing plan.
Mark Becker, GFW’s CEO, and John Urbahns, executive vice president of economic development, met with The Journal Gazette for an hour this month to offer the first public look at those guiding principles, which were officially approved by the 59-member board of directors in a closed meeting in February.
They want Fort Wayne to be a haven for art, collaboration, innovation and risk-taking.
GFW’s leaders have also been immersed in more mundane pursuits, including drafting an employee handbook, choosing benefits providers and creating an organizational chart for the startup organization.
Becker and Urbahns said they’re ready to rally forces behind something that offers a major wow factor to the community.
They pointed to Harrison Square as an example of an investment that has had a transformative effect. The $130 million project includes the TinCaps minor league baseball park, a hotel, a parking garage and a building with residential, business and retail tenants.
At the other end of the spectrum, the nonprofit this month began calling dues-paying companies investors instead of members. The change, GFW officials said, was made to foster commitment to the community rather than to a single organization.
Leaders of the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce spun off their economic development responsibilities in 2000 to create a more focused operation.
For 13 years, the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance worked on behalf of the chamber, the city and the county – its three primary income sources. The staff lured new employers here and encouraged existing ones to expand.
It made a lot of sense – until it didn’t.
Some people weren’t sure who to talk to. The alliance? The city? The county? If the project was downtown, should the Downtown Improvement District be involved?
Local business and community leaders started noticing that the cities attracting more business investment had streamlined their process.
GFW was created by merging the chamber and the alliance last year to become a single point of contact for businesses considering doing business in Fort Wayne and Allen County. Talks with the Downtown Improvement District are continuing as leaders look for a formal way to work together.
Leadership Fort Wayne is expected to be merged into GFW at the end of Leadership Fort Wayne’s fiscal year, June 30.
Even though GFW could have selected the best practices of its parent groups, Becker said officials thought it best to start with a clean slate.
More than 100 people had input into the short-term strategy and long-term outcomes, including the GFW board, civic leaders, business owners and various others, Urbahns said.
Ideas sprang from a study of other cities from two years ago, Becker said. GFW’s transition board also contributed to the vision and mission pieces.
The organization’s focus is divided equally, Becker said, among six areas:
Fostering an innovative attitude
Encouraging collaborative leaders
Supporting spirited entrepreneurs
Creating a competitive approach
Building a prosperous community
Growing a culturally rich community
GFW leaders will measure whether they’ve reached those goals by assessing Fort Wayne and Allen County on specific points.
Those include whether risk-taking is applauded, people are willing to take bold and aggressive action, focus is placed on the assets that make Fort Wayne special, and downtown is thriving with live, work and play options.
The organization’s one-year work plan includes actions that GFW leaders believe will lead to the desired long-range outcomes.
Those actions include coordinating proactive legislative events, including group visits to Indianapolis and Washington; reinstating a legislative intern program; establishing benchmarks for what can be considered good jobs; and actively participating in the downtown plan update, riverfront development study and high speed rail efforts.
More than 70 specific goals and activities are spelled out. A staff member is assigned to lead each one, creating a clear record of who is responsible for making sure each goal is accomplished. Some individual items could take months to complete.
Urbahns, for example, will oversee coordinating subcommittees for entrepreneurship and product development. The latter category includes land, buildings, incentives and infrastructure.
While the leaders have been painting the big picture, Urbahns said, the staff has been handling daily details.
First up: GFW is working to create brand awareness. If you – or someone you know – want to make a business investment, GFW officials hope you’ll call.