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Jeff Wiehe | The Journal Gazette
Scott Ochander talks about the Brand Cave with consultant Tyler Borders and Courtney Tritch, vice president of marketing for the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

Group aims to define region

Wants positive input to draw firms

NORTH MANCHESTER – It’s on the second floor of Manchester University’s Administration Building, along a 125-year-old corridor that’s currently closed off to most of the public.

A door labeled “The Brand Cave” opens to four walls covered in a mishmash of sticky notes, posters, drawings, sketches, stats, slogans and photos.

And that’s not even counting the pile of papers that didn’t fit on the wall.

For weeks, hundreds of faculty and students at the college waded into the room and threw ideas up on what, exactly, is the story of Manchester University.

Soon, rooms like these are coming to 10 counties in the area in an attempt to define our section of the state.

The Our Story Project, brainchild of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, is an attempt to create “unifying narrative” about northeast Indiana.

The reason?

To get businesses – and in essence, jobs – to come here.

“We know to be competitive in a global marketplace, we need a unifying narrative,” said Courtney Tritch, vice president of marketing for the regional partnership.

The idea came out of a trip partnership leaders took to Cincinnati, a city that did something similar to help define itself.

But to their knowledge, taking on the task of coming up with a narrative for 10 counties is something that has not been done. It’s a large-scale task.

“We’re taking what Cincinnati did and putting a jet engine behind it,” Tritch said.

With help from two consultants – Scott Ochander, who runs a local firm and works for Manchester University, and Tyler Borders, who owns a firm in Washington – the partnership plans to glean data from thousands of residents in the area to come up with this narrative.

There will be no less than 20 workshops, like the ones conducted at Manchester that led to the Brand Cave, as well as an online component through which people can log on and answer questions.

“We’re after that data,” Borders said. “In research, it’s said 320 people can speak for a million people and be 95 percent accurate. We’re going after thousands of people.”

The workshops are scheduled to be conducted between Sept. 15 and Oct. 3, followed by the online component and a rollout in December or January, according to a news release issued by the partnership.

The hope is that people won’t shrug their shoulders when they hear about northeast Indiana or ask someone why they’re going to Fort Wayne or Columbia City.

The hope is that they’ll be able to identify this part of the state as something positive.

They’ll be able to put a story to this northeast corner.

“I see people at the airport always asking others, ‘Why are you in Fort Wayne?’ ” said Tritch, imitating a less-than-thrilled voice. “I want to change the story being told.”