CDPS Blog

Fort Wayne Profile

May 31, 2012

Fort Wayne, Indiana, is the county seat of Allen County. Located less than 20 miles west of Ohio border and 50 miles south of the Michigan border, Fort Wayne is the second largest city in Indiana after Indianapolis.

Work Force and Labor Development

Fort Wayne experienced a significant economic impact with the departure of Navistar International (formerly International Harvester)1 in 1983 and the resultant lost jobs. 2 Further exacerbating the problems from Navistar’s exodus was the loss of retail and commercial businesses in the southeast part of the city where the company’s facility was located. Offsetting the loss of jobs from Navistar’s exit was a new General Motors truck manufacturing plant that opened in Fort Wayne in 1986.  The plant currently employs over 3,000 people and 2 large plant investments occurred in the past 3 years: in 2009- the factory added capacity to manufacture heavy duty extended cab trucks, and in 2012- capacity for GM's next generation pickup truck.3

Fort Wayne is perceived as a strong union town. Some observers feel that a key obstacle to future economic growth is the lingering belief among some residents that people with limited technical skills and lacking higher education can obtain high-paying union jobs. 

The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership has tried to change this perception and the overall perception of Fort Wayne through its Vision 2020 initiative. The partnership was formed to address the 40-year decline in per capita income in the region. The group articulates its philosophy as follows: “by collaborating as a region, we can leverage our strengths and assets to change the story of Northeast Indiana and achieve our vision by the year 2020.” 4

Declining personal incomes also led local government to focus on economic development through educational initiatives like the Talent Initiative. This initiative has three goals: (1) upgrade the skills of the adult work force; (2) increase access and quality of higher education, especially in skill sets needed for more technically oriented manufacturing jobs (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics); and (3) increase educational attainment of K-12 students.

Local colleges, including Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, encourage continuing education for older workers and current high school students. The Collegiate Connection offers high school students the opportunity to earn college credits free or at reduced rates. The area’s schools have also been instrumental in increasing the number of subject choices for advanced studies and degrees—particularly in industrial technology and the medical field. The city’s existing work force has not been able to satisfy the demand for these highly skilled positions.

Public/Private Finance for Economic Development

Fort Wayne is fortunate to have a strong support system of private foundations, including: (1) The Lincoln National Life Insurance Foundation; (2) The Community Foundation; (3) The Foellinger Foundation: and (4) The Lutheran Foundation. These foundations are trying to help Fort Wayne transition to a knowledge-based economy. Additionally, the city has started beautification and revitalization projects, such as expanding the Allen County Public Library and the Grand Wayne Convention Center and rebuilding Harrison Square to include a baseball stadium, parking garage, apartments, shops, and a hotel. Unfortunately, parts of these projects were on hold due to the inability of private developers to secure bank financing.  An announcement was made in January 2012 that private financing was secured and the project is expected to be completed in 2013.

Economic development efforts appear to be paying off, with some new successful businesses recently moving to or starting up in the Fort Wayne area including Sweet Water Sound, a music sound system business; Vera Bradley, a maker of high-end handbags; and Steel Dynamics, a highly successful steel fabricating company with a steel scrap-metal subsidiary. 

Footnotes

1 When the International Harvester became Navistar International a few jobs were created in Fort Wayne, but unfortunately most of those were lost in 2010 when Navistar consolidated facilities.

2 Fort Wayne Reader, available online.

3 GM News, available online.

4 Vision 2020, available online.

The views expressed in this post are our own and do not reflect those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago or the Federal Reserve System.

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