First Fridays Fort Wayne moved to a new location for Sept. 6’s meeting, which featured John Urbahns, CEO of Greater Fort Wayne, Inc.
First Fridays, previously held at Indiana Wesleyan University, are free networking events focused on leadership development. Sept. 6’s meeting was held at Kachmann Auditorium in Lutheran Hospital, 7950 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Urbahns, a Fremont native who has lived in Fort Wayne for 24 years, described his job as being “a salesperson for our community” and spoke on the growth happening in the community. He became CEO in January.
GFW formed five years ago from the merger of the 100-year-old Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce, the 20-year-old Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance and Leadership Fort Wayne to represent the city’s business community with the mission of building a nationally recognized economy in Allen County.
GFW has 1,346 members, or “investors,” representing over 80,000 employees.
“It’s about making sure that we (the community) keep people, attract people and keep our capital and attract new capital to our community. That’s how we’re going to build a nationally recognized economy.”
When he first came to Fort Wayne, municipalities competed against one another in attracting businesses.
“Businesses don’t see municipal lines,” Urbahns said. “They don’t see county lines. They see needing to get things done and getting to business.”
Now, the region’s counties work together, from their small businesses to their major employers, such as General Motors.
“We’re not out trying to attract a company from Whitley County or DeKalb County because they’re already here,” he said.
GFW has four main areas that guide it:
• Supporting and celebrating local businesses: Ribbon cuttings, helping them grow, visiting 500 companies a year.
• Improve our community’s competitiveness: Businesses are finding it hard to fill positions and baby boomers are continuing to retire, creating a Silver Tsunami. GFW has created the Made by Me program in which volunteers visit high school students and promote not only college but the skilled trades. It’s building a couple of more shell buildings, which are empty buildings without floors that are prepermitted, essentially move-in ready for companies.
• Develop an inclusive workforce: GFW is reworking the Leadership Fort Wayne program and adding a next-level program to teach participants more about financials so they’ll be up to speed on boards that they join. Last year, GFW started working with the AWS Foundation, which provided a three-year grant to hire someone to work with companies to hire people with disabilities, whether physical or mental. With a goal of 50 placements this year, 30 have been placed already in the first half of the year.
• Attract new business and capital: Opportunity Fort Wayne ingrains not only C-level executives into the communities, but the accountants and other workers that they’re attracting so that they’ll stay.
GFW works with legislators to improve the area’s competitiveness so they can operate their businesses as needed.
“Somebody has to be fighting for Fort Wayne, Allen County at the federal, state and local level for the businesses and nonprofits,” Urbahns said, “and we believe that is our role and that’s what we’re going to do every day.”
Some of the current downtown development, including the rivers and The Landing, have their origins in GFW’s intercity trips, in which business and community members bring back ideas. A trip this year to Louisville concentrated on neighborhoods.
This year, GFW has already had 17 deals to attract companies here, with under 1,000 jobs, and $42 million in new annual payroll. They’re not just attracting American companies, but bringing in foreign investment as well: Multimatic from Canada, Valbruna from Italy and Nishikawa of Japan are just a few of the countries that have set up shop in the community.
“We expect to finish 2019 strong and enter 2020 very strong as well,” Urbahns said.