GFW staff

Greater Fort Wayne staff members gathered for a photo at the end of the 2021 annual meeting at the Grand Wayne Center. The theme was “Zooming Ahead,” and staff and attendees were invited to dress for “camera on top, comfort on the bottom.”

After a tough year coping and adjusting to the problems caused by COVID-19, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. was ready to have a little fun at its annual meeting June 10 at the Grand Wayne Convention Center.

The theme was “Zooming Ahead,” a reference to how so many conducted business from home via Zoom during the pandemic. It became common for people who were Zooming from home to be in business attire from the waist up, but in attire comfortable but completely inappropriate for work from the waist down, where fellow Zoomers couldn’t see. Think pajama bottoms and fluffy slippers. Not all of the 400 attendees participated, but several GFW staff members did.

The GFW annual meeting is where the organization honors leaders from Allen County. This year, six community leaders and an up-and-coming small business were recognized.

The GFW Inc. Women’s Network Champions of Change Awards went to Leslee Hill and Rachel Tobin-Smith. Established in 2019, these awards recognize leaders who go the extra mile to mentor and empower women in Allen County. Hill is director of the WEOC Women’s Business Center at The Northeast Indiana Innovation Center. Tobin-Smith was CEO of SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now) for 33 years before stepping down. She is cofounder of AVOW (Advancing Voices of Women).

The GFW Inc. Chairperson’s Award was established in 2015. It honors GFW Inc. board members for outstanding accomplishments and performance to help promote the organization’s mission and vision. This year’s winner is Barb Smith, founder and owner of B. Smith Office Services, established in 2003.

Patrick Dooley was the recipient of the GFW Service Award, which honors exemplary service to GFW Inc. and dedication to Allen County’s economic growth. He is GFW’s director of airport development. GFW President and CEO John Urbahns said Dooley was the “embodiment of a team player.”

Indiana state Rep. Matt Lehman, R-District 79, was named Elected Official of the Year. This award honors exceptional efforts by elected officials to build a stronger community — and grow jobs and wages — by creating the best environment to attract and retain talent and business.

The Maclyn Parker Swagger Award for Community Vision and Leadership went to Tom Kelley, president of Kelley Automotive Group. This award is given to an individual who exemplifies the persistence and will to make Fort Wayne-Allen County a thriving community by being a strong advocate for economic development. Ellen Cutter, vice president of economic development for GFW, said Kelley was instrumental in getting the Electric Works redevelopment project off the ground.

Three Rivers Distilling Co. was presented with the Small Business of the Year Award. This award celebrates the success of small businesses and honors their contributions to Allen County’s economic growth. To win, the business must be a Greater Fort Wayne Inc. investor in good standing, located in Allen County, have been in business for more than five years, have 50 or fewer full-time employees, have revenue between $500,000 and $5 million in 2020, and be an independently owned and operated for profit entity.

After the awards Cutter and Urbahns sat down with Patricia and David Beets, who moved their Dell Cove Spices business here from Chicago. During the process of selling their condo, their Realtor asked, “OK, what’s going on in Fort Wayne?” She had six clients moving to Fort Wayne from Chicago.

Currently, Allen County is partnering with the city of Fort Wayne and GFW on the formation of an economic development action plan. TIP Strategies from Austin, Texas, was selected as the consultant.

Tracye McDaniel, president of TIP, spoke with Urbahns in a prerecorded interview. She said some supersized markets are shrinking a bit, and that’s good news for cities like Fort Wayne. When gaps widen between talent and affordability it opens up opportunities for midsized markets, she said, such as Fort Wayne, which has an attractive cost of living.

Urbahns ended the meeting by asking participants to clear their calendars for June 9, 2022, the date of next year’s annual meeting.

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