Calling it “perhaps the worst kept secret in state history,” Dan Starr, CEO of Do it Best Corp., confirmed Feb. 13 that the company will be the anchor tenant at Electric Works.
Gov. Eric Holcomb, Allen County and city of Fort Wayne employees, local executives and media were on hand for the announcement in a cavernous, chilly room that once was part of the General Electric factory complex on Broadway, just south of downtown.
Three years ago to the day Holcomb was here when the announcement was made that the GE campus had sold. He was here again for the Do it Best announcement. “We had visions of what could be (three years ago) and this is proof positive of what will be,” Holcomb said. “It is a transformational day. It is a historic day.”
Do it Best is a global supplier of hardware, lumber and building materials to 3,800 independent retailers in every state and in more than 50 countries.
It was started in Fort Wayne in 1945 as Hardware Wholesalers Inc. and changed its name to Do it Best in 1998. It currently is located alongside railroad tracks in New Haven on Nelson Road.
The company’s current building used to serve as a warehouse and as headquarters for Do it Best, but Starr said it has been years since that building was used as a warehouse.
Do it Best has several warehouses across the country, including in Ohio and Illinois. The Nelson Road location still serves as the company’s headquarters, employing about 440 people.
“We plan to grow that team by 20%,” Starr said, which would mean adding about 90 jobs.
RTM Ventures is developing the $250 million mixed-use project site. The developers needed the commitment of an anchor tenant in accord with rules set out in a public-private partnership agreement. They already had sought two deadline extensions, and still need Allen County Commissioners to sign off on a third extension. Do it Best plans to occupy about 190,000 square feet of space. So far, 19 other tenants have signed letters of intent to lease space there.
The jobs Do it Best will bring to Electric Works include global sourcing, marketing and advertising, data analytics, sales, finance and information technology, Starr said.
The company is already hiring for a number of positions. Interested applicants can apply at www.doitbestcareers.com.
The developers are seeking $65 million in public funds from the city. The Indiana Economic Development Corp. offered Do it Best Corp. up to $1.6 million in conditional tax credits and up to $200,000 in training grants based on the company’s job creation plans.
While many acknowledgements were made and “thank yous” were stated publicly at the news conference for everyone involved in the project, Holcomb had particular praise for Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry.
Holcomb said people from “far outside our state” are watching what’s going on in Fort Wayne. “I’m just so thrilled with the Fort Wayne vibe, Mayor. You’ve got it going on.”
Jeff Kingsbury of RTM Ventures, referring to that day three years ago when the developers bought the property, said, “It was a milestone. We were saving this place from demolition.”
He also thanked Henry, saying Electric Works “could simply not be successful without a strong mayor.”
Henry said Electric Works is the “largest public/private partnership we’ve ever had in this city.”
He added, “... in a few years what a grand statement we’re going to make for this community and for all of northeast Indiana.”
No sour grapes from New Haven’s mayor
Fort Wayne’s gain is New Haven’s loss when Do it Best moves out. New Haven Mayor Steve McMichael issued this statement: “While I am saddened by the news that a great corporate resident of New Haven since 1948 is moving to Electric Works, I am optimistic about the future of the entire Fort Wayne Region, of which New Haven is proud to be a big part of.”
He said in the statement he expects many Do it Best employees to continue to live in New Haven, and expects a new company will occupy the facility once Do it Best moves out in about two years.
Not everybody’s happy
Not everyone is keen on the deal. Fort Wayne City Councilman Paul Ensley, R-1st, said at the Feb. 11 council meeting he was disappointed in the announcement of Do it Best as an anchor tenant simply because of its current proximity to Fort Wayne. “For a project that’s being subsidized for $110-$115 million-plus of local and state dollars to move 500 jobs from (New Haven to Fort Wayne) is not particularly a victory for our community,” he said. “It certainly is not in line with our state values of regional collaboration.”
He added, “Simply shuffling jobs around should not be the type of economic development that we are looking for in the city of Fort Wayne.”
Criticism already appearing on social media is similar to Ensley’s with people complaining that the Do it Best move is just a relocation and won’t bring new jobs or new residents to the area.
Kevan Biggs of RTM said in response to such criticism, “The city of Fort Wayne has experienced many times large corporations closing or leaving Fort Wayne.” He noted Do it Best could have moved its headquarters anywhere, but chose to stay here, retaining and adding jobs.
Starr said the criticism is “unwarranted,” and also noted the company plans to expand its number of employees.
The design of the new headquarters will provide employees with a more collaborative, open and efficient work environment, according to a news release. Do it Best expects new roles to be concentrated in the areas of IT, data analytics, marketing and supply chain. Construction on multiple floors of the space should begin this summer and is slated to be operational within two years.