John Urbahns

John Urbahns, CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc., said the Anthony Wayne Building condominiums, seen at rear left, is an example of investment in downtown. It went from nearly all vacant to selling seven-figure condominiums.

Part of John Urbahns’ job as president and CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc. is traveling to promote the city’s economy. His most recent trips took him to Chicago to speak to reporters from The Economist and Wall Street Journal.

Both national publications wanted to interview Urbahns about Fort Wayne.

“They were just interested in what we’re doing, the activity downtown, what’s happening with the economy and companies here,” Urbahns said.

Urbahns doesn’t know whether stories will appear, but there was lots to talk about. The chamber’s website promotes its work “building a nationally recognized economy.”

Just days before, Urbahns had attended the groundbreaking for Fort Wayne’s downtown boutique hotel. Portland’s Provenance Hotels is developing the 124-room hotel with Vera Bradley co-founder Barbara Bradley Baekgaard.

It’s a buildup of what’s been happening for the last 10 years. Urbahns lists the numerous large-scale projects that downtown has seen from the construction of Parkview Field and Headwaters Park to those of “local people looking to invest their private dollars” like the Ash Brokerage headquarters and the boutique hotel.

“The reason we’re getting a lot of publicity and press is we’re doing a lot of things.”

It’s not only just about Fort Wayne’s development, including the millions of dollars going into its riverfront, Urbahns said. Its homegrown businesses are also getting attention, including Sweetwater and Vera Bradley. Companies like Steel Dynamics Inc. have their products shipped nationwide. Travelers likely have seen desks made by Jensen Cabinet at airline check-in counters.

Fort Wayne’s economy continues to have manufacturing as a major sector because “we’re good at making things,” but medical specialty insurance also plays a major role.

“We’re the capital of specialty insurance,” he said.

Greater Fort Wayne Inc. is seeing success in two of its goals: retaining people and attracting capital. Allen County’s migration has retained positive numbers for the last two years, an uptick from the negative rate, meaning more people were leaving than coming to live here. That follows five successive years of population losses.

For its work, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. recently won two national communications awards, a year after winning statewide honors. The group won a Grand Award and an Award of Excellence — both part of the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives’ Communications Excellence awards program.

GFW Inc. won a Grand Award for its 2018 campaign promoting Electric Works, a public-private development project to turn the former General Electric complex on Broadway into housing, restaurants and offices. The ACCE also honored GFW Inc.’s digital marketing strategy, which includes social media, email marketing, and a revamped website, with an Award of Excellence.

Judges named 10 Grand Award winners and 41 Award of Excellence recipients out of more than 160 entries in 2019. Grand Award winners go on to compete for the title of Best in Show, which recognizes the best piece across all categories. The Best in Show award will be announced July 15 at the ACCE Annual Convention in Long Beach, California.

Selling a concept

Fort Wayne hospitality staff do more than sell a building location to event promoters. They’re selling the city itself.

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