Greater Fort Wayne Inc. announced Dec. 13 the organization has selected John Urbahns to be its CEO, effective Jan. 1, 2019.
Urbahns succeeds Eric Doden, who is leaving Dec. 31 to return to his private-sector real estate development firm. Doden announced his resignation this past May. Urbahns has spent the past five years as GFW Inc.’s executive vice president of economic development.
“I have spent 9,000 hours with John and I’ve put him in every conceivable situation that you could be in — that you need to be in — to be the CEO of this organization and he’s passed with flying colors,” Doden told the Business Weekly. “I could not be more proud of him and I could not be more excited about what John is going to bring as CEO of this organization. He’s got a rock-star team with him so it’s going to be fun to watch.”
During his time with GFW Inc., Urbahns has lead efforts related to business expansion and attraction, entrepreneurship and innovation, downtown development, and more, according to a statement. He previously worked for the city of Fort Wayne for 18 years, including seven years as director of community development.
Urbahns holds a bachelor of urban planning and development degree and a bachelor of science degree in environmental design — both from Ball State University. He also holds an accreditation from the American Institute of Certified Planners and serves on numerous community boards.
A lifelong Hoosier, Urbahns has lived in the Fort Wayne community for 23 years. He joined GFW in 2014 where he has assisted with 132 business expansions and relocations in Allen County, including expansions by General Motors ($1.2 billion investment), Sweetwater ($76 million investment) and Fort Wayne Metals ($51 million investment), and locations by Walmart ($181 million dairy processing facility) and Multimatic ($39 million investment), according to a statement. Those 132 deals resulted in a total of more than 7,800 new jobs and about $335 million in new annual payroll.
As GFW Inc.’s CEO, Urbahns will lead a staff of 20 and serve more than 1,200 investor companies to retain, expand, and attract jobs to the area, the statement said.
“Obviously, key is, we’ve got a great plan right now,” Urbahns said in an interview after the announcement. “We’ve got a lot of good things going on — the economy is moving forward here, a lot of job creation, a lot of projects getting completed. We need to keep that moving forward.”
He added that there are some things he’ll be talking to the board about, some new initiatives and thoughts on how the organization can be involved in talent attraction and workforce.
“But that will be something we continue to flesh out,” he said. “Obviously teamwork is very important. Working with the team at the city of Fort Wayne and Allen County and the other smaller communities in our county are going to be key to what I want to focus on. That will be a major emphasis of mine moving forward, especially in the short term, making sure we’ve got those relationships and we can keep things moving forward.”
Urbahns is looking forward to his new role because it is what he has prepared for his whole career.
“At the end of the day, this has been my profession,” he said. “It’s my passion. It’s what I’ve studied. It’s about about building our community.”
His biggest motivation is his three school-age children.
“I want to make sure they have an opportunity here when they get older,” he said. “That they don’t look to go somewhere else — that they see Fort Wayne as a vibrant, cool place to be with great job opportunities.”