We can choose to invest in the future or say no to progress Community Pride: the Power of Belief
We have a choice. Leaders have a choice. We can believe in and invest in our future, or we can give up and decline. We can inspire people through hope and vision, or we can use fear and anger to create division.
Here are the facts: Our community is in a constant competition to attract jobs, people and investments. Government alone can’t shoulder the burden of this competition. Great leaders understand the power of leverage. When our political leaders can use $1 of our collective tax contributions to receive $4 from the private sector, that is a smart use of tax dollars.
Here are a few more facts: Fort Wayne taxpayers contribute approximately $370 million in city and county tax revenue for government services. This translates to $924 per person. Most of the cities that we compete against spend far more – between $1,160 and $3,200 per person. While our government may not be perfect, it is efficient.
As we strive to improve our community, we have met with leaders and investors from successful communities like Austin, Texas; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Durham, N.C.; Manhattan, Kan.; Fayetteville, Ark.; Omaha, Neb.; and Des Moines, Iowa, to name a few. All of these communities were unique in their strategies to make themselves better, but they all had a few things in common: They leveraged public investment to spur private investment, they played offense rather than defense and they were bold and aggressive problem-solvers.
If we want to fuel Fort Wayne/Allen County toward becoming a nationally recognized economy, we must invest in our community’s future. Businesses typically budget 10-20 percent of revenue to go toward capital projects. As a community, this translates to investing at least $37 million per year. Currently, we spend approximately $19 million. Is this how we want to compete for a better future?
Our government leaders play an important role in providing leadership and vision for our community, but government can’t do it alone. Smart government leaders work alongside business leaders, leveraging tax dollars to promote private investment. Without collaboration between government and business, our community would not have the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum (home of the Komets), Parkview Field (home of the TinCaps), Headwaters Park, Foster Park, the Allen County Public Library system, Matea Park and the Grand Wayne Convention Center, just to name a few projects. These investments have wisely used taxpayer money to build cornerstones of our community.
As we aim to add to these cornerstones, five bold projects have been identified to enhance our community and solve problems. We believe that we should not leave a 30-acre, 1.1 million-square-foot factory vacant and broken in the heart of our city. The plan to redevelop the GE campus (now named Electric Works) will be an attraction for everyone to use and an inspiration to encourage start-up businesses. The $100 million riverfront will be a regional destination, activating our neglected rivers and cementing our identity as the City of Three Rivers. Meanwhile, the Landing will be a community asset for all to gather and reconnect. STEAM Park will educate and entertain families from every neighborhood in Fort Wayne and in our region. The event center will attract thousands of people from every walk of life, just like Parkview Field. It will bring a much-needed energy and vibrancy to our community during the tough winter months.
What do we expect to gain from our investment? Community pride like we haven’t seen in 40-plus years. Parents and grandparents bursting with joy because their adult children and grandchildren are moving back – or considering a move back – to Fort Wayne. High school and college talent excited about staying and using their talents here, starting a business or working for one of our great companies. Plus an additional $4.5 billion in private-sector investment is expected to occur around these projects. Yes, we said billion.
Finally, we are already seeing more companies considering Fort Wayne as a destination for more jobs at higher wages. This is before we have even started construction on the projects. We believe that as construction takes place and these projects open to the public, our ability to attract businesses and jobs will be greatly accelerated.
In sum, each of us has a choice: we can invest in our future and experience the rewards of that investment. Or, we can say no to progress. No to finding solutions to our challenges. No to growing as a community.
We choose to invest in our future. We choose to lead. We choose to do the hard work necessary to build a nationally recognized economy. We choose community pride. <br>
<i> Ron Turpin, board chairman, on behalf of the Greater Fort Wayne Inc. board of directors. </i>