KERRY HUBARTT: WFWA PBS 39 documentary features Electric Works project

Kerry Hubartt

The Electric Works redevelopment project was spotlighted in the local media this week.

At a Wednesday morning news conference, Mayor Tom Henry updated his position on the proposed renovation of the former General Electric campus on Broadway into a mixed-use “innovation district” that will include high-rise apartments, restaurants and office spaces. Henry reiterated his support for the $220 million project but insisted developer RTM Ventures “must be much more transparent and forthcoming if it hopes to secure the hoped-for $65 million public investment.”

But you may have missed a television special Monday night on local public TV station WFWA, PBS 39 that included information about the project. WFWA aired an hour-long local documentary called “Entrepreneurial Energy,” which looked at the past, present and future of innovation and invention in northeast Indiana. It devoted time to the Electric Works proposal, highlighting the GE factory’s history as a key element in Fort Wayne’s past as well as the plan for the redevelopment of its former campus as another key advancement for the region’s future.

The documentary included many comments from the people working diligently in the present to make that project happen.

“Entrepreneurial Energy” featured stories about enterprises and entrepreneurs in our city’s history, including the start of the GE factory in Fort Wayne in 1911 and its growth as a major employer until the 1980s. By then only a few hundred workers remained at the plant, which eventually closed in 2015.

The WFWA documentary’s stated focus was “on the ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’ nurturing individuals, startups and the organizations in the region supporting entrepreneurs from ‘end to end.'”

Among those interviewed on the documentary was Eric Doden, who has been a force behind the Electric Works proposal in his role as CEO of Greater Fort Wayne, Inc., which is to promote northeast Indiana as a great place to start a new business or relocate a current business. And certainly, that’s what Electric Works is all about.

Also featured in the program was Crystal Vann Wallstrom, who was named managing director of innovation for Electric Works and is using Building 19 on the campus as a regional hub for entrepreneurship. She was formerly the director of the Center for Creative Collaboration at Indiana Tech, where she worked with entrepreneurs and helped students get internships at local startups.

Therein, of course, was the main theme of the documentary as area entrepreneurship was examined in-depth through interviews with entrepreneurs such as Chuck Surack, who founded Sweetwater Sound, Matt Kelley of One Lucky Guitar and others. Entrepreneur and startup coach Steve Franks was also featured along with Dave Sanders, founder of Start Fort Wayne, “a coalition of dreamers, thinkers and doers working together to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit in northeast Indiana.”

Sanders also co-founded the Atrium, where entrepreneurs and professionals rent workspace in downtown Fort Wayne.

“Entrepreneurial Energy” was sponsored by the Olin B. and Desta Schwab Foundation, Ambassador Enterprises, the Community Development Corporation of Fort Wayne, the Ian and Mimi Rolland Foundation, Star Financial and Fort Wayne Metals.

The documentary will air again Sunday at 2:30 p.m. on Channel 39. You can also watch it online at http://www.pbs.org/video/entrepreneurial-energy-9sxrqx/.

Kerry Hubartt is the former editor of the News-Sentinel

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