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Focus - Fort Wayne: toward 2000 & beyond.

Views From the Think Tank

Recommendations for Fort Wayne, excerpted from the Hudson Institute's 23-page executive summary of its study, "Fort Wayne: Toward 2000 and Beyond."

1. Create an organization with the responsibility for defining a vision for Fort Wayne that enjoys the broadest possible base of support; providing leadership in the development and attainment of the limited number of goals that flow from the vision; and serving as a forum for the discussion and resolution of public issues that affect attainment of both the vision and its ancillary goals.

2. A properly structured consolidation of city and county government would be much the best choice for the Fort Wayne/Allen County metropolitan complex. it would allow realization of the greatest efficiencies, would be most equitable and would make possible the raising of adequate revenue to meet community-wide needs.

3. Nothing will do more to promote the economic growth of the community than a commitment to developing, maintaining and expanding a world-class workforce. This objective must therefore become the community's highest priority.

4. Improvement of the community's physical infrastructure, particularly transportation and communications systems, is absolutely essential for the economic growth of the area. We believe that the entire range of Physical infrastructure needs must be identified and an overall plan to meet those needs must be formulated and implemented.

5. Another initiative for stimulating economic development is to nurture the creation of new businesses. Economic development is so vitally important to Fort Wayne that it deserves its own organization in the private sector to lead the community's activities.

A blueprint for Fort Wayne's future has been drafted, unrolled and set in front of the community, bringing both praise and complaints for suggesting that the city's future rests on a shaky foundation. The study concludes that portions of the city's political and economic structure need rebuilding from the ground up. Researchers from the conservative think that did the study didn't hold back, saying they believe the city's leaders lack a common vision, the governmental structure impedes progress and not enough is done to encourage entrepreneurs.

The sometimes-harsh words are contained in a report-titled "Fort Wayne: Toward 2000 and Beyond," which was compiled by the Indianapolis-based Hudson Institute, an organization that until recently was best known for its work with policymakers in the Northeast's New York-Washington corridor. in recent years, Hudson has looked beyond its studies of national trends and Naval policy and begun to focus on what individual communities need to do when facing their own challenges. Topics covered in the report include government, education and economic development.

Among its findings: A lack of common goals and the inability of the community's leaders to build consensus is "the greatest obstacle Fort Wayne must overcome if it is to take control of its own destiny"; city and county governments should be combined to make better use of the community's resources; and while the area's future is in manufacturing, the job of economic development should be taken out of the hands of the chamber of commerce and made the responsibility of a new, independent group.

Hudson warns that more money is needed to repair and maintain the city-owned water, transportation and sewer systems and to address a growing drug problem. It says, furthermore, that school curricula should be designed with the input of those involved in economic development, unions, business and other areas of the labor market to ensure that students will have the necessary skills to compete in the rapidly changing marketplace.

In the past year, several major studies have been undertaken to help Fort Wayne's leaders prepare for the future. The Urban Land Institute did a study of the neighborhoods south of downtown; faculty at Indiana-Purdue University at Fort Wayne have undertaken an analysis of what is needed to improve Baer Field, the largest airport in northeastern Indiana; and Cambridge Systematics Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., and the Indiana Economic Development Council Inc., an Indianapolis-based non-profit group, are preparing an economic development report.

But Hudson's work has garnered the most attention. To say the 29-year-old institute's first single-city report has sparked controversy is like saying people in Indiana follow basketball-neither statement does the situation justice. Within days of the first chapter's release, the mayor convened a task force of the community's movers and shakers, both in the business community and from the social services, to study the report and determine whether any of its recommendations should be acted upon.

Although few have dismissed it outright, none of the community's leaders has endorsed everything in the report. The Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce, one of the more than two dozen organizations, businesses and foundations that paid for the $149,000 study, pointed to one chapter and said the suggestions it contains make little sense and would be a step backward for the community.

Hudson found that "changes in the nature of manufacturing will result not only in employment cutbacks in many firms but also will alter the nature of work and skills needed to do that work. As a consequence, local officials must rethink and reorient their economic development efforts if those efforts are to continue to focus on manufacturing and have any hope of success."

Although the chamber has done "an excellent job" of economic development, Hudson found it was time to turn that job over to a new organization devoted only to helping the area's economy to grow, arguing the new arrangement would be more effective and give economic development the recognition it deserves. The chamber did not embrace that suggestion.

"We're happy to look at some of the things they've brought up, but we disagree with their suggestions on economic development," says David Brown, president of the chamber of commerce. "We think that's something we're able to do best."

Controversy erupted as soon as the first chapter was released in August. But instead of concentrating on the recommendations Hudson made, Mayor Paul Helmke says it is more important to focus on the issues it brought up.

"They can raise the questions," Helmke says. "I don't have all the answers, the City Council and county commissioners don't have all the answers. But it's important that we talk about the problems and begin to address them. It seems we spend too much time fighting amongst ourselves."

When the report was released, the community already was talking about the need to address long-standing questions about infrastructure and the role of government. Ian Rolland, president and CEO of Lincoln National Corp.-which with 4,300 employees is one of the area's largest employers-in July announced that the insurance company would not go ahead with plans for a $60 million office building on the southern edge of downtown. It would not expand locally, he said, until it got answers to questions about the community's deteriorating infrastructure-particularlythe airport-the quality of local education and fragmentation in local government.

The contents of the report are not the only thing that has sparked discussion. Hudson's involvement itself has led to controversy in some quarters and a flurry of letters to the editors of local newspapers. One Hudson news conference ended soon after a local labor analyst stood up and denounced the policy agency as a right-wing "influence peddler" bent on imposing its agenda on an unsuspecting community. "The study is worthless," says Mark Crouch, an associate professor and coordinator of labor studies at Indiana-Purdue in Fort Wayne. "They refuse to weigh who they've talked to, which puts all their research into a questionable light. Academic research is based on being able to recapture the results."

Hudson researchers have said they interviewed 250 people and made day-long visits to Grand Rapids, Mich., and Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio, in an effort to put the Fort Wayne information into context. The names of those to whom they talked cannot be released because there was an implied promise of confidentiality during the sessions, says David Reed, a Hudson senior researcher and project manager for the Fort Wayne study.

But those who criticize the study only because Hudson will not reveal everyone who contributed to it are missing the point, Reed explained after the release of the second chapter, which deals with the structure of local government. "It's not a poll. We are not a polling agency," he said. "This is not an academic study. This is a policy document and we are a public policy organization." What the study is meant to do is provide information and spark discussion, Reed explained.

It has done that.

Labor has been the most critical segment of the community, partly because almost every large foundation and business in Allen County helped pay for the study. Some blue-collar workers have complained that Hudson's recommendations would put more power in the hands of business leaders and a single, countywide government.

Mayor Helmke has acknowledged labor's concerns, and said those worries should not be a roadblock to further discussion. "If we just put this report on the shelf and forget about it, we'd be making a big mistake," he cautions. "It's the job of the mayor, government leaders and civic leaders who care about a community not to wait until it fails until we fix it."
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Title Annotation:Regional Report; Fort Wayne, Indiana; includes excerpts from the Hudson Institute's report
Author:Skertic, Mark
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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