Since 2008, the mission of my administration has been to Engage, Innovate and Perform. This represents what our community is all about: a commitment to being the very best. Each one of us has a responsibility to help make our city great; great things are happening in Fort Wayne. Our city is a leader in job growth. We have a quality of life that is second to none; a thriving downtown; vibrant neighborhoods and great schools, trails and parks. We’re a city that comes together and our collective efforts have made us unique. While other communities across the state and country are struggling, we stand tall.
For example, our engagement, innovation and performance initiatives are evident in economic development: Last year, our coordinated efforts with the Fort Wayne Allen County Economic Development Alliance resulted in the growth and expansion of 26 existing companies and the welcoming of three new companies. We saw $138 million in private investment, the retention of more than 2,700 jobs and the creation of 1,500 new jobs.
The Fort Wayne area was ranked among the nation’s top leading locations for job growth – we were ranked 11th in the list of Top Midwest Cities and recently recognized as 59th best performing city in the country for jobs, wages and technology. We continue to have a strong manufacturing presence, but we’re also seeing diversity with growth in the areas of insurance, healthcare, hospitality, education, defense and sports.
How do we take this positive momentum and continue to move it forward? We become even more engaging and innovative. That’s why the Economic Alliance, the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Improvement District are working together on a combined approach to job attraction, retention and growth. This effort will benefit us all; it will make us stronger and more competitive in retaining and attracting jobs.
What are we doing to make it easier to do business in our community? Your city and county governments continue to make progress is stream-lining the land-use permitting process. This effort is promoting and enhancing economic development and business opportunities. Now, the public can apply for permits online in one, easy-to-access location.
As we celebrate our successes, we must also recognize the significant challenges that are ahead of us. City government finances are changing and they’re becoming more challenging. In Fort Wayne, though, with strong fiscal management, leadership and bi-partisan efforts, we’ve been able to weather the storm. Our budgets have remained flat. We’ve realized a savings of $7 million by finding more efficient ways to provide services. We have a smaller employee headcount than when I took office in 2008 and we have a healthy savings account.
For years, cities, counties, schools and libraries depended primarily on property taxes to fund services. Those days are gone. Property tax caps implemented by the state legislature are making it more difficult for us to meet demands and expectations. We continue to be challenged with finding alternative funding sources to maintain the services you have come to expect.
So what are we doing about it? Well, we’re being even more innovative and creative. For example, Fort Wayne is the first city in Indiana to establish a Fiscal Policy Group. We’ve assembled this team of local and state experts, city council representatives and staff who are developing strategies to deal with looming budget issues. As we look ahead to the 2014, tough decisions will have to be made. Our Fiscal Policy Group will be providing an update, in the coming weeks, with recommendations for next steps. I’m confident that we’ll meet those challenges and that the result will be a stronger, more united city.
As a resident of our city, you have a stake in this too! What is your level of commitment to our city? As a citizen, what will you be willing to do in 2013 to make a difference at work, at home, at school or in your neighborhood? I encourage everyone to find a cause and make a positive impact in our community.
The State of Our City is Strong. We have positive momentum. So, let’s work together to continue to build on our many strengths and continue to make Fort Wayne the best that it can be.