With leadership of Fort Waynes two highest-profile economic development organizations in flux, local officials have decided its time to review and restructure.
The goal is to coordinate everyones efforts, Mayor Tom Henry said during a news conference Tuesday in the Grand Wayne Centers lobby.
That might mean dissolving or dramatically refocusing the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance and the Downtown Improvement District, or DID.
Its very likely that we could have a very different, new organization and structure, said Jill Perillo, the Alliances board chairwoman. Really, this is about leaders coming together to do whats best for our community.
The Alliance has halted plans to find a new president to replace Andi Udris, who left the organization abruptly on Jan. 27. Mick McCollum, a longtime board member, will continue serving as interim president, Perillo said.
Mayor Henry said its too early to say whether the Alliance, which was created in 2000, will exist after the review.
Meanwhile, former County Councilman Bill Brown is serving as interim director of DID, following Rich Davis resignation in June.
The organization was harshly criticized in March by City Council members, who voted to provide $150,000 in annual funding to the organization while warning they planned to increase scrutiny. Davis was criticized for not making himself and his boards meetings more accessible to the public.
Officials with the city, county and the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce decided 12 years ago to create and fund the Alliance to coordinate economic development efforts by the three separate entities. Even so, the city and county continue to have development staff on their payrolls, Henry said.
By reviewing economic development, officials arent saying the Alliance is broken, he said. Instead, its an attempt to include what officials have learned about luring business in the past 12 years and incorporate the DID, he said.
The Chambers future location is also in limbo because it has agreed to sell its downtown headquarters to the University of Saint Francis. Chamber officials have until the spring to find new offices, said Mike Christman, board chairman.
The nonprofit will take these economic development conversations into consideration as it shops for a new home, he said.
If the Chamber doesnt move into offices beside other local economic development organizations, it will at least be housed under the same umbrella, Christman said.
I look at it as your one-stop shop almost for economic development information, he said.
Economic development, in basic terms, means attracting business investment. That includes luring companies from outside the area and supporting growth of existing local employers.
Supporters take various paths to promote investment, including expanding vocational training programs, connecting building sites to water and sewer lines, offering tax abatements, revitalizing downtown and even creating trails for walking and biking.
Henry said city, county, Chamber, Alliance and DID officials have the common goal of increasing local business investment.
The leaders want to shape and mobilize a collective vision, he said.
Other cities that have recently realigned economic development efforts include South Bend; Milwaukee; Oklahoma City; and Lexington, Ky. Fort Waynes economic development experts have visited some of those cities and studied their programs.
Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters said officials have realized over the last few years that they need to change if they want to compete effectively for business investment. Now, he said, companies are comparing countries, not just cities or states.
Weve got a ways to go, but theres no time like the present, he said.
Local leaders will meet in coming weeks and hope to adopt a collective economic development strategy by the end of the year.