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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Michael Hicks, an economist from Ball State University, discusses Fort Wayne’s economic outlook Monday at Grand Wayne Center with clients of Old National Bank.

City’s economy set to bounce back

Ball State professor says Fort Wayne undervalued

Hicks

A Ball State University analyst says Fort Wayne is the most undervalued city in the state – more apt for a turnaround than other areas in Indiana.

Michael Hicks, a professor of economics and director of the college’s Center for Business and Economic Research, made those remarks during his 2014 forecast at Grand Wayne Center on Monday.

About 50 bankers, investors and others attended the event, sponsored by Old National Wealth Management.

Despite poor employment, wages lower than similar states and other factors that weigh down a rebuilding economy, Hicks said some don’t give the Summit City enough credit for strides it’s made.

For instance, the Fort Wayne metropolitan statistical area saw its unemployment rate drop to 6.6 percent in October from 7 percent in September, based on figures from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. That was the third consecutive month unemployment retreated.

Metro Fort Wayne consists of Allen, Wells and Whitley counties. If the region continues to see joblessness shrink, it may very well find itself a model for other Hoosier cities, Hicks said.

The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership touted a report this month showing the average income in the region increased last year at a faster rate, about 5 percent, than average incomes in 14 similar Midwest cities.

And even though the average per capita income of $35,509 was way behind that of Des Moines, Iowa, which ranked No. 1 at more than $45,000, Fort Wayne has some things cooking that could change that.

A planned $71 million mixed-used project, with Ash Brokerage Corp. at the center, continues to create excitement in downtown as the development would result in 115 jobs over the next few years, paying a $60,000 a year on average. The Ash building will include an eight-story headquarters for the company, parking garage, retail space, condos, apartments and townhouses.

City officials suspect that like the $550 million Parkview Regional Medical Center, spinoff developments are likely with Ash.

Hicks did say the health care industry will play it safe in 2014 as it keeps an eye on the ramifications of the Affordable Care Act.

“They will take a breather on growth,” he said. “They don’t know what the rates are going to be, what enrollment will be like or what Medicaid will look like. For Fort Wayne, because it is so dependent on health care, hiring may be slow in that area.”

Investor Jim Stump attended Monday’s session. He came away feeling optimistic.

“I tend to look at things from a long-term point of view,” the 60-year-old retired accountant said. “My brother has a tool-and-die shop that has been doing well, and any time that segment is growing it seems other areas follow.”

pwyche@jg.net

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