Eight of nine northeast Indiana counties saw per capita personal income increase last year as compared with 2015, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
But the rates of those increases were modest compared to the state's other 83 counties, data show.
Even so, local economic development officials are finding reasons to celebrate, including the fact that each Allen County resident had $990 more to spend in 2016 than the year before.
Personal income includes wages, earnings from investments and government benefits, such as Social Security payments. Per capital personal income is determined by dividing the total personal income by the population of an area – babies and the elderly included.
Per capita personal income has been the top metric for measuring the region's progress for about the past decade because it reflects the quality of jobs in the region, not just the number of jobs, according to officials with the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.
John Sampson, the Regional Partnership's president and CEO, said the data show lots of positives but he's far from satisfied by the region's wage growth.
“Are you kidding me? I was depressed all day” after seeing the numbers, he said. “I'd love it to be more (growth), but what really pays off is not giving up year after year.”
Personal income in Allen County last year averaged $42,633, a one-year increase of 2.4 percent. The total places Allen 16th on a list of highest per capita income in Indiana.
Only Kosciusko County also managed to land in the top 20, placing 19th with an average of $42,278. No other northeast Indiana county cracked the top 30.
But it wasn't all good news for Kosciusko. It placed last – 92nd – in the state for rate of change from 2015 to 2016. Its personal income average declined by 5.1 percent in that year.
Sampson blamed that decrease on the short-term shakeout following the merger of orthopedic devices manufacturers Zimmer Holdings and Biomet in Warsaw, the largest city in Kosciusko.
The personal income data released Thursday are estimates, BEA officials said. They plan to report real personal income data in May.
In Indiana, the number increased by 3 percent, the 34th-highest rate in the country. Nationally, per capita personal income increased by 2.5 percent.
Sampson said northeast Indiana's objective is to grow its personal income faster than the national rate.
Over the last 10 years, the 11-county region served by the Regional Partnership grew personal income by 25 percent. The national average increased by 22 percent during the same period.
Even after the gain, the region's wages are 82.4 percent of the national average.
Sampson said studies have found a correlation between personal income and rates of educational attainment. Put simply, the more educated people are, the more they tend to earn.
The Regional Partnership has been working with universities, colleges and high schools to encourage students interested in technical training to pursue those certifications. Sampson goes so far as supporting prekindergarten programs, which have been shown to get students off to a better start.
Rachel Blakeman, director of IPFW's Community Research Institute, participated in Indiana University's economic outlook panel Friday. She noted that northeast Indiana is seeing lower unemployment rates than the state and national averages.
“Wages is (the category) where we're underperforming,” she said.
She compared the average personal income for Fort Wayne's MSA to comparable metropolitan statistical areas. They included Indianapolis; Elkhart-Goshen; South Bend; Evansville; Dayton; Des Moines, Iowa; and Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“We are the lowest,” Blakeman said.
Sampson noted that several thousands of jobs are unfilled in the region because employers can't find workers with the required skills to fill them.
If those jobs were filled, he said, the area's per capita personal income would get a boost.
Blakeman also acknowledged the need for trained trades workers.
“As I like to say,” she said, “my law degree won't fix my furnace.”
At a glance
The following list shows 2016 per capita personal income for northeast Indiana counties and the state, followed by how much that number increased (or decreased) from the prior year:
By the numbers
This list shows each northeast Indiana county's rank for per capita personal income, with No. 1 being the highest and No. 92 being the lowest: