A Navy veteran, Sean Ryan came to Allen County as an engineer with BF Goodrich in 1994, launching a career after military service.
A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Ryan was new to Indiana. While a transfer took him and his young family away for a couple of years in the late 1990s, Ryan said he grabbed the chance to return when another transfer arose. The Ryans have lived in the area ever since.
“I absolutely love it,” said Ryan, 52, now director of the Office of Engagement at Purdue University Fort Wayne. “It was a wonderful place to raise my family.”
As Veterans Day approaches, northeast Indiana has rolled out the welcome mat for veterans. And it comes at a good time.
A recent survey of best places for vets to live ranks Fort Wayne 13th among the nation's 100 largest cities. San Antonio is No. 1.
The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership started a website in July, hoosierhomebase.com, that provides a career search function and other resources for veterans and their families. With a shortage of skilled workers in the region, the website attempts to attract some of the 100,000 to 200,000 service members who exit the military each year.
A push to publicize the website comes in conjunction with Veterans Day, to be observed Monday. An estimated 20,694 veterans – or 7.7 percent of the population – currently make Allen County home, according to census figures.
About a third of those leaving the military have no destination in mind, said John Sampson, president and CEO of the partnership. It's a small population, “but a large number of them that would be responsive to a community that is in the Midwest, strong family values, low cost of living – those kinds of attributes. And we need their skills. These are highly responsible individuals that are connected to mission. So, we think it's a good fit for us.”
The study of U.S. cities is the third annual report by Columbia, Missouri-based Veterans United Home Loans, which calls itself a leader in the VA Loan industry. For its rankings, the study looked at measures for economic wellness, employment, availability of Veterans Affairs benefits and quality of life for veterans.
Fort Wayne did well in the study for having a low cost of living, low housing costs and VA health facilities. A VA hospital is in the city.
There are local agencies targeting veteran homelessness, and the local VA hospital has done much to raise its profile, said Joe Wasson, Allen County veteran service officer. A lot of vets are drawn to the area because of the health care, he added.
“I think with all the momentum we have going on through economic development and quality of place throughout our community, I think it goes without saying that veteran or not a veteran this is a great place to live,” Wasson said.
Sampson said the regional partnership is the first in the state to try and draw veterans.
“This is coupled very closely with the data on jobs available today,” he said. “Sixty to 70 percent of them are requiring highly trained technical skills, many of which are possessed by the veterans when they leave military service.”
Ryan said having an affordable place to live, ample career opportunities, community activities such as the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo, a downtown baseball stadium, hockey and the ability to drive a short distance to major cities, has kept his family here. He said he had another opportunity to relocate in 2005, stayed and was hired by PFW, then IPFW.
Ryan and his wife live in Huntertown. Their oldest daughter and son-in-law live in Fort Wayne. Their youngest daughter is a college senior in Marion.
“But,” he said, “we're trying to get her back here, as well.”
Top cities for veterans
1. San Antonio
2. Lincoln, Nebraska
3. Arlington, Texas
4. Raleigh, N.C.
5. Oklahoma City
6. Colorado Springs, Colo.
7. Boise, Idaho
8. Jacksonville, Fla.
9. Fort Worth, Texas
10. Columbus, Ohio
11. Louisville, Ky.
12. Corpus Christi, Texas
13. Fort Wayne
14. El Paso, Texas
15. Kansas City, Mo.
Source: Veterans United Home Loans, www.veteransunited.com/education/guides/best-cities/