For Michael Galbraith, getting people to commit to northeast Indiana and move here is key.
He leads the Road to One Million campaign, a Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership effort to improve quality of life and attract workers and businesses to the 11 counties that make up the region.
In simple terms, population growth equals prosperity.
Recent reports from moving companies U-Haul and United Van Lines show trends in migration headed in the right direction for Galbraith and others who want to see more people move to the area. Analyses of customer traffic from both companies show more people moving to Indiana and the northeast portion of the state than moving away.
“It's fantastic news, it's not just good news,” Galbraith said last week.
United Van Lines has been tracking for about 40 years the states people move to and from. That traffic has been away from the Hoosier State for many years since 1980, according to the company.
Its report released this month, however, shows that of moves involving Indiana last year, about 51 percent were to the state. The rest were moves away.
The report from U-Haul shows Indiana in 2018 fell in rank among the company's “growth states” – states that saw more traffic to them than from them. Still, there was more traffic to Indiana than away from it last year.
City-level data compiled by U-Haul show about 2 percent more people on in-state moves ended up in Fort Wayne in 2018, compared with figures from the year before. For 2017, it was 4.4 percent. But the company did not provide the specific number of moves.
Most of the moves to Fort Wayne were from Indianapolis, according to U-Haul.
Rachel Blakeman, director of the Community Research Institute at Purdue University Fort Wayne, said the numbers are encouraging. She also cautions that the figures might not tell an entirely accurate demographic story about northeast Indiana.
The U-Haul data are based on one-way moves, and Blakeman said that could be misleading when trying to determine whether people are moving to an area or simply dropping off a moving truck.
“I remember my parents rented a U-Haul to bring stuff to my house once,” she said. “Under that metric (used in the company study), that would be a one-way move.”
A more reliable and accurate measure of migration trends – “the gold standard,” Blakeman said – is information included in data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Those figures show the area's population has risen, but not for the reasons indicated by the movers' studies.
“I welcome this news (from U-Haul and United Van Lines) for northeast Indiana, but I would put little stock in it as a measurement of what is actually happening,” Blakeman said.
Since 2010, northeast Indiana – Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wabash, Wells and Whitley counties – has grown by about 22,000 people to about 781,200, according to census figures from 2017.
Some of that growth – about 6,000 people – is from international migration. Each northeast Indiana county actually lost residents to domestic migration since 2010, the data show.
Allen County lost nearly 3,300 to moves in the U.S. over that period and gained nearly 5,000 from international migration. The county's population in 2017 was about 373,000.
Blakeman said updated census figures are expected to be published later this year, and she wants to see whether the loss of residents to U.S. migration – a trend that's mirrored in other Midwest states – continues.
“Hopefully, that trend is reversing,” she said.
There are reasons for optimism, however.
Galbraith, director of the Road to One Million, said area development projects such as construction work downtown and on the riverfront in Fort Wayne are exciting and should draw new residents and workers to replace baby boomers who are expected to retire soon.
“We've had a tremendous renaissance in Fort Wayne and some of our surrounding cities,” he said. “Some of our cities are starting to say, 'We're not going to roll up our streets at 5 o'clock.' This shows that the work of lots and lots of partners in northeast Indiana is really paying off.”
U-Haul Company of Northwest Ohio President Cory Hall agrees.
Based in Toledo, Hall manages operations there and in northeast Indiana and Michigan. He has been doing it for about nine years and visits Fort Wayne about once a week.
Hall has seen a noticeable change in the city – particularly with development of the downtown area – in the past few years and said he's heard from customers excited about the improvements.
“Fort Wayne really has just blown up,” he said. “When you go to other areas, things are closing. In Fort Wayne, it's flourishing.”