The Journal Gazette
Saturday, March 28, 2020 1:00 am

3 in 10 local employees under 30

Leaders credit quality of life, cost of living for ranking

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Three in 10 local workers are younger than 30, placing Fort Wayne 21st on a list of the 100 largest U.S. cities with the youngest workforce, results of a study show.

SmartAsset, a personal finance advice website, used 2018 Census Bureau data to calculate the percentage of young workers in the workforce. Data released this week show 43,199 of Fort Wayne's 137,099-person workforce are younger than 30.

John Sampson, the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership's president and CEO, said the ranking is encouraging. Attracting and retaining young people are priorities for his organization, which represents an 11-county region, and other economic development groups.

“You look at the major metros on this list, and a lot of them have a lot more brand recognition than we have,” he said in a phone interview.

Northeast Indiana has set a goal of reaching 1 million in population, an effort that won the region $42 million in Regional Cities Initiative money from the state in 2016. The money has been awarded to 32 quality-of-place projects in an effort to transform the region and spur more economic development.

Communities need talented workers to attract employers offering high-paying jobs. Those companies – and employees – then pay taxes, which make communities financially sound.

Sampson said young people are being more discerning about where they want to live. A city doesn't need to be big to be the best fit for an individual or a young family, he said, adding that affordability and access to amenities are important.

John Urbahns, president and CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc., agreed.

“We've been able to combine a high quality of life with a low cost of living, which makes this an attractive community for people of all ages – not just young professionals,” he said in an email.

“It's critical that we attract and retain people of all ages, not just young workers,” Urbahns continued. “They do tend to get increased attention because they are the most mobile – they often choose a community for its quality of life first, then go find a job. That forces everyone to up their game when it comes to quality of life, because everyone wants to be the place where young professionals – and others – put down roots and start families of their own, which grows our community even further.”

Urbahns and Sampson listed Promenade Park, The Landing, Parkview Field and extended Fort Wayne Trails as quality-of-life projects that have raised Fort Wayne's profile.

“We compete every day against every community in America, trying to give Allen County a competitive advantage in attracting people and jobs,” Urbahns said. “This ranking is a good indicator that we're moving in the right direction, but we know we have to keep working hard to stay ahead of the curve.”

Part of that effort is retaining students who enroll in college here, he said.

Although few people might think of Fort Wayne as a college town, Urbahns said, the Summit City has about the same number of students as Bloomington if you combine the enrollments of Purdue Fort Wayne, Indiana University Fort Wayne, Indiana Tech, University of Saint Francis, Manchester University's pharmacy school and others.

“Our 2019 Allen County Business Survey showed that 90% of businesses believe that downtown revitalization makes it easier for them to attract and retain talent. We are giving local graduates a reason to stay,” Urbahns said.

One factor in retaining young professionals is providing an opportunity to participate in local government, Sampson said.

“I think it's much more difficult to have a hand on the steering wheel when you're in Indianapolis, Detroit or Chicago,” he said, adding that Fort Wayne needs the next generation to guide the city as baby boomers retire.

Savannah Robinson is a perfect example. The 33-year-old is on the Regional Partnership and Greater Fort Wayne's boards, among others. She is president of Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana.

“It is incredibly important to engage our younger residents in community planning,” she said in an email. “Asking a 65-year-old, married male how to attract a 20-year-old, single female to our city isn't the most prudent way to get to the end goal. Like attracts like, and to attract young people, we need to ask young people what they want and value.”

Robinson believes Fort Wayne has a lot to offer her generation. A Lexington, Kentucky, native, she moved here as a teen and – despite attractive job offers elsewhere – decided to stay.

“Fort Wayne has been, and continues to be, on the rise,” she said in an email. “Our community provides people an opportunity to have a voice, experience big-city amenities at small-town costs.”

Robinson listed several projects, including downtown developments, she and fellow YLNI members are excited about.

“I am very interested in Promenade Park, supporting riverfront development, Electric Works, the Landing, local restaurants and businesses coming to our community,” she said. “We are also interested in and supportive of public art and the arts/creative initiatives around the city.”

Her peers also appreciate Fort Wayne's low cost of living, family-friendliness, proximity to other major cities and desire for constant improvement. She said YLNI members also like that “they can contribute and make an impact.”

Robinson, who is law firm Barnes & Thornburg's legal personnel director, said the city's most important characteristic is that it values people.

“Talent attraction and retention are key to the continued growth of any city, and Fort Wayne has focused on this over the years,” she said. “We continue to attract and cultivate top talent with the big businesses who have decided to call Fort Wayne home.”

“For two years, I maintained my home in Fort Wayne and had an apartment in Chicago and ultimately made the decision to make Fort Wayne my permanent home,” she said. “I've had the opportunity to live all over the U.S., and though the offers have been tempting, I continue to choose Fort Wayne over and over again.”

See the study

To see SmartAsset's study, click on this URL --

At a glance

Fort Wayne ranks 21st of the 100 largest U.S. cities in the percentage of workers 30 and younger in the workforce, with 31.5%, according to SmartAsset. The Top 20 cities and their percentages are:

1. Norfolk, Va.: 41.6

2. Madison, Wis.: 41.5

3. Lubbock, Texas: 36.0

4. Tucson, Ariz.: 35.8

5. Boston: 35.3

6. Pittsburgh: 35.3

7. Richmond, Va.: 35.3

8. Lincoln, Neb.: 34.6

9. Detroit: 34.4

10. Cincinnati: 34.3

11. Milwaukee: 34.3

12. Minneapolis: 33.9

13. Buffalo, N.Y.: 33.8

14. Columbus, Ohio: 33.7

15. Riverside, Calif.: 33.4

16. Toledo: 32.9

17. Atlanta: 32.3

18. St. Paul, Minn.: 32.0

19. Lexington, Ky.: 32.0

20. Santa Ana, Calif.: 31.6

Note: Cities with identical percentages aren't tied; the numbers were rounded.

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