The Journal Gazette
Sunday, January 12, 2020 1:00 am

A promise to be kept

Transformative potential of Electric Works too great to squander

Where 20,000 last-century jobs once flourished, we see a place where boundless ideas can blossom into 20,000 new-century, living-wage jobs that will strengthen our community for generations to come.

This is the promise of Electric Works. This is what makes the challenge of bringing this complex project to fruition worth every effort. We must maintain our resolve, our courage and our stamina to get Electric Works done.

Regardless of the success we've had attracting investment and revitalizing our downtown, such place-making is no substitute for the job-making innovation hub of Electric Works.

Unlike the hotels, riverfront, office building and new housing downtown meant to attract jobs and workers, the heart of Electric Works sparks ideas that will create products and businesses that will generate jobs. Critically, Electric Works will provide opportunity for all individuals in our community, not just the well-heeled.

Electric Works is a neighborhood improvement project with regional impact. It is what we need in every quadrant of Fort Wayne. With an economy leaving behind huge swaths of our workforce, and thus families, it is more important than ever to complete Electric Works.

The core of Electric Works is university- and industry-driven research focused on our regional industry targets. Electric Works' diverse campus community is precisely the fertile environment for igniting the creative collisions that lead to ideas, products, businesses and jobs. Yes, the goal is to grow our own jobs.

Beyond startup and co-working space, Electric Works' plans include a manufacturing prototype lab, digital and commercial arts labs, and makerspace (think modern blacksmith). Fort Wayne Metals will operate an advanced materials research lab, and Parkview Health will operate a health sciences research lab. A product design accelerator for people with disabilities is in development.

Such innovation will be supported by university-driven research, including IU Ventures (formerly Indiana University Research and Technology Corporation) and Indiana Tech. Around the country similar creative and bold repurposing of treasured, but vacant, industrial sites has spawned hundreds of companies, billions of dollars of investment and tens of thousands of jobs.

Building on the opportunity to turn an idea into a business generating jobs, Electric Works will provide all residents the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills needed to earn living wages in this 21st century economy. In addition to the higher-education options on site, Fort Wayne Community Schools will operate a STEAM high school open to students throughout Allen County, giving direct access to entrepreneurship, research labs and innovation that currently are open overwhelmingly to children of high-income parents.

An adult coding school is being discussed, and apprenticeship and internship programs are planned, all coordinated and aligned with our core industry clusters of advanced manufacturing, specialty insurance, agricultural and food products, and medical-device products. Electric Works provides us all an opportunity to meet the challenges and threats of our rapidly changing economy through education, skill and entrepreneurial development.

Energizing downtown was a vital first step in making our region more competitive, but we need more to effectively address the global and technological forces buffeting our community and families. As critical as a vibrant downtown is to attract and retain talented employees and living-wage employers for our region's 700,000 citizens, it is insufficient to meet our job needs and fails to confront the needs of too many.

For us, one of the most exciting elements of Electric Works is that it is a neighborhood revitalization project, and not primarily a downtown project. We must invest our Legacy Fund and Capital Improvement Board money in similar projects that provide a broad-based impact both geographically and demographically. Our leadership must focus on such redevelopment projects in every quadrant of Fort Wayne and bring those benefits to citizens in every part of the city.

We encourage Mayor Tom Henry, his staff and all local leaders to redouble efforts to work together positively and tirelessly and complete Electric Works as well as promote similar redevelopment projects throughout the city.

GE brought the equality of opportunity to tens of thousands of workers and their families with its innovation-driven jobs and the higher quality of life those jobs offered. The heritage of that site symbolizes what our human ingenuity can do.

Electric Works' blend of education, research and imagination galvanizing job creation and economic growth is not just a dream, it is a goal we can achieve. We must rise to the challenge.

About the authors

This piece was submitted by City Council members Geoff Paddock, D-5th; Tom Didier, R-4th; Glynn Hines, D-at large; and Tom Freistroffer, R-at large.

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