As a child growing up in the small northern Indiana town of Fremont, John Urbahns made lots of trips to the “big city” of Fort Wayne. As an adult, he’s had a direct hand in the transformation of that big city. Now, as the president and CEO of Greater Fort Wayne, Inc., he’s leading investment and growth in the region.
Urbahns took over the role in January, after spending five years with the organization as the executive vice president of economic development. The transition has been relatively easy, but with the new role comes new responsibility.
“At some point you realize the buck stops with you and the direction of the organization is at your control,” says Urbahns, reflecting on the past three months.
Spearheading change is nothing new. Prior to joining Greater Fort Wayne, Inc., he was the director of community development for the City of Fort Wayne, where he helped facilitate projects like Harrison Square, Parkview Field and the Ash Skyline Plaza.
“I’m proud of being a part of those and the ones I’ve been involved with since moving to Greater Fort Wayne, Inc. We’ve helped broker 132 deals, the addition of 7,800 jobs and $335 million in new annual payroll. That’s payroll that’s here every year, buying cars, buying groceries, buying houses, using goods and services, investing in our community,” Urbahns explains.
He and other city leaders have built on that recent success by launching initiatives that involve The Landing and a new boutique hotel. He’s especially excited about riverfront development that’s really just begun.
“The first phase of the Riverfront Promenade will open in June, but that’s just the first phase. Phases two and three are under design right now and the idea is that will create opportunities for private investment to occur around it. Between North River on the north end and Electric Works on the south end, you’re going to see some major investment and changes. And if you look back, that’s exactly what the downtown blueprint created in the early 2000s was about – having anchors on both ends.”
Urbahns sees no reason to slow down, especially when his motivation is the next generation. That includes his own three children, ages 16, 14 and 10.
“I want to continue to grow here,” he says. “I tell people my number one job is to make sure there are opportunities for my kids. We always talk about retention and attraction of talent. I want to make sure the community’s a place where my kids, if they chose, can have an opportunity here.”
Though economic development can be challenging, Urbahns says in some respects, it’s gotten easier in the last decade.
“Ten years ago, we had to sell people on the plans and what was going to happen. Now they can see what has happened. They’re coming in saying, ‘I can’t believe this is Fort Wayne. I can’t believe everything that’s going on. I can’t believe how nice the downtown is.’”
Once solely a destination for 9-to-5ers, downtown Fort Wayne has become a place where people want to live and be part of a growing social scene. That’s evident in the addition of nearly 500 apartment and condo units over the past five years, places like Cityscape Flats, Superior Lofts, Randall Lofts, Skyline Plaza and the Anthony Wayne building. Apartments at The Landing will be done soon, and there’s already a waiting list of people who want to move in.
“The interesting thing is, when we first started talking about downtown housing, the perception was it would be people just coming out of college. But we’re seeing empty nesters, families, and young people. Across the board there was clearly a pent-up demand for it,” Urbahns says.
There are more big projects in the works. Atlanta-based IT firm Rural Sourcing is investing $3 million to establish a Midwest hub that will bring 130 jobs to Allen County in the next two years. What’s just as exciting to Urbahns, though, is local expansion.
“While we’ve had some great, big wins with new companies, most of our job growth is existing companies expanding. That’s a great testament to the economy here,” he says. “To use a baseball analogy, you need a home run like Parkview Field, but you need a lot of singles and doubles to score.”
Address: 200 E. Main St. Fort Wayne, Indiana 46802
Phone: (260) 420-6945