Michael Grella Featured in Fort Wayne Magazine - January 2021
Innovation. Momentum. Prosperity. What will 2030 look like in Fort Wayne? Take a step and find out. The complete issue is available here.
The art of business investment and attraction has changed dramatically over the years. The days of cities inviting companies for a tour to show off community assets and offer them subsidies are over. Now it’s all about creating a community brand so magnetic that companies want to migrate on their own. This is a drastic shift that requires an incredible self-awareness for community leaders. It also helps to have trusted advisers who aren’t afraid to speak the truth about what a city has to offer, what it needs to offer and how it is perceived by others. Mike Grella of Grella Partnership Strategies in New York City is one of those trusted advisers. Here are his recommendations following a recent presentation to Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s Local Economic Development Organization Council (LEDO):
What were your initial impressions of Fort Wayne?
I was shocked to see how close Fort Wayne is to regional educational assets and tier one cities. Talent diversity of atmospheres, offering cosmopolitan or rural area and the level of bike lanes, trails, etc. are wonderful. You should double down on this.
How have your impressions of Northeast Indiana evolved over time?
Everyone is involved. There is a sincere air of collaboration and you don’t leave any county behind. What is good for one county is good for the entire region. And your Midwestern nice mentality is welcoming, attractive and disarming. Plus, there has been an impressive amount of private capital for mixed use development. You show both – what you have done and that you have a plan moving forward.
Is Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana doing anything uniquely special?
A lot of communities have vision plans, but none of them are as ambitious as Northeast Indiana’s Vision 2030. Other clientele of mine look at incremental growth. Yours is extremely ambitious, but pragmatic and doable. It’s really a transformational plan. Also, The Make It Your Own Branding Campaign created by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership is one of the most thoughtful, creative examples that I have ever seen.
How does Northeast Indiana look to a Millennial?
There is a tremendous opportunity for you to win the attraction of millennials thanks to quality of life and low cost of living — especially since they don’t have to have their employer based in Fort Wayne. But with remote work and the ubiquitous use of technology, high-speed broadband is a must. A lot of Millennials want the best of both worlds — cool places without traffic or pollution. I know the top restaurants, bars and micro-breweries in Fort Wayne can compete with anywhere. Millennials also want to live in places that their world view. They are very concerned about climate change, social justice, sustainability, etc. Generally, they are more progressive than conservative, but mostly pragmatic.
What are businesses looking for right now in a potential relocation?
Especially when you are targeting tech and financial services, a lot of HR and decision makers have identified diversity and inclusion as incredibly important. They are looking for communities that prioritize developing the talent pool and addressing systematic disparities like health care and education.
What else can Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana do to improve?
You must grow out your angel investor and venture capital, private equity base. There is a great start-up eco-system in Fort Wayne with great support to spark entrepreneurship, but if you don’t have the money to help them grow, they will go where the money is. Your brand recognition also has work to do. In the absence of knowing any better, global companies defer to larger cities. But the good news is if they don’t know Fort Wayne, then why cap yourself with regional ambitions? Focus on taking a quantum leap and introduce yourself as a city that can be national, if not global. It’s not about amenities, but the vision.