The conductor of the Fort Wayne Transit train waited impatiently at the Grand Wayne station at Jefferson and Calhoun, the hub of city’s electric-powered transit system. The one-time convention center was a beautiful building, with skylights and artwork reflecting the city’s deep heritage, seen by the tens of thousands of people who walk through it every day to switch trains for their daily commutes.
Five minutes late already, and they’re still not here, the conductor said in a half whisper, half growl.
Finally, he saw the deputy mayor, Angelica Lewis. Several steps behind her was Mayor Roberto Gonzalez, pushing an old-fashioned wheelchair. The conductor looked closely at the old man in the wheelchair – it was Frank Gray, who still wrote a column every month or so for The Fort Wayne Journal. Hurry up, we’re late, Gray growled to the mayor.
Members of the mayor’s staff helped Gray into the train. At 105, the veteran writer had lost some steps but was still considered a champion of the underdog and those who had been screwed by the system. He was, still, about the closest thing the city came to an honest broker.
Gonzalez, Lewis and the mayor’s entourage boarded the train. About half the passengers greeted the mayor warmly; the other half sneered and complained about him making the train late. Several of the naysayers were sporting Mia Brown for Mayor holograms.
With the push of a button, the conductor sent the train on its five-minute trip to Kekionga Optics.
I still remember when that was the Harvester plant, Gray said to no one in particular when reminded of the train’s destination.
Most of the old plant, of course, had been torn down, replaced with state-of-the-art building materials and technology. It seems a new building went up every six months, as the campus spread to the location of the former Scout plant. But the clock tower still stood and, in recognition to tradition, still blew a whistle every day at noon.
Kekionga’s CEO, Sadie Palmer, was all about tradition – and at the same time, innovation. When she was just 7 years old, she gave her dad the idea for the name of the company.
No one names things after that Anthony Wayne general any more, daddy, she told him. We need to show respect to the Native Americans who were here first.
The older Palmer and his brothers were deep into innovation. After the auto industry tanked and cities across the nation limited electric use, demand for magnet wire plummeted. The Palmers bought Rea Magnet Wire for a song. Incrementally, they reduced the amount of copper needed for the wire to a nearly infinitesimal amount.
And while the market for magnet wire had nearly vanished in much of the country, the city’s abundance of electricity – the nuclear plant in Roanoke, the wind farms in Van Wert, Ohio; Bluffton and Columbia City – produced enough customers to sustain and grow the business. As more companies moved to Fort Wayne to take advantage of the ample water and electricity, business became good, then fantastic.
Sadie, as a 16-year-old wunderkind, researched alternatives to copper wire for her master’s project at the University of Fort Wayne. She made her breakthrough just before her 21st birthday, ending the need for copper, reducing the price and increasing demand. Her father and uncle retired as millionaires (in 2012, they would have been called gazillionaires), and Sadie took over as CEO in 2055 at the age of 25.
Passengers in the Kekionga/East End Industries train saw the fruits of Kekionga’s success as they swung south along the Black Swamp track (formerly Anthony Boulevard) toward the Charles Redd line (formerly Pontiac Street). The old Midwest Pipe and Steel was now Henry Manufacturing. The old crime-riddled apartments in the neighborhood were replaced with owner-occupied condos, and nearly all the homes throughout the southeast had been replaced.
Kekionga Optics not only employed 15,000 people and brought other businesses to the city and paid by far the biggest local tax bill, but it also gave generously to the community.
Arriving at Kekionga Station, the mayor’s party was met by Palmer, a Kekionga security team, and about two dozen journalists, a couple legitimate, some not so much. Gonzalez waved as he wheeled Gray onto the platform. Palmer walked over and gave Gonzalez a hug and kiss on the cheek.
Welcome, mayor, she said. And to what do we owe the honor of this visit?
Gonzalez smiled. Some good news for one of your workers.
After the hubbub of the arrival died down, Gonzalez, Lewis and Palmer walked into the CEO’s office.
Gonzalez always enjoyed visiting her office, which was full of old city artifacts like the old clock that used to be at Time Corners before water overtook the area and Helmke Avenue – once called Jefferson Boulevard – was elevated.
A very confused Shelby Loredo, just in her second week of work, wondered why she was being summoned to the office of the top dog, and she was even more startled when she was told that the tall Hispanic man with the physique of a laborer rather than a bureaucrat was the mayor.
Congratulations, Shelby, Gonzalez said. Are you busy tomorrow?
Well, I have to work, Loredo responded quizzically.
I think your boss will give you the day off. Congratulations, Shelby. You are the 1 millionth resident of Fort Wayne, and tomorrow, we are going to throw a party in your honor.