If the new year seems to be off to a rocky start, consider this: Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana are in position to see a massive public/private project taking shape just when it is most needed. Electric Works' economic and psychological boosts offer sorely needed relief and hope in a post-COVID-19 recovery.
Federal unemployment claims last week saw the largest increase since the beginning of the pandemic, but were overshadowed here by news that developers had signed off on closing documents and will begin turning the 12-acre west campus of the former General Electric plant into a mixed-use development and new headquarters for Do it Best Corp.
“We're encouraged that the closing process has been completed and that work is underway,” Mayor Tom Henry said in a statement. “The public funding commitment of $65 million was met, and we look forward to the successes of the Electric Works development. We're in a fortunate position to be able to have this large of a project being launched during a pandemic. This is an important economic driver for Fort Wayne, Allen County and northeast Indiana and will help provide stability with local construction jobs and grow additional employment opportunities for other sectors as well.”
And how. To fully appreciate the project's value, you have to begin with the economic blow the region might have experienced with the loss of Do it Best.
Rachel Blakeman, director of the Community Research Institute at Purdue University Fort Wayne, was commissioned last year to determine the potential loss if the New Haven-based corporation left Allen County.
Her analysis found the cost would be about $100 million a year. That prospect was a possibility when the Electric Works deal was temporarily derailed in August. Other communities, including Carmel, began courting the hardware cooperative, Indiana's largest privately held company.
At Electric Works, Do it Best will preserve more than 400 existing jobs; close to 100 new jobs are anticipated.
The $286 million mixed-use project, which also has lease commitments from Parkview Health, Fort Wayne Community Schools, Medical Informatics Engineering, Ruoff Mortgage, Fort Wayne Metals, IU Ventures and Indiana Tech, will offer an immediate economic lift in construction wages.
As The Journal Gazette's Sherry Slater reported last week, Weigand Construction, the general contractor, estimates about 2,000 construction-related jobs will be created by work on the west campus.
All of that translates to about $300 million in estimated economic impact during construction and almost $400?million in annual local economic impact when Electric Works opens. RTM Ventures, now collaborating with The Model Group, lead developer for The Landing, plans to invest $200 million over the next two years. Tim Ash, chief executive officer of Fort Wayne-based insurance firm Ash Brokerage, is an investor and general partner.
Imagine the energy emanating from the former GE facility when it becomes a center for commerce, health care, learning and entertainment. When it opens, likely in late 2022, look for Electric Works to help rejuvenate a hospitality industry devastated by the pandemic. Conjure Coffee, Joseph Decuis and Three Rivers Music Theatre are already among the first tenants. With hundreds of workers and visitors congregating there, the campus is certain to attract more food and entertainment venues.
While the project touches thousands of area residents directly, it benefits all northeast Indiana residents indirectly. Along with the wages and tax revenue flowing from it, Electric Works can stand as a symbol of our recovery from a dark and disappointing period.
If Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana can emerge from the pandemic with this grand achievement, what can't we do?