FORT WAYNE — Efforts to bolster the northeast Indiana economy are being backed up by data that suggest the region is making strides compared to other parts of the country. But the hard work is far from over.
The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership held a “State of the Region” event Tuesday at The Summit in Fort Wayne, where representatives of the partnership and the Community Research Institute at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne discussed the findings of two reports that track a decade’s worth of economic data.
One report, which the partnership has taken to calling a “dashboard,” compares the 10-county region to 14 roughly similar areas in the Midwest, South and Great Plains and gauges how it’s faring compared to them. The other report focused solely on northeast Indiana’s largest industry sector: manufacturing.
Coincidentally, in the days leading up to the event, data released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis showed that per-capita personal income in northeast Indiana rose 5 percent in 2012, which was faster than the nation’s 3.4-percent growth rate. That’s significant because per-capita income has been singled out as an economic bellwether for the region by those charged to aid in its development.
“That’s what the whole shebang is about,” said Katy Silliman, vice president of regional initiatives at the partnership, at the “State of the Region” event.
In 2009, per-capita income in northeast Indiana was 79 percent of the national average. With the gain in 2012, the disparity lessened; per-capita income in the region was 81.2 percent of the national average.
“We’re not done until we’re at 100 percent or surpassing it,” Silliman said.
Maintaining that rate of growth will be important in the years ahead, said Ellen Cutter, director of the CRI.
“This is what needs to happen repeatedly in order for us to close the gap over time,” she said.
The “dashboard” report is part of an ongoing initiative launched last year by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and the CRI to measure the area’s progress — to compare “the perception of what we’re doing to the reality,” Cutter said.
Through endeavors like Vision 2020, the partnership, along with other economic-development organizations and business and community leaders across the region, is attempting to reverse a three-decade-old economic slide. Vision 2020 focuses development efforts on five central “pillars”: developing a 21st-century work force; improving the business climate; fostering entrepreneurship; building infrastructure; and enhancing quality of life.
With so much discussion about, and so much time and effort devoted to, Vision 2020 and other projects, the “dashboard” provides an indication whether all that work is beginning to pay off, showing where the region is making advances and where it continues to lag.
The CRI, which developed the “dashboard,” compares northeast Indiana to nine peer areas: Kalamazoo, Mich.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Dayton, Ohio; Knoxville, Tenn.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Rockford, Ill.; Toledo, Ohio; South Bend; and Evansville. It also gauges the region against five “star” areas that have a track record of high economic performance: Davenport, Iowa; Roanoke, Va.; Des Moines, Iowa; Peoria, Ill.; and Wichita, Kan.
The “dashboard” looked at five key growth measures and found:
• Employment grew by 1.5 percent in northeast Indiana in 2012, the latest year available, and by 3.8 percent from 2009-2012. The four-year increase was more than that experienced by the peers (3.5 percent) and stars (2 percent).
• Per-capita income rose from 2008 to 2011 by 2.5 percent, which was less than the peers (3.8 percent) but more than the stars (2 percent).
• Gross regional product advanced by 1.7 percent in 2011 and by 2.3 percent from 2008 to 2011. For the four-year period, the peers saw a gain of 1 percent, while the stars saw a 2.4-percent increase.
• Productivity declined in the region by 0.1 percent in 2011, but advanced by 5.9 percent from 2008 to 2011 — outpacing the peers (3.5 percent) and stars (5.2 percent).
• The region saw a 0.8-percent increase in its younger adult population — those ages 25 to 44 — in 2011, but an overall decline of 1.9 percent from 2008 to 2011. The peers also posted a decline of 2.6 percent during the four-year period, while the stars had an increase of 0.8 percent.
The CRI also took 40 other economic measures, organized them according to Vision 2020’s five pillars and created overall indexes that ranked the region, peers and stars. The top performers in each index earned a score of 100, while the worst scored a zero.
For 21st-century talent, northeast Indiana scored 23.5 in 2013. The nine peer areas together scored 23.7, while the five star areas combined scored 58.5. The region did better in the other indexes:
• Business climate: northeast Indiana, 81.5; peers, 58.4; and stars, 63.4;
• Entrepreneurship: northeast Indiana, 59.4; peers, 24.6; and stars, 59.5;
• Infrastructure: northeast Indiana, 61.6; peers, 41.7; stars, 84.1; and
• Quality of life: northeast Indiana, 50.8; peers, 28.1; and stars, 45.1.
John Stafford, who retired as director of the CRI earlier this year, presented highlights from a study that focused on manufacturing in the region. Companies involved in various types of manufacturing represent nearly 20 percent of the total employment opportunities in the region, he said, and have more than 71,000 workers.
“Why are we so concerned about manufacturing?” Stafford asked. “It’s a great wealth creator for us.”
Unlike past recessions, the manufacturing sector led the region out of the Great Recession and has continued fueling it during the recovery. It also lost fewer jobs during the recession than what economists would normally predict.
By the end of the recession, the sector was outgaining all other sectors combined in employment growth rate. In 2009-2010, manufacturing employment grew by 5.6 percent; in 2010-2011 it advanced 4.9 percent, and the following year rose 2.6 percent.
“That really points to the strength of a lot of manufacturing that’s here today in northeast Indiana,” Stafford said.
The report also looks at clusters involved in advanced manufacturing, identifies careers critical to the growth of those clusters and examines how manufacturing suppliers are meeting the needs of area producers.