Jehl: More than a speech, how we can really attract and retain local jobs

Russ Jehl for City Council logo.

News release from the Jehl for City Council campaign:

More Than a Speech, How We Can Really Attract and Retain Local Jobs

Maybe it was the dismal jobs report, maybe it was the Labor Day weekend, maybe it was the anticipation of the President’s job upcoming economics speech, or maybe it was the mounting number of people who are unemployed or close to someone looking for a job, but as I walked neighborhoods this weekend the economy was first and foremost on voters’ minds.

We can work to restore the economy by creating a more favorable business climate, reducing government burdens and regulations that interfere with growth and prosperity of local business. We need to support measures to retain, encourage, and attract businesses. We can foster innovative, sensible economic development. Most importantly, we need to reform the culture of local government which obstructs businesses.

More than rhetoric, here’s how we attract and retain businesses:

1. First and foremost, government’s primary objective is to create an ordered environment for businesses to flourish. A well-run City which financially lives within its means is paramount to creating an environment for growth.

2. A well maintained infrastructure is the direct responsibility of City government, and a recent report has noted that Fort Wayne’s road system is being neglected and growing in disrepair. Although the City has been venturing into several expensive discretionary projects, it is neglecting its core responsibilities including infrastructure.

3. The City and County have unintentionally developed two economic development standards, one for big “ribbon cutting” projects and another for small business. The Alliance, Chamber, City, and County have done a great job at re-establishing an aggressive posture to accommodate businesses looking to locate to Fort Wayne. I applaud this business-friendly attitude for the big businesses which require incentives to locate to Fort Wayne.

4. However, as a commercial real estate agent, I work with small businesses and local entrepreneurs everyday who are discouraged and obstructed by our local government. These are businesses committed to Fort Wayne and which do not require tax incentives to locate. Freedom is their only requirement to be successful.

In the last year, I have seen our local government:

[list type=”black”]
[li]tell a baker that he could not have a business sign on his bakery’s building[/li]
[li]discourage an Angola nail salon owner seeking to relocate his business to Fort Wayne by stating he would not be allowed to add parking although the zoning ordinance permitted it[/li]
[li]force a church to sprinkle part of its parking lot which in turn forced the church to seek more money from its parishioners.[/li]

Although I am leery of any politician that makes grandiose claims that he can fix the economy, I see firsthand that Fort Wayne does not have several jobs it could and should have simply because it is not friendly to its local businesses.

5. Continue to form smart partnerships with the private sector, education institutions, and other government entities. Examples include the Innovation Centre, IPFW/Holiday Inn, Manchester College/Parkview pharmacy school. Immediate opportunities are to encourage the new Ambassador venture at the former Taylor campus and find a way to reuse the Kitty Hawk facility.

6. Fort Wayne is still operating under archaic city planning assumptions. I fully support Downtown and river development. However, our larger model is still based off 19th and 20th century life. Interstates are our modern rivers, and our City has done little to harness this natural trend. For example, the poor planning and accessibility in the I-69/I-469 north interchange is appalling, as it is where our two modern rivers meet. Fort Wayne is an ideal transit hub that deliver product to half the nation’s population in one day’s drive, and the City continues to neglect planning outside of Downtown, limiting its economic opportunities.

7. Encourage all business, in all places within the City, not just Downtown development. Meeting the needs of the City’s growth should have been its top economic priority of the last four years, not a small office building at Harrison/Jefferson.

8. Unfortunately, power and money have shifted from local control to State and Federal control. Our local officials have not adapted to this change, and therefore Fort Wayne falls behind in its awarding of major infrastructure projects. The Maplecrest Road extension, the US24 road widening, and the Dupont exits were all major projects where the political decisions to fund them came from Indianapolis and Washington. Our local officials need to be more proactive in lobbying for its fair share of state and federal funds, as these projects were funded years after they were needed.

9. The permitting reform discussion this summer was intriguing. Consensus was reached that the City was not accommodating to development and the eighteen local departments which oversaw the process were not working in harmony. I applaud the spirited attempt toward addressing these problems, but note the following suggestions to make the reform successful:

[list type=”black”]
[li]Use the Citizen’s Square relocation to bring as many of these departments under the same roof to create “one stop shopping.”[/li]
[li]Extend the new web technology to provide anonymous feedback.[/li]
[li]Extend the benefits of reform to small businesses too.[/li]
[li]Streamline the permitting process. The problem as addressed is the eighteen different departments. To date, the reforms have added, rather than subtracted to this process by adding a new committee and expeditor.[/li]
[li]Institute cultural reform within the departments.[/li]

10. The Light Lease fund can best be used to attract jobs and growing business in Fort Wayne by putting the money to work for us by drawing off the principal in perpetuity and provide the necessary funds for a special emergency or opportunity.

11. I advocate the City use as many economic development tools as possible, an “all of the above” approach for economic development, but only if specific economic projections can be shown that justify the abatements. Furthermore, I believe in demanding those results to continue those incentives. I do not support government central planning in economic matters, and therefore very rarely support government ventures guised as economic development. Those funds can be used more efficiently by the private sector.


Jehl for City Council website


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