Fort Wayne, Indiana – Knight Foundation

Fort Wayne, Indiana

The information in our study covers the Fort Wayne, Indiana, Metropolitan Statistical Area.

In each community, the Knight Soul of the Community study identified factors that emotionally attach residents to where they live. Some of these community characteristics that drive attachment were rated highly by residents, and are therefore community strengths while others were rated lower, making them opportunities for improvement. This information can provide communities a roadmap for increasing residents’ emotional attachment to where they live, which the study found has a significant relationship to economic vitality.

Overall attachment is significantly higher to the Fort Wayne area in 2010, including significant increases in community loyalty and community passion.

In the Fort Wayne area, social offerings (entertainment infrastructure, places to meet people, community events), openness (how welcoming a place is) and aesthetics (an area’s physical beauty and green spaces) are the most important factors emotionally connecting residents to where they live.

Aesthetics is perceived as a community strength and is rated significantly higher in 2010. In particular, residents rated parks, playgrounds and trails highly.

Social offerings, particularly residents caring about each other, and openness, particularly to young talent, are areas of needed improvement to increase resident attachment. Residents 18-34 years of age are least attached to the Fort Wayne area.

Ratings of the local economy increased in 2010; however the economy is still not a key factor emotionally connecting residents to their community. Reports of civic involvement was significantly lower in 2010.

Knight Soul of the Community 2010: Fort Wayne Implications

The purpose of Knight Soul of the Community is to provide communities a roadmap for understanding what attaches residents to their community and why it matters – not to be prescriptive on what communities should do with the information. However, the findings do point to some general implications and suggestions, some of which the community may be already undertaking, or provide new opportunities for consideration.

Like the other 25 communities studied in Soul of the Community, Fort Wayne’s key attachment drivers are social offerings, aesthetics and openness. However, it is not as simple as identifying best practices in each of these areas and replicating them everywhere. Instead, as the name implies, Soul of the Community encourages a conversation about a community’s soul or essential essence as a place around these key drivers. Some possible questions to ask are: What is it about our aesthetics/social offerings/welcomeness that is unique to our community? Where do we excel or struggle in those areas? Using that information to optimize those drivers to encourage resident attachment—and potentially local economic growth – is what Soul of the Community seeks to accomplish.

There is very positive momentum currently in Ft. Wayne. Attachment to the area increased during the three years of the study. In 2010, attachment to the Ft. Wayne area was significantly higher than in 2009. This finding alone helps to demonstrate that attachment to place is about more than jobs and the economy. Community loyalty, an aspect of attachment that measures overall satisfaction with the community, likelihood of recommending it to others and future outlook for the community, was rated significantly higher in 2010. The things that most attach residents to the area – social offerings, openness and aesthetics – remained consistent during the three years of the study. In 2010, aesthetics was rated significantly higher, whereas the other two main drivers for attachment were rated similarly as in 2009.

A strength of Ft. Wayne in the eyes of its residents is its aesthetics, specifically the parks, playgrounds and trails. The community rates aesthetics significantly better in 2010 than in 2009, solidifying this important driver for attachment as a clear strength of the Ft. Wayne area that should be leveraged. Leadership should identify the reasons for why residents are rating aesthetics better and support that momentum.

Despite its positive momentum, Ft. Wayne still has challenges that must be addressed for attachment to be sustained and increase. Social offerings continues to be a challenge for the community. Residents seem most happy with the social community events, but all other aspects are rated lower. Of particular note is the decline in residents caring about each other. Although it is always rated as the lowest aspect of social offerings, resident caring consistently declined during the past three years. All other aspects of social offerings are improving. Continue the momentum with these aspects, while giving special attention to recover and rebuild a sense of residents caring about each other in the community.

The community’s perceived openness is another challenge area. Although residents rate it as fairly welcoming to families with young children and the elderly, Ft. Wayne has significantly lower ratings in welcomeness to all other groups including minorities and young talent. For attachment to really grow and people to want to come and stay in Ft. Wayne, all residents must feel welcomed there. Currently, young talent is perceived to be the least welcome group. Residents’ ratings of welcomness to various groups either held firm or slightly increased in 2010, showing that perceptions of overall openness is also trending upward. Continued and purposeful attention to this area is warranted.

Capitalizing on and marketing its current momentum is key for Ft. Wayne. Strengths in aesthetics should be used to address challenges in openness and social offerings, particularly focusing on resident caring and young talent. For example, have the young professionals lead a series of community events in the local parks and volunteer their professional expertise to other groups in the community (tax help for young families, English as second language service for new residents, showcase local bands, etc.). This will improve perceptions of openness to all while also potentially improving the perception of resident caring.

Thoughts on the findings in Fort Wayne

The Gallup study results for Fort Wayne are really not a surprise to those who live, work, and enjoy the inviting lifestyle in the Fort Wayne community. The study found that while there is an economic crisis in the community, this does not seem to make a difference in residents’ love for where they choose to live. Maybe that’s why the parks, playgrounds and trails continue to be rated highly. Another strength noted in the study, is our top notch higher education offerings at our local colleges and universities that have been a recognized strength locally.

Now on the flip side, Fort Wayne needs to continue to work on new ideas and hear from the organizations like the Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana and the Active 20-30 Club of Fort Wayne. The young college graduates are involved in examining ways they can support Indiana’s Graduate Retention Program to combat Indiana’s “brain drain” with internship programs and other ways of getting college students and recent graduates interested in opportunities in the area.

Research shows that economy is not the key factor in residents love for Fort Wayne but the study did find that positive feelings do have some connection to local GDP growth over a long period of time. I’d be interested in your thoughts on how as a community we scan attract and retain our young people in the area.