FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — New residents are coming from Michigan, Ohio and especially Illinois to live in Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana. They are seeking new jobs, a more affordable lifestyle that sees their paycheck stretch further and better housing.
“Northeast Indiana is doing extraordinarily well compared to our Midwest peers. If anything, our competition are those states further south that don’t deal with four seasons,” says Michael Galbraith, consultant for the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and Northeast Regional Development Authority.
“I think four seasons are a really good thing, but it’s something I grew up with as a Midwesterner so we are really attractive to other Midwesterners. We’re seeing positive migration from Michigan, from Illinois, in particular. We’re seeing great migration from Ohio, so we’re seeing those Midwesterners from our adjacent states choose to live in northeast Indiana,” Galbraith said.
But housing is the catch.
The 11 counties that make up northeast Indiana are short on housing – any kind of housing from rental apartments and homes, to townhomes, condos and single family homes.
Galbraith, who is also the president of Fort Wayne’s Downtown Improvement District, has his fingers on the pulse of progress and is a good candidate to explain the growth the region is experiencing.
By 2030, county leaders hope to count one million residents living here, a goal set by the state in 2016, Galbraith said. With a $42 million grant, three state regions set about developing their area to be an economic engine outside Indianapolis – Fort Wayne, South Bend and Evansville.
“What we see from the Census Bureau, our snapshots which are sort of estimates, we can say for sure that the trend is up,” Galbraith said. “We are seeing more population growth in more counties in Indiana and it’s going (up) faster. Previously, there might be 1,000 or 2,000 people come into the region. Now it’s between 3,000 and 6,000 come into the region each year.”
In northeast Indiana, Allen County is sort of the heart of that initial draw, Galbraith said. “Most people, if you say ‘where are Churubusco or Auburn?,’ aren’t going to know that as well as they will ‘where is Fort Wayne?’ In general, that’s where people see that first move to the region.”
But that’s not often their last move, Galbraith says, “So the nice thing about northeast Indiana is you’ve got lots of choices in where to live. Some people prefer a small town environment, some people go for a lake environment, some people for a city environment, so we have a lot of choices in northeast Indiana.”
Latest estimates are the region’s population is more than 800,000, at least 10,000 more residents that you find on the organization’s website. The upward trend indicates population progress when 30 years ago the trend was downward, Galbraith said.
The new residents are looking for new jobs, but people are becoming more sophisticated about looking at their personal finances, Galbraith said. A salary of $50,000 in Chicago doesn’t compare to $45,000 in Fort Wayne where the cost of living is much lower. And taxes are lower here.
Because of the upward population trend, the region is seeing more housing demand in smaller towns and the need for various different types of housing.
“We have a lot of single family housing, but not a lot of apartments or urban townhomes,” Galbraith said. That said, single family homes that would sell for $80,000 to $180,000 are desperately needed. With construction costs skyrocketing, developers would have difficulties building any single family home for less than $200,000, local developers have said.
Most of that is based on the cost of labor and raw materials. Also, the cost of farmland has become so valuable, the cost to build cheaper single family homes is prohibitive.
The region could absorb between 3,000 and 5,000 homes each year, Galbraith said. In Allen County, 2,000 to 4,000 homes. And these numbers include any kind of housing.
“As we look at workforce, having a place for somebody to live is the first aspect that they’re going to want to look at when they say ‘can I come to northeast Indiana to take a job?’”
“And so this is the sort of bottom of the pyramid in economic development in attracting the workforce that our businesses need and if we can’t have those houses, then we can’t attract workers,” Galbraith said.