It Starts with a Story

The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership finds creative and impactful ways to tell the story of the region’s favorable business climate and culture to influential site selectors.
Nov 6, 2023
Tammy Davis
Provided

It starts with a story. This one, however, doesn’t begin with once-upon-a-time, looking backward at what has already happened. Instead, this story looks to the future. 

The storyteller is Brandon Noll, Vice President of Business Development for the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership (NEI), and the theme is the vibrant economic climate and culture this area offers to business. His passion for the region led him to craft a story called IN the North 2023.

IN the North is a familiarization (FAM) tour, an event that typically brings site consultants to an area to help them learn what it has to offer firsthand. What made this one unique is that NEI brought together three different regional economic development organizations to showcase the entire northern part of Indiana. 

“We want to take a proactive approach in bringing business to the area,” says Noll. “Northeast Indiana is amazing, and we are lucky to get to show that to people.”

NEI worked closely with the Northwest Indiana Forum and the South Bend-Elkhart Regional Partnership to produce an immersive experience featuring these three regions in just three days. Their goal was not to show available real estate to site consultants, but to allow them to personally encounter what the area has to offer.

“There are people out there who think of northern Indiana as a flyover area,” explains Noll. “But when people actually visit, they comment on our quality of life, our greenspaces, and [Fort Wayne’s] vibrant downtown. We knew that site consultants could look at real estate online, so we wanted to give them actual experiences.”

The three organizations developed an itinerary packed with all the best parts of northern Indiana. Instead of playing it safe, they also decided to schedule the tour on a weekend, which is unusual. They invited people from all over the country, and on Sept. 15, site consultants from Austin (TX), Greenville (SC), Cleveland (OH), Phoenix (AZ), Chattanooga (TN), and Chicago (IL) arrived at South Bend International Airport to immerse themselves in the story the three regions wanted to tell.

The group spent the evening at Dune Acres Clubhouse in Dune Acres, Indiana, where they enjoyed, dinner, networking, and music while overlooking Lake Michigan. On the way there, they drove through national and state parks, admired beaches, and saw the connectivity offered by rail lines and the highway system. Several were surprised to see the sunset illuminate Chicago’s skyline.

After spending the night in northwest Indiana, the group headed to South Bend to take in all the trappings of game day at the University of Notre Dame. They tailgated with local business leaders and entrepreneurs, then watched the game from 50-yard-line seats. 

“It didn’t hurt that Notre Dame won,” says Noll, a smile creeping into his voice.

Buses whisked the group from South Bend to Fort Wayne, with a stop for pizza on the way. The drive time and close quarters continued to foster the camaraderie they had been building since their arrival. Along the way, it became clear how easy it is to get from place to place on Indiana roads.

In Fort Wayne, the group first landed at Parkview Field, where they got to know the stadium and its role in the city’s revitalization. They celebrated the day swinging for the fences in the batting cages and clocking their throws, simultaneously laughing and groaning when their pitches didn’t live up to their imaginations. Conner’s Rooftop provided the perfect backdrop to end the evening reminiscing about their baseball feats.

By the time the group walked into Building 19 at Electric Works the next morning, they were already impressed. Even so, most couldn’t help but utter “Wow!” when they took in the repurposed buildings. They learned of the complex’s history from inside its walls while seeing both what it had been and what it could be. Everyone left for Fort Wayne International Airport smiling.

“We had wanted to give them a chance to experience the diverse economic opportunity that each region offers while immersing them in the area,” says Noll. “It worked out perfectly and was well received.”

It worked out so perfectly, in fact, that several consultants who were unable to attend have already asked to be included next year. Those who did attend got to experience for themselves that northern Indiana has the infrastructure, strong housing market, and vibrant culture that make it a great place for business.

“Of course,” says Noll, “we couldn’t have done this without our sponsors. American Electric Power, Wabash Valley Power Alliance, NIPSCO, and Duke Energy helped underwrite the experience and served as fantastic co-hosts along the way.”

Noll and his colleagues plan to make IN the North an annual event. 

“It takes a lot of work for us to put this on,” Noll says, “but it’s worth watching people’s perceptions change.” 


Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership (NEI)

Address: 200 E. Main St., Suite 910, Fort Wayne, Indiana 46802

Phone: (260) 469-3469

Website: neindiana.com

Email: info@neindiana.com

Products & Services: NEI is a public-private partnership that represents an 11-county region with diverse communities made up of Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wabash, Wells, and Whitley counties. Since its founding, NEI has become a model for regionalism and collaboration across Indiana to help the region compete more effectively for new investments.

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