Continuing and expanding economic momentum
Just a year ago, Eric Doden was head of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, but a longing for home (and an ultimatum from his wife) led him back to Fort Wayne. Now, as chief executive officer of Greater Fort Wayne Inc. Eric Doden is the city’s cheerleader in chief. His job is to sell this area (and, increasingly, all of Northeast Indiana) as a great place to start a new business or relocate a current business. Find out his game plan as we play 20 Questions.
1. Fort Wayne has been on a roll recently. How do you expand on the momentum?
The Regional Cities initiative has given us the pathways to expand. It engages the private sector. But we’re in a fight for capital investment. This gives people a reason to invest in our region. Our first goal is (visiting) 500 companies a year for the next 10 years. It’s a very aggressive goal and is something (for which) we can be held accountable.
2. How will you define success?
Success is generally a process. You have to have a plan. Success is often about the little things you do along the way, not just the big wins. Our second goal is to visit 300 businesses in the county, to meet their needs and facilitate growth by bringing in mentors and equity so they can grow faster. Third goal is the continued transformation of downtown, specifically the downtown arena, the riverfront promenade and Columbia Street (redevelopment) are three things that need to start in 2016.
3. So is a downtown arena possible?
Absolutely, from our perspective. What businesses want to see when they expand or relocate is a community that believes in its future. By doing these projects, we’re demonstrating that not only are we proud of who we are today but (that) we also believe in the future of our region and our community. When companies see that level of energy, it’s something that gets them excited about investing in a community that’s investing in itself.
4. You’re a high-energy guy. To what do you attribute that?
(I’m) just wired in a certain way. I just have a lot of passion for our community and perseverance. My favorite word in the English language is “grit.” Grit is passion plus perseverance.
5. How is promoting Fort Wayne different from promoting Indiana?
In Indiana you’re just trying to get people from around the country to consider Indiana broadly, and with Fort Wayne, it’s more specifically a product. What we’re selling is this product called Fort Wayne and this region called Northeast Indiana, and our region is pretty compelling. There’s a lot to like about this product, and that’s what we are going to enjoy selling.
6. How do we differentiate Fort Wayne from the rest of the country?
Part of this is we have to get other people to talk about us. It’s very difficult in today’s media environment to sell yourself alone. One of the things starting to get a lot of attention nationally is the concept of regionalism.
7. What are the chances we’ll get some of that Regional Cities Initiative money?
We have to own our own future. While we want to win the $42 million from the state, whether we win or lose that money, we still do have the resources to execute that plan. You’re talking about $1.4 billion in projects. The $42 million has the benefit of being an accelerator for the project. If we don’t win, we can prove to the state of Indiana it made a bad choice. And the way you do that is by executing your plan rigorously.
8. What experience and contacts from Indianapolis will help you here?
Being in Indy you get to see things from a global perspective. You develop relationships with people who can mentor and coach you. Also, you know how to partner better with the state. The state really does want all of us to succeed and if we can partner with them better, we can both win.
9. What did you miss about Fort Wayne while you were in Indianapolis?
My family. Maci and our four kids lived in Fort Wayne and after two and a half years of that, Momma said it’s time for you to come home! I am a huge fan of Gov. Mike Pence both personally and professionally, and it was hard to leave such a dynamic team that had a lot of momentum, but at the same time there’s higher callings in life and one of those is family.
10. What do you miss about Indianapolis?
I miss the team at the IEDC. They became not just colleagues but also friends.
11. What drives your entrepreneurial personality?
What drove me when I was younger was fear of boredom. Now what drives me is the possibility for people to have better, higher-paying jobs – if you can’t get passionate about that, what can you get passionate about?
12. What are you hearing from Greater Fort Wayne investors?
General Motors’ commitment to this region with their (expansion) project has been a big boost. Tim Ash’s commitment with Ash Brokerage to downtown is a big, big thing. There’s just such a sense of excitement and momentum in our business community and our climate here, and we just have to leverage that excitement and keep it going.
13. You ran for mayor in 2011. Are you still interested in political office?
I’ve often said it’s better to be appointed than elected. I take life as it comes. I felt called to run for mayor in 2010. I’d have to feel called to do it again. No matter what, I hope to be a contributor to my community in my own way.
14. You visited every county in Indiana. What’s the best thing you ate?
We make some awfully good pies in Indiana! I had to really work hard not to gain weight!
15. What’s your best leadership advice?
Sometimes in leadership we get so focused on results we forget that there’s a component of leadership that requires care and concern.
16. What’s the worst advice you ever got?
Usually it starts with “You can’t.” Generally when someone tells me you can’t do something, (my response is) I can and let’s go do it.
17. What one book should everyone in Fort Wayne read?
“The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” by Patrick Lencioni.
18. What can’t you live without?
Relationships, specifically with my wife Maci. And my dear friends who challenge me and encourage me to grow. Those are priceless.
19. What are your weaknesses?
I have a very low patience threshold. Life can’t go fast enough for me.
20. So what are your strengths?
I do believe we can accomplish more than most people believe that we can.
First appeared in the October 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.