OUR LEADERSHIP, if that is the right word, has committed tens of millions in cash transfers, tax breaks and bonded loans to making Fort Wayne more attractive to young urban professionals. Yuppies we used to call them.
It seems to me we have spent little on anything else these last few decades. We have luxury apartments with indoor parking attached to a sports stadium, a river walk, a splash pad, outdoor theaters, boutique hotels, a state-of-the-art convention center and city blocks full of richly appointed bars and cute little shops — all of it built with artificial subsidies or incentives of one sort or another. Finally, we have established TIF districts to capture tax revenue from previous, less magical developments.
We came to be enthralled by the vision of pop economists such as Richard Florida, author if “Cities and the Creative Class.” They advised that highly educated Yuppies would bring wealth and notoriety to what otherwise would be just another drab, workaday Midwest city. Milton Friedman doesn’t know anything, they said. You don’t have to wait for market forces to do their work.
Moreover, we were told that the best of the young men and women who would fill our executive suites require impressive cultural and entertainment venues. So we have an art museum, curated by the most avant-garde of the most avant-garde; a couple of renovated music halls, both of them historic; a national-class ballet troupe, a racially diverse philharmonic orchestra and a school-lunch formula that conforms to the Biden administration’s transgender guidelines. Finally, we have a fine example of Soviet-era girder sculpture.
Our leaders are proud of all this, and rightly so for the concerted effort alone. But there was a darker thought, something not said out loud. Was it too much to hope that an influx of hip young adults might bring about a reset, a replacement, a better class of electorate, a citizenry more appreciative than the grumbling mass of unstylish, ungrateful louts with whom City Hall has had to deal heretofore?
Whatever, we have built it and we are ready for them to come.
So where are they?
We know the answer thanks to a new demographic mapping tool. It uses federal tax data linked to recent decennial censuses, plus American Community Survey data and address information from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The analysis covers children born between 1984 and 1992, measuring their childhood locations at age 16 and young adult locations at age 26, and It all is put together in an easy-to-use web site, migrationpatterns.org.
The average young adults migrating to my city are from . . . drum roll please . . . whence they’ve always been from. The average of those moving to Fort Wayne came from less than 66 miles away.
Please recall that our county boundaries are historically set so that citizens can make a round trip to the county seat in less than a day’s buggy ride. That means after all those tens of millions of dollars we are now drawing from only 46 miles farther out, thanks not to municipal branding but to the internal combustion engine.
We can break it down further to learn from where the young adults are coming that can afford the advanced degrees that Richard Florida has told us are essential for our prosperity. These would be from families whose parents are earning in the top 20 percent.
Again, the great majority of them, 76 percent, come from nowhere. They are already here — born, bred and settled. The thought occurs that maybe these are the young persons that the leadership should be working to “attract” by supporting or at lest staying out of the way of the businesses already here — you know, so they could employ more creative young adults. Balance that knowing that regardless of the millions spent in their name, 32 percent of this prized group leaves Fort Wayne anyway.
Where my city is making headway is in the influx of young adults of families earning the lowest 20 percent. This is a migratory group not included in Richard Florida’s demographic ideal. A large number of one subset of this group, 28 percent, comes from outside Indiana entirely, mainly from southern California and southern Texas.
Much the same is true of Indianapolis, a city using the same “Creative Class” strategy. It loses 36 percent of its young adults from families in the top 20 percent. And 9 percent of its in-migration is from that same subset from southern California and southern Texas. Another group accounting for 7.8 percent of the subset comes from Chicago and New York City. Fully 41 percent of these poorer young adults coming to Indy is from outside Indiana.
Those figures give a different meaning to that “replacement” theory. It is true that these young adults, poorer and from more distant points, may defy Richard Florida’s predictions and turn out to be as creative as prescribed. It is unlikely, though, that they are being attracted by our subsidized high-end venues and amenities. And we can only hope that they stick around long enough for their children and grandchildren to help pay for the subsequently higher taxes and lower bond ratings. — tcl