How can Fort Wayne retain talent? Four ex-residents fill us in on their careers—and their advice

Job opportunities, recreational amenities, and a low cost of living are some of the reasons why Fort Wayne is a great place to start your career after college. For these reasons and more, Fort Wayne has functioned as a launchpad of sorts for many Millennials and Gen Xer’s alike. 

Input Fort Wayne sat down with some expatriates who have settled all over the country and are making their mark on the world through various efforts. Here’s a look at how a few sons and daughters of the Summit City are contributing to the vibrancy of their current cities—and their advice to us back home.

Andy Welfle

Andy Welfle, San Francisco, Calif.


IFW: Where did you grow up?

AW: I was born and raised in Fort Wayne.

IFW: When and why did you leave the Fort Wayne area?

AW: I left Fort Wayne in 2014, after 32 years of living there. I got a job at a large tech company in San Francisco, in the career niche I wanted to pursue.

IFW: What have you been up to since you left?

AW: I've since left the company that I moved to San Francisco to work for, and now I'm at a different company, managing a team and building a practice. I also wrote a book related to this career path, and I've traveled a bit, conducting workshops at conferences in the same field.

IFW: What is one of your current projects Fort Wayne people should know about?

AW: I co-wrote a book! It's called "Writing is Designing," and it's about how writing interface copy is integral to the practice of UX design. It will be published by Rosenfeld Media, hopefully in January 2020.

IFW: When was the last time you were in Fort Wayne?

AW: I come back about twice a year—for a week in the summer and over Christmas. My family is there, as is my wife's family.

IFW: How can Fort Wayne evolve more to retain talent like yourself?

AW: UX writing and content strategy jobs are few and far between in Fort Wayne. I'd have to have lucrative options in that field.

Better politics: Indiana would need to be a reliably blue state.

A denser urban environment, with good public transit options.

Dawn Kennedy

Dawn Kennedy, Indianapolis, Ind. 


IFW: Where did you grow up?

DK: Fort Wayne

IFW: When and why did you leave the Fort Wayne area?

DK: We left Fort Wayne in August of 2016. I wanted to grow myself as a compensation professional and increase my earning potential. An added benefit was the increased amount of opportunities for my husband, who does skilled labor as a machinist.

IFW: What have you been up to since you left?

DK: I spent my first three years working for the state’s largest hospital system, IU Health, on the Compensation Team. I recently started at Rolls-Royce North America as part of their Rewards team. 

IPW: What is one of your current projects Fort Wayne people should know about?

DK: I have not had many projects outside of work. I have spent a lot of the last couple of years caring for my parents while my dad underwent two liver transplants in Indianapolis at IU Health. 

IPW: When was the last time you were in Fort Wayne? What have you heard about it since you left?

DK: I was last in Fort Wayne a month ago to visit family and friends. My friends took us to Promenade Park, which I think is really great for the city. I loved seeing people from all walks of life gathering in one space. Also, wine in the park is pretty great! My friends often talk about the growth of amenities like restaurants, but when I ask about available jobs/earning potential, the story has not changed much. 

IFW: How can Fort Wayne evolve more to retain talent like yourself?

DK: The concerns my husband and I have discussed when talking about returning to Fort Wayne are job availability and earning potential. Yes, we can find work in Fort Wayne and the cost of living is low, but I have nearly doubled my income and found more complex learning opportunities in Indianapolis. 

Also, I’ve been able to meet professionals from all over the world to learn from and grow me as a professional. I did not and would not have the same access in Fort Wayne. I believe Fort Wayne needs larger, more complex organizations that offer the challenging, high-paying jobs available in larger cities. I love Fort Wayne and miss it often, but it is difficult to consider returning with all the doors that have opened to me outside the city.

Eric Stine

Eric Stine, New York, NY


IFW: Where did you grow up?

ES: I grew up in Fort Wayne. We lived all over the city during different periods, but my formative younger years I lived on the South Side, first off Oxford Street, then over near South Lafayette and Pettit. During my teenage years, we lived way out in Grabill.

IFW: When and why did you leave the Fort Wayne area?

ES: I left Fort Wayne in 2007 for a job in Indianapolis at Lodge Design.

IFW: What have you been up to since you left?

ES: I lived in Indianapolis for 12 years, working at Lodge Design as Art Director for all of that time. I have delved into a number of creative business ventures involving books, which was fun and helped me discover that I’m no good leading a business–haha! I prefer to be behind the scenes just making all the awesome happen. 

I constantly stay busy making things, so to try to list things would be impossible(!!!), but for a while I was doing a lot of screenprinting, which eventually led me to the bookmaking.

Around 2010, I did illustrations for the packaging of the Hasbro toy "Bop-It," which I think got a few seconds of screen time on the “The Ellen Show” a few years back and was in wide circulation for a few years. I’ve been a part of a number of independent film productions – including one documentary, featuring myself: “Good Monsters."

Also when I was at Lodge, I got a chance to design a logo for the city of Indianapolis–the Visit Indy logo. That, in itself, was a pretty high-profile thing, but then the Visit Indy crew turned the logo into an amazing interactive public sculpture that I’m sure most people have seen if they’ve been through the downtown or airport, or probably their friends Instagram feed. That was really cool to have a hand in something that so many people have experienced.

In January 2018, I moved to New York City, and for the first year, I fought to make it, freelancing and barely getting by. But now I currently work at Google for a division of YouTube called FameBit.

IFW: What is one of your current projects Fort Wayne people should know about?

ES: In November, I’ll be part of a small film production where I believe I’ll be doing some acting, as well as production design, so maybe watch out for that. I don’t know of a title or anything yet.

IFW: When was the last time you were in Fort Wayne? What have you heard about it since you left?

ES: I was just in Fort Wayne on October 18, 2019, for just a hot minute. I come back somewhat regularly because my mother is still here. It’s been really great to see various art-related things begin to take hold. I love love love seeing all the murals and public art experiences that have popped up over the last few years. For a while coming back to Fort Wayne to visit didn’t feel that exciting other than seeing old friends and family, but now it’s one of the things I look forward to when I visit is to check out what new art has popped up around town.

IFW: How can Fort Wayne evolve more to retain talent like yourself?

ES: This is a hard question. The way the world is connected today, you can live in Fort Wayne and still be exposed to the world. With the cost of living in FW, it makes it accessible to experience other destinations and bring that inspiration back home. So for one simple answer–an affordable non-stop flight to and from NYC daily would be greatly needed. :) And something like that could help bring more magic of the larger world to Fort Wayne.

Also – marijuana legalization... C’mon Indiana. I’m serious.

Higher salaries are definitely a thing, but honestly, economics feels a bit of a wash because the cost of living is so low, and quality is pretty high. But if professionals in my field can start seeing regular salaries in the $80,000 to $100,000 range, that can make a difference, whether you really wanna leave or not.

Exposure to the things happening in the larger world is huge. Continuing to raise the bar and push yourself to compete with others in a larger playing field, actively and deliberately exposing yourself to things that might not normally be in your local every day. The more that people in Fort Wayne realize that they are just as talented as anyone in New York or Paris or Tokyo, I think that can go a long way to building the collective confidence and pride that you don’t need to go outside to get the respect you crave, but you can pridefully invest in your city for the long term and instead bring Tokyo and Paris to Fort Wayne. 

Artists need more affordable art studios. Creative people, in general, need more places they can communally come together and share ideas and inspiration. Did I say that artists need more art studios?

I think Fort Wayne needs to continue to look outside for inspiration as far as how medium-sized cities can maximize their support and offerings to develop a motivated creative population–but at the same time really lean into embracing the uniqueness and quirkiness that makes it special. Which, again, mostly leads back to the people. Continue to push for diversity and fight to make sure everyone who wants to participate in the upward swing of Fort Wayne is able to fully do so. 

Zach Klein

Zach Klein, San Francisco, Calif. 


IFW: Where did you grow up?

ZK: Aboite. I was a member of the first sixth grade class at Summit Middle School and then graduated from Bishop Luers High School.

IFW: When and why did you leave the Fort Wayne area?

ZK: I moved away from Fort Wayne to attend Wake Forest University. After graduating, I started up a company with friends, and it was necessary at the time to be in a big city close to venture capital. We chose New York. It’s great that so much has changed since then: seed funds exist in virtually every city now, and it’s possible to start up anywhere.

IFW: What have you been up to since you left?

ZK: I co-founded Vimeo, made a book about cabins, and founded DIY.org to help any kid anywhere learn any skill.

IFW: What is one of your current projects Fort Wayne people should know about?

ZK: DIY.org–help my mission by introducing DIY.org to a kid in your life.

IFW: When was the last time you were in Fort Wayne? What have you heard about it since you left?

ZK: Last year. My dad and siblings live in Fort Wayne, and I visit them with my kids as much as possible. I keep up with Fort Wayne regularly, check the local news at least once a week. When I lived there, I was interested in the revitalization of downtown. It’s exciting to see it finally happening. Promenade Park looks amazing!

IFW: How can Fort Wayne evolve more to retain talent like yourself?

ZK: In larger cities, housing is becoming inaccessibly expensive to many people seeking their first home. Fort Wayne has an advantage to retain professionals who prioritize homeownership with its charming and affordable housing so close to downtown. Improving accessibility to these neighborhoods with sidewalks, trails, lighting, and public transportation, as well as reviving the commercial strips that run through them, could quickly create dense walkable neighborhoods. Highly-social and car-free neighborhoods are what makes living in a city so great. Fort Wayne has everything it needs to make these kinds of places.

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
Signup for Email Alerts