Electric Works anchor tenant Do it Best says the project is already boosting talent attraction

When the journey to transform Fort Wayne’s vacant General Electric campus into a mixed-use cultural district called Electric Works began, a big piece of the puzzle was finding an anchor tenant.

About one year ago in February 2020, the largest privately held company in Indiana claimed that role.

Do it Best is a member-owned hardware, lumber, and building materials cooperative that began in downtown Fort Wayne in 1945 and has since relocated to a warehouse-style office near New Haven.

Over the years, the company has grown into a global corporation, doing business in 50 other countries and operating eight distribution centers and regional lumbar offices across the U.S. Its Fort Wayne-based national headquarters has grown to about 450 team members, and they're needing more space.

Members of the Do it Best in their current office space near New Haven.

To keep up with market demand and attract top talent, Do it Best claimed approximately 200,000-square-feet of space on multiple floors of Building 26 in the future Electric Works West Campus. This move will allow them to create an additional 90 jobs in Fort Wayne and give them an extra 20,000-square-feet to grow.

While renderings of the future office and the entire Electric Works campus are still in the works, leaders at Do it Best say their forthcoming HQ is already grabbing the attention of talent.

Input Fort Wayne sat down with Do it Best employees Dent Johnson, Vice President of Merchandising, and Celeste Stevens, Human Resources Manager, to learn more about the company and their future at Electric Works.

IFW: How does it feel to be the anchor tenant of the future Electric Works campus? Dent Johnson

DJ: First and foremost, we are excited the deal closed. It’s been a news story the past several months and years, but we see it as a huge opportunity for us, being the state’s largest privately held company. We also like the connection that we’re in the home improvement industry, and now, we’re a direct partner in this revitalization project. In that sense, this new space means more to us than just moving into a new headquarters. We’re taking something that has had a long legacy in our community, and we’re becoming a part of its fabric.

What’s interesting, too, is that when we made the announcement that we were locating at Electric Works almost a year ago, many employees came to us, and said, “Hey, my grandma worked at General Electric,” or “My parents met there.” Our staff has a lot of connections to the campus, so we’re looking forward to extending that legacy.

IFW: How did you decide on Electric Works, in particular?

DJ: We didn’t decide to move overnight. We knew we needed a new office space to collaborate more effectively, and we were looking at what we needed going forward to attract and retain top talent in our industry.

When we were first talking about Electric Works, there was a perception in the community that we were going to have all these big semi trucks driving downtown to a Do it Best warehouse and shipping products. But what the public might not realize about us is that we currently have about 450 folks who work in our corporate headquarters and most of the work we do there is actually technical and professional work.

Over the next several years, we’re looking to grow in those areas of marketing, IT, and merchandising. We have almost no warehouse business in the Fort Wayne area—even though we are still technically located in an old warehouse. So in Fort Wayne, we were looking for a mixed-use space to collaborate and attract professional talent, and that’s what piqued our interest in Electric Works. Then, when we talked with the Electric Works team, we found out that their vision coincided very much with our own in terms of needs. It was an ideal solution, but we had some time to find it, and the biggest difficulty on their end was finding a large tenant willing to wait a year or two for a new space. So it just worked out.

It makes for a great story, too, because our company started in downtown Fort Wayne in 1945, and now, in a sense, we’re heading back downtown.

Electric Works will be a mixed-use cultural district with a variety of offices, businesses, dining options, and living spaces.

IFW: Tell us more about your current space. How much of a change is the new office going to be for your team?

DJ: Our offices are currently off 930 near New Haven because this was our first warehouse. We moved into this building when we left downtown in 1947, and we initially built a small office into it. Once we started building distribution centers around the country, our headquarters became more of professional office space. As our team continued to grow, we just kept expanding our office. Now, this place is largely still a warehouse with offices in it, so we have a lot of extra space with big walls and huge voids between our teams. My team in merchandising is currently sitting in four different large rooms.

That will be totally different in our new space. We’ll be able to get all of our teams into one space with more opportunities for collaboration. We’ll also have vastly improved technology and ways to de-silo the organization without walls to divide us.

Those are some of the big things we’re excited for. Since a lot of the work we’re doing in our Fort Wayne office is more creative work, we feel that having a space attuned to collaboration and innovation is going to be a huge benefit to our teams. We’ll be around a lot of other exciting businesses and organizations on the Electric Works campus, too, so we’re looking forward to the collaborations that are born out of those connections.

IFW: Has the decision to locate at Electric Works impacted your talent attraction and retention efforts yet? Celeste Stevens

CS: When I moved to Fort Wayne and started recruiting for Do it Best in 2011, people would share that we were the best-kept secret in Fort Wayne.

At first, that was nice to hear. Then, as we started growing and evolving to meet the market demand, it became clear that we needed to be more recognizable to jobseekers, as well. We want jobseekers to know: We really are an employer of choice. We provide great opportunities for people to do value-adding, purpose-driven work with other people who are great to work with, so with the combination of all those things, locating at Electric Works has been able to feature everything we have to offer in a way that’s very exciting to talent.

Candidates started referencing the Electric Works project as soon as we announced our tenancy there. They were excited to work at a location like that.

That was months ago, and it continues to drive interest, so in terms of talent attraction, it’s already serving us well. Like Dent said, our existing team feels a strong connection to the Electric Works campus, too. It’s a big move for us, and we’re looking forward to having a front-row seat to being a part of the transition.

DJ: Hopefully, a few years from now, we won’t be the best-kept secret in Fort Wayne anymore. Our full intent is to let people know who we are, and what type of career they can have at Do it Best.

This story was reviewed by Do it Best before publishing.

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Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.