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Impact Stories

Aug 13 2023

Grow Allen: Building a Collaborative Path to Student Success and Economic Prosperity in Northeast Indiana


group of 5 people at a meeting around a conference table to discuss early education and Grow Allen

Early childhood stakeholders share ideas about how Grow Allen can help their efforts to achieve high-quality early learning in Allen County. (L to R) Ron Turpin, Mitch Sheppard, Ruthie Hall, Allie Sutherland, Sherry Grate.


Through Grow Allen, Area Leaders Are Working Together To Create a Clear Roadmap Toward Student Success

Fort Wayne was recently named the fastest-growing metro area in the Great Lakes region. Despite this accolade, challenges facing Northeast Indiana call for aggressive action to address three chronic hurdles our region recognizes: Income levels, slow population growth, and reduced educational attainment.

Northeast Indiana Strategic Development Commission (NEISDC) is charged with legislative mandates to put Northeast Indiana on track to increase population, educational and credential attainment, and per capita personal income.

On May 2, 2023, the Indiana Legislature voted to approve NEISDC’s funding request for $30 million, directed at the next two years. The Commission, chaired by Ron Turpin, Ambassador Enterprises’ Sr. VP of Civic Engagement, is laser-focused on enhancing communication, fostering cooperation, and promoting collaboration to capitalize on untapped potential in our region, leveraging existing strengths for greater impact.

  • “We must become a talent-focused community creating stronger systems for attaining learning goals. Of the three big challenges we face, growing talent underpins everything.”

    Ron Turpin

    Sr. VP of Civic Engagement

“A unique aspect of the NEISDC request is that the funds must be used as a catalyst for collaboration, not for bricks and mortar,” says Turpin. “We must become a talent-focused community creating stronger systems for attaining learning goals. Of the three big challenges we face, growing talent underpins everything. And, if we fully leverage resources within our community, we will recognize that the talent we need is in our backyard—our children. We need to help them succeed.”

To enhance career path development, late in 2022, Turpin convened with Tom Kelley, CEO Kelley Automotive, and other key stakeholders to develop student attainment strategies in a Career Engagement Discussion. Superintendents from Allen County’s four school corporations, representatives from career and technical training areas, early learning, and business leadership, are working together to create a clear roadmap toward student success. This initiative is tentatively called “Grow Allen.”

11 business and education leaders standing side-by-side in a technical training space at Ivy Tech Community College in Fort Wayne, Indiana

Business and education leaders tour Ivy Tech Community College to better understand career technical training. (L to R) Shenita Bolton, Ron Turpin, Kim Barnett-Johnson, Heidi Fowler , Debbie Pitzer, Kyle Bischoff, Park Ginder, Susan Brown, Dawn BonAmi, Eric Allmon, Marilyn Hissong.

A Labor Market-Valued Degree or Credential is Key

The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) reports that the 2022 high school graduation rate was 86.61%. Yet, the lack of a college degree or marketable credential has shut workers out of their desired professions and the financial security accompanying them. Only 42.2% of residents aged 25-64 in Northeast Indiana have a labor market-valued degree or credential. Any shift in the workforce to the advantage of workers with degrees or credentials carries positive implications for Allen County’s economic mobility and population growth.

The Success of Grow Allen is in Relationships and Collaboration

Allen County has great educational systems. Are we missing opportunities for students to earn and complete meaningful degrees or earn credentials?

Gensyn Design, a Fort Wayne-based human-centered design firm, is facilitating collaborative discussions using design thinking methods to listen to educators and the obstacles they face. This approach considers current learning systems and ensures voices are heard. Building this base of understanding fosters a sustainable outcome with a shared, aligned purpose and a common Grow Allen vision.

Sherry Grate, Ambassador Enterprises’ Sr. VP of Community Impact and contributor to the Career Engagement Discussion says, “I’m excited to contribute to Grow Allen as an education professional. Building strong relationships and fostering effective collaboration among stakeholders is critical for achieving goals and ensuring a lasting impact. This opportunity is a natural strategic partnership for AE, a relationship-building organization.”

Ultimately, the benefits and challenges of a fast-growing metro area depend on how growth is managed, coupled with a commitment to developing sustainable talent. Grow Allen’s oversight will help maximize the benefits of the NEISDC goals, ensuring efforts lead to a prosperous and vibrant Allen County.

As Grow Allen continues to evolve, please make yourself available to this initiative.

A Vision For a Better Life

Ambassador Enterprises supports Grow Allen and applauds a strategic and collaborative approach. Ambassador’s for-income and for-impact investments are established with relationships at the core. Fostering trust and uniting values drives effective partnerships, sustainable returns, and better outcomes and lives.

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