It’s rare these days that housing isn’t a major headline in national and local news. There are affordability issues caused by supply chain disruptions, labor shortages, regulation and many other challenges, which means that creating solutions requires creative and focused collaboration.
This focused collaboration took place on a project in the heart of the country – the electrical works.
In 2020, the first phase of a $286 million electrical work project began in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where do it better It was founded in 1945 to serve traders of wood and building materials in the surrounding Trieste region.
While Do It Best was not the first or even the largest employer in this market, keeping the company in town has been the catalyst for today’s electrical business venture.
More than 65 years before Do It Best entered Fort Wayne, General Electric began manufacturing there, growing to 25,000 employees, roughly a third of Fort Wayne’s working population and creating a sprawling manufacturing campus. Eventually, General Electric decommissioned its buildings and nearly all employees had disappeared by 2009, leaving a large gap to fill the city.
The Electrical Works Project It went into effect when Do It Best, Indiana’s largest private company, according to Elaine Cutter, chief economic development officer at Biggest Fort Waynewas looking for a different space.
As one of the largest distributors of construction products in the country, Do It Best’s original location is located on both major state railways and highways, which has been convenient for distribution and has served as a very advantageous place for many years.
“Currently, our office, which has been converted from our original 1947-built warehouse, is surrounded by railroad tracks and industrial buildings,” said Dan Starr, CEO of Do It Best. “For corporate headquarters – where we do not actively do any distribution or warehousing – it is no longer an ideal location, as departments and work groups are often isolated from one another.”
In addition, Do It Best is becoming more and more a tech company, and with this transformation, it has had to shift the focus to attracting talent. Having a better facility was an important part of recruiting the right people.
“Fort Wayne has been home to it since our founding in 1945,” Starr said. “Our roots are here. We have an exceptional team in Fort Wayne, and we didn’t want to disrupt that dynamic or culture that we worked so hard to nurture and grow. But we knew that attracting and retaining the next generation of Do it Best team members would require a different approach.”
Starting Electrical Business
Do It Best has considered eight different markets as the locations for its new international headquarters, which coincided with distribution centers, said John Urbanes who is president and CEO of Greater Fort Wayne. So, Fort Wayne had to be strategic about setting up incentives to keep the old partner, hoping to turn it into an unmissable opportunity, which is how the Electric Works venture has developed.
“We have taken an approach to having a high quality of life and a low cost of living, and we have focused on projects in which the private sector is investing,” Urbans said. “We have focused on maintaining diversity with the economic base that supports Fort Wayne. There is aerospace and defense, manufacturing with GE, and a lot of growth in e-commerce logistics.”
The one thing these companies have in common is the need to attract technological talent. Fort Wayne’s $100 million investment in Electric Works and riverfront development represents its commitment to being an attractive option that provides a high quality of life with quality jobs.
After several significant investments in city improvements, such as a new baseball park, improved walkability, and improved public infrastructure, the city has begun to attract private investors. Additionally, as Cutter pointed out, the city was able to attract the largest state redevelopment tax credit in history for an electrical work project. Because of this reinvestment, Fort Wayne has experienced six consecutive years of positive local immigration, making it the fastest growing region in the Great Lakes region.
“We wanted a space that would attract current and future team members and that would support our collaborative work environment,” Star said of the company’s search for the right location for its headquarters. “There wasn’t a lot of choice in Fort Wayne to accommodate what we wanted to achieve – even electrical work. It met many of the requirements we set for the transition.”
Starr sees the move to Electric Works as an opportunity to attract and retain the best talent.
“I meet each of our new team members one-on-one, and always Electric Works comes as a reason to consider us an employer,” he said. “The response from our current team and candidates has been very positive. The electrical work has given us insight into groups of candidates that we wouldn’t have come across today. The interest and interest they have gained is really exciting.”
Do It Best is set to move into its new 200,000-square-foot space from its 700,000-square-foot Phase One project in October. It wouldn’t be a typical move, because the organization was much more involved than the average tenant.
Larry Wigan, CEO of Construction Weigand, a minority part of the development team. “They took a leap of faith to be the prime tenant. We reviewed the specifications early on with Do It Best to put as many of their products as core and shell. They were competitive, had a good supply chain and a good ability to stick to timelines and schedules.”
Cody Michaud, senior project manager at Weigand, said Electric Works was able to leverage Do It Best’s global purchasing power on large timber purchases, reducing risks during peak lumber price volatility. The construction site was set up to be able to store pre-purchased lumber, also allowing the project to stand out in front of the lumber price escalation.
“We also worked with different departments at Do It Best and their hardware locations and they set up an office on the project,” Michaud said. “We came up with a list of commonly used materials and stocked them on site, so we had the materials on hand when needed — from nails to tape to reinforced viscose. Plus, we got a discount on their rates, along with reduced driving time while we supported the primary tenant instead of crates. The big one.”
Starr said Do It Best was a perfect fit to be part of the redevelopment project, noting that the site’s tool bed also provided the construction team with hand and power tools, work equipment, paint and other hardware supplies that kept the project going. .
This fortunate relationship did not make the project completely immune to supply chain issues, unfortunately. But, Weigand’s team prepared for that by leveraging relationships and bringing in partners early in the design process to secure resources. The relationship and community-based approach allowed them to source the labor needed for a crew of 400, as well as pre-purchase approximately $7 million of equipment, including roof insulation, HVAC, and elevators, which was ready for on-site installation.
Another challenge was that the project was a history preservation project, and with century-old buildings, anything could be routine. With each part of the project, Weigand’s team had to prepare and send a mockup of the mortar to the city’s conservation office, along with other, more extensive approvals for each activity.
Weigand was actually able to replicate the wood forms in some buildings built in 1917 that had no plywood or modern forms.
“We have a strong reverence for maintaining the historical integrity of what happened on the old GE campus as we bring that history into our new space,” Starr said. “Our offices will highlight a time of American manufacturing ingenuity, not cover it up.”
The process certainly wasn’t stuck in the past. Weigand used BIM in a two-year pre-construction process to understand what was behind each wall, making highly detailed investigations of the site along with exploratory demolition. This technology-centric process facilitated the compilation of the details of the bidding package for the partners, which was then extended into an illustrated journal of all upcoming materials and which is constantly updated in the recognition programme.
Attracting talent as an affordable place to live
according to Housing Market Potential Study for 2021 by Zimmerman / Volk Associates, the population of Fort Wayne in 2021 was 265,615 and is expected to grow by 3% in the next five years. The report places the median household income in Fort Wayne at $53,300, which is significantly lower (about 27% lower) than the US Census Bureau report with a national median of $67,521.
More than 13% of all Fort Wayne housing has been built since 2000, and nearly 70% of all residences are single-family detached. In order to maintain affordability, Urbahns says the city is in the middle of a conversation about zoning.
“The affordability gap in Fort Wayne is growing and we have to make sure that we maintain a good stock of affordable housing,” he said. Therefore, we are in the process of updating the policies related to housing. We have to work on purpose to stay within reach.”
The housing market potential study also identified those moving to Fort Wayne as individuals who want more walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods downtown and in the city, noting that singles and younger couples account for 42% of the new home market. New homebuyers have higher mobility, a strong preference for renting, and also an interest in the comfort and social amenities of walkable urban neighborhoods.
The second phase of the electrical works project will include 297 housing units directly linked to this type of demand.
“Fort Wayne has a lot to offer in terms of the cost of doing business, but also in terms of quality of life,” Starr said. “We couldn’t be happier calling it a Fort Wayne home. Plus, given its affordable cost of living and great hospitality, it made staying here the right choice. Fortunately for all of us, Fort Wayne truly is a great place to live, work and play.”
future of cooperation
“Moving gives us the opportunity to start over and build for the future,” Starr said. “We have been in our current location for more than 75 years. In the past five years, technology has changed dramatically, not to mention the past 75. The electrical business gives us the opportunity to reset and make sure we have the right technology to support our growth now and into the future.”
Do It Best is confident that the new space will enhance its member responsiveness, ability to collaborate and effectiveness in supporting the continued success of members.
Personally, I’m excited to see a positive address for housing – Do It Best provides thousands of builders across the country trying to offer more housing to meet current demand. Not only does keeping their spot in Fort Wayne demonstrate a great collaboration, but it also demonstrates a creative way to keep the focus on affordability.