Check back often for the latest news regarding Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana.

  • 06 Jun 2016 9:29 PM | Kara Hackett

    Visit any major city, and you’re sure to find a shopping district with the traditional mass-market retailers.

    Macys. H&M. Forever 21.

    Colorful window displays bring city streets to life and mark the area as a place with enough pull to attract big business.

    There was a time when Fort Wayne had a similar feeling with department stores like Wolf & Dessauer stretching several floors of buildings downtown.

    Even now, it’s easy to look back on those days as the golden years of city life before suburban sprawl relocated shops outside the city center.

    “Retail follows rooftops,” said Sharon Feasel, Fort Wayne’s Development Finance Administrator.

    But unlike some, Feasel isn’t looking to recreate the romanticized downtown of yesteryear, or even emulate bigger cities with the same stores that crowd Glenbrook Square.

    Instead, she sees downtown Fort Wayne as a different kind of shopping experience—one that focuses on unique, one-of-a-kind goods.

    It got me thinking that maybe I need to reassess what an urban shopping district looks like in our region.

    As downtown Fort Wayne develops, I naturally expected it to follow the patterns of bigger cities with large chain stores, and there is some merit to those models. Having a few mass retailers downtown might bring a regular base of mall shoppers to the area.

    But it turns out, retail is evolving worldwide, and our region is one of several areas developing a modern approach for the new age.

    Just ask Jack Ellsworth, general manager of City Exchange shops in downtown Fort Wayne.

    “People will start to notice that many of their favorite big box stores will begin to have more ‘negative space’ and less product at their locations,” Ellsworth said.

    With the rise of online shopping, retailers with big stores are struggling to stay relevant, downsizing stock, and directing customers to their websites instead.

    To help smaller, more nimble retailers break into the new market, City Exchange shops offers a model for what Ellsworth calls “the future of retail.”

    It’s an indoor mini-mall with more than a dozen incubator spaces that retailers can rent as stepping-stones between booths and storefronts.

    “It’s a place for companies that might do the bulk of their business online, but want a small, local presence,” Feasel said.

    And if the concept seems foreign in Fort Wayne, it is.

    Ellsworth said the idea for City Exchange came from similar malls in places like Portland, Oregon; Nashville, Tennessee; Washington DC, and parts of Europe.

    But despite a prime location next to JK O'Donnells on Wayne Street, the concept is still slow to catch on around town.

    “People don’t really think of shopping downtown,” Ellsworth said. “It's not in their routine or their vocabulary yet.”

    And while some of that will just take time, maybe part of the reason we don’t think of shopping downtown yet is because we’re waiting for it to become something it’s not.

    It’s not the beginnings of a traditional big city shopping experience or even a return to it’s own past.

    It’s redeveloping into something entirely new, and it’s going to take a changed mentality to see it for what it is—unique and one-of-a-kind.

    As you’re walking to events and restaurants this summer, allow some extra time to experience downtown shopping like you’ve never seen it before.

    Visit The City Exchange shops website

    Downtown Fort Wayne shopping directory

    HereSay, in partnership with YLNI, is a bi-weekly blog about our say on what’s happening here. It is written by YLNI member Kara Hackett, and the opinions are her own. Photo by Matt Thomas.

  • 27 May 2016 7:00 AM | Joel Crandall

    It’s that time of year again, when YLNI gathers to reflect on our annual accomplishments and looks forward to embarking on a new year.  Let’s celebrate our success! 

    The YLNI General Membership meeting is a great opportunity to engage with other young professionals and community leaders.  This event is open to all, not just YLNI members. 

    Our keynote speaker is Tim Ash, CEO of Ash Brokerage, a respected community advocate and leader. 

    We hope you will be able to join us for our annual event!  Please RSVP to, by June 16 if you can attend. 

    Read more:

  • 23 May 2016 10:12 PM | Kara Hackett

    One of my friends was talking about getting over an ex-boyfriend when she said something profound.

    She said, hate is not the opposite of love because love and hate are both passionate, powerful things. They show that you still care about something.

    Instead, the actual opposite of love is apathy because that shows that you don’t care enough to get upset about it.

    It struck me as the type of obvious breakthrough that we all sort of know deep down, but never really think about. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized how it applies to our region, as much as any romance.

    When we talk about talent retention, or more specifically, convincing high school and college students to come back to Northeast Indiana after graduation, we tend to get disappointed when we hear them say they “hate” their hometown or complain that there’s nothing to do here.

    I was a writer for the Journal Gazette for awhile, and a local high school teacher asked me to speak to his class about the city and downtown development.

    One topic that kept coming up was how much these students couldn’t wait to move, and there was a real vengeance there.

    They said it was boring here. They didn’t know much about downtown developments. And they thought most of the city’s attractions were for people 21 and older, or children much younger than them.

    It’s a valid point of view. There’s always the notion that your hometown isn’t cool, and there’s something better out there. Somewhere. Anywhere else.

    A whole slew of reasons students choose to leave Northeast Indiana are listed in last Sunday’s Journal Gazette

    But even though cities in this region are small and “essentially nonexistent to outsiders,” maybe the hate—or more accurately frustration—some students (and residents) feel about where they live isn’t a doomsday sign for retaining talent in the region. Maybe it’s reason to believe that people care enough to get upset about it, and we can channel all of that negative energy into something positive.

    Groups like the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s Millennial 2020 are already starting to do it.

    Sonya Snellenberger, YLNI member and Millennial 2020 specialist, said the Regional Partnership isn’t telling students they should never leave town.

    “We quit fighting that mentality, and started to redefine what retaining talent looks like for this age group,” she said.

    Their strategy involves telling students it’s OK to leave home because that’s what helps you grow and enrich your experiences. But when you’re ready to build something or start a new venture, Northeast Indiana is ready to help.

    One of the benefits to living in a smaller city like Fort Wayne as opposed to New York, Chicago, or LA is that everything isn’t already decided for you.

    There are gaps here that you can fill with more opportunities to make an impact, and if you have a good idea, then what you start will break the barrier of “nonexistence” anyway.

    We can talk about the Midwest brain drain and the lack of opportunities here all we want. Or we can rise up and do something about it, and when you rise up in a small town, you make a mark.

    The trick is getting people who are discontent with the region to see it that way.

    As a junior at Snider High School, Kaleb McCague thinks a little “pushing” is what it takes.

    McCague said most of his classmates had negative opinions of Fort Wayne until he started actively encouraging them learn about the community and get involved.

    “I see potential here, and I want to help it and put my effort and input into it,” McCague said.

    And he’s not alone. Actually, he’s one of 20 members of the Mayor’s Youth Engagement Council (MYEC) in Fort Wayne—which is one of three similar youth councils in the region.

    The MYEC is a group of high school students selected every school year to develop personal leadership skills, learn about their city, and boost community engagement among their peers.

    They also spend time with Snellenberger’s Millennial Leaders Alliance to get involved with community development, so they see ways they can make a difference here and experience what it’s like firsthand.

    For the past three years, the MYEC has put on the Riverpalooza Festival in Headwaters Park, and this year, the event is back with the 2nd Annual Fort Wayne Dragon Boat Races, food trucks, vendors, live music and more on June 25.

    It’s one way you can see what a few kids, a big idea and community support can do in this region, and it’s already starting to help students see their hometown in a new light.

    Hope Steele, a senior at Canterbury High School and a 2nd-year member of the MYEC, said she knew last year’s festival was a success when more than 2,500 people showed up, and she saw her friends who never come downtown posting about it on social media.

    MYEC leader Karen Richards also sees success in the number of graduates want to come back and help.

    “That tells me the interest is really there,” Richards said.

    If you think about it, interest of any kind shows that people care, and projects like riverfront development could help students see our region as a place where things happen—a place where they can personally make a difference.

    Where there’s hate, there’s hope.

    About Riverpalooza
    An all-ages festival featuring the 2nd Annual Fort Wayne Dragon Boat Races, starting at 8 a.m. at Headwaters Park. Colorful, 21-person Chinese dragon boats will race a 300-meter course on the St. Marys River. Team registration to race is open until June 13. Visit for more information.

    HereSay, in partnership with YLNI, is a bi-weekly blog about our say on what’s happening here. It is written by YLNI member Kara Hackett, and the opinions are her own. Photo by Matt Thomas.

  • 12 May 2016 9:10 PM | Joel Crandall

    Are you ready to make an immediate, meaningful impact on your community and grow as a leader?  Then don't miss out on this opportunity to be part of Leadership Fort Wayne's Class of 2017

    For 33 years, Leadership Fort Wayne has trained over 1,200 community leaders to embrace our community through civic engagement. The goal of this eight month program is to train, prepare and inspire individuals to positively impact the community through civic engagement.

    Applications are now being accepted.  Interested applicants should go to for more information about the upcoming class including how to apply.  If you’re ready to go behind the headlines of our community’s biggest stories, think creatively and act collaboratively, then apply today!  Applications are due June 30th, no late applications will be accepted.

    2016-2017 Program Dates:
    • Orientation/Retreat: October 20 & 21, 2016
    • November 10, 2016
    • December 8, 2016
    • January 19, 2017
    • February 16, 2017
    • March 16, 2017
    • April 13, 2017
    • May 11, 2017
    • Class of 2017 Graduation: TBD 
    Please note: All program days begin at 8 am and conclude by 5 pm

    For More Information:

  • 09 May 2016 11:04 PM | Kara Hackett

    Before food trucks lined the streets for Lunch on the Plaza in downtown Fort Wayne, 19-year-old Bo Gonzalez started a hot dog cart in front of what is now the Ash Skyline Plaza.

    “The first day we sold nothing except a few to my mom’s friends,” Gonzalez said. “The first year should have made me pack up and call it quits.”

    But with community support and the help of a few good mentors, Gonzalez stuck it out that rough first day and first year. Now, on May 25, he’ll celebrate five years as the owner of the Bravas hot dog cart, which became the Bravas food truck, and eventually the Bravas burger joint at 3412 Fairfield Ave.

    Today, at age 24, Gonzalez might attribute his success to his business mentor Brendon Maxwell of Utopian Coffee. He might tell you it was his own “pure ignorance” to just go for it, or his competitive spirit. But if you listen closely, there’s something else in the equation.

    “I’m always thinking: How can I make this better?” Gonzalez said. “I have this weird desire to make things better.”

    And it’s that “weird desire” for continual improvement that sets entrepreneurs apart. While some people accept life as it comes to them, others naturally—or intentionally— choose to see how they can keep growing, keep improving, and keep making the world a better place.

    Author and researcher Adam Grant calls these individuals “originals.” And in his book, Originals: How Nonconformists Move the World, he explains how Gonzalez’s “weird desire to make things better” is something that all of us can learn from and learn to adapt.

    “When we marvel at the original individuals who fuel creativity and drive change in the world, we tend to assume they’re cut from a different cloth,” Grant writes.

    But he goes on to explain, “we can all become more original” by taking action to make our ideas a reality, and if you think about it, the same concept applies to our region.

    Northeast Indiana might not be nationally known as a creative, entrepreneurial hub just yet. We don’t have the status of Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; or Silicon Valley. But there are things we can all do to make this region more original. It starts with fostering an environment that supports the desire to make things better. And it takes action to make them happen.

    That’s what the nonprofit Start Fort Wayne is all about.

    Dave Sanders, 41, launched the organization about a year ago as a casual group on Facebook to encourage community involvement. Before long, a team rallied around the idea, developing a nonprofit to advance our region by supporting entrepreneurs. In January they acquired a new co-working space downtown called The Atrium—putting them at the center of local entrepreneurial activity.

    Along with providing communal space for independent workers to set up shop, Sanders wants The Atrium to host events and help inspire a culture of entrepreneurship in Northeast Indiana for years to come.

    It’s more than a co-work space,” Sanders said. “It’s more like a community center for entrepreneurship, even though I don’t like calling it that. It’s the place where the community is, and it’s a place to start and grow from—to help entrepreneurs acquire space downtown and start a cluster.”

    The “cluster effect” of entrepreneurs is phenomenon Forbes writer Tom Post explored in 2014. According to his research, the most hospitable cities for small business don’t necessarily have the best blend of economic advantages, and they aren’t necessarily where big businesses are rooted. Instead, they have the most community engagement and access to resources—two factors Sanders hopes to boost in our region.

    “Turns out that small businesses tend to attract other small businesses, creating their own, distinct ecosystems,” Post wrote. 

    That’s the idea behind Start Fort Wayne, and it’s a critical concept in Indiana where the conditions for start-ups seem to be lacking a key ingredient.

    Despite Indiana’s seemingly good conditions for startups, including the low cost of living and getting a business off the ground, our state ranks 44 out of 50 for startup activity nationwide, according to research from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. 

    That’s where Sanders thinks our region has the opportunity to make a difference.

    By building a community that encourages entrepreneurs and supports bold ventures like a hot dog cart downtown Fort Wayne, we can attract startups that will make this region ripe for entrepreneurship—and more original.

    Resources for Entrepreneurs

    Start Fort Wayne:

    The Atrium:

    Vertical Leap:

    1 Million Cups:

    Living Fort Wayne Entrepreneur Spotlight:

    Northeast Indiana Innovation Center:

    Business Administration in Entrepreneurial Studies at Indiana Tech:

    The Paul Clarke Nonprofit Resource Center at the Allen County Public Library:

    HereSay, in partnership with YLNI, is a bi-weekly blog about our say on what’s happening here. It is written by YLNI member Kara Hackett, and the opinions are her own. Photo by Matt Thomas.

  • 05 May 2016 9:37 AM | Joel Crandall

    Join us for May's Hot Spot at Mad Anthony Brewing on Thursday, May 19!

    Know what made Anthony Wayne so mad?  His fort ran out of lager.  Shortly thereafter, 200 years or so, Mad Anthony Brewing opened in Indiana to make sure that no one would ever get the nickname "Mad" again!  Chat, network, and grab some Scooby Snacks at this month's Hot Spot!

    What is a YLNI Hot Spot? This monthly social networking event gives you the unique opportunity to connect with young professionals in a low-key, relaxed atmosphere.

    If you've recently moved to Northeast Indiana or looking to meet new people, Hot Spots are a great way to become acquainted with young professionals just like you. 

    If you have any questions about YLNI or Hot Spots, please contact  We look forward to seeing you on May 19!

    RSVP on Facebook here:
    Address: 2002 Broadway, Fort Wayne, IN 46802

  • 03 May 2016 7:00 AM | Joel Crandall

    Today is Primary Election Day in Indiana!  Don’t forget to make your voice heard in the ballot box.

    YLNI supports and encourages you to vote YES to the Repair FWCS Referendum Phase 2.  Despite the language on the ballot, this WILL NOT increase our taxes. It will simply replace costs for previous school renovation and upgrades!

  • 25 Apr 2016 10:16 PM | Kara Hackett

    I was reading a book about Steve Jobs the other day and how he had a knack for “focused intentionality.”

    The book was written by Tom and David Kelley. David worked with Jobs on the original Apple mouse, and he said the late Apple CEO’s obsessive devotion to quality is part of what fueled the company’s success.

    One time, Jobs called David in the middle of the night to talk about what a screw inside of one of his devices should look like.

    “Jeez, Steve, it’s on the inside of the box,” David said.

    But Jobs knew it was there, and it bothered him.

    I admired that about Jobs. He understood that quality isn’t surface-deep. Sometimes it’s the things on the inside that affect the things we see, like how cheap screws might cause the box to crack.

    Strangely enough, the same rules apply to our education system.

    If you’ve read the newspaper or watched the news lately, you’ve probably heard about the Fort Wayne Community Schools Phase 2 referendum.

    Basically, FWCS is asking for nearly $130 million to make maintenance improvements at 42 schools, including 10 major renovations, 16 air-conditioning installments, two window replacements and four roof replacements.

    Heather Krebs, the district's coordinator of program controls, told the media these improvements would mean higher air quality, more security and better energy-efficiency. As a bonus, the changes won’t cost taxpayers more than we’re already paying because other expenses are being paid off at the same time.

    So all we have to do is vote “yes” on May 3.

    Simple. Boring. Forgettable.

    If you’re a single young adult like me, it might get brushed off as another thing to do that doesn’t really affect you.

    That’s where Steve Jobs comes in.

    The real reason to be passionate about the FWCS referendum goes beyond basic maintenance or an act of charity. It’s a decision to invest some “focused intentionality” in the critical nuts and bolts of a school system that holds our entire community together.

    When it comes to making decisions about schools, we tend to pay attention to things the public eye can see, like test scores, school rankings and teacher performance evaluations—the shiny, plastic veneer on the outside of the box.

    But not investing in basic student and teacher experiences directly impacts these outcomes.

    According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the physical environment of schools plays a “major role in academic performance.” 

    That means simple things like low quality air, bad lighting, poor ventilation and basic old-building issues can limit students’ full potential in the classroom—and increase the likelihood of teacher turnover.

    In fact, a survey among teachers in Chicago and Washington, D.C. showed that nearly 80 percent of respondents said school conditions were an important factor in their teaching. And nearly half of those who rated their schools’ quality as a “C” or below said they would consider leaving, usually due to poor indoor air quality.

    There’s an entire theory about these issues called the Sick Building Syndrome, which makes the case that a building’s maintenance directly affects the health and happiness of its occupants.

    And if you think about the chain of events, ultimately, sick schools infect entire communities.

    The health of public schools impacts housing prices, where people want to live and where they invest their resources in the first place. So it’s something we shouldn’t be thrifty about.

    We all have to make a stand about when to spend our tax dollars and when to save them. But the same rule applies here that makes Apple products worth the price.

    When it comes to quality, you get what you paid for.

    HereSay, in partnership with YLNI, is a bi-weekly blog about our say on what’s happening here. It is written by YLNI member Kara Hackett, and the opinions are her own. Photo by Matt Thomas.

  • 25 Apr 2016 7:00 AM | Joel Crandall

    On May 3, 2016, Allen County voters will have an opportunity to help Fort Wayne Community Schools take the next step in ensuring several buildings are safe, healthy learning environments.

    These improvements will provide better light, better quality of air, and better energy efficiency – all things that will improve our kids' ability to concentrate and perform. They can be healthier, more attentive, and more focused.

    Before voting day, educate yourself on the Fort Wayne Community Schools Repair Phase 2 plan here:

  • 24 Apr 2016 11:12 PM | Kara Hackett

    YLNI Communications Note: This is a new blog feature on and in our newsletter, called HereSay. One of the great things about having a YLNI membership is it comes with the ability to have a voice in the issues that matter, not only to young professionals, but to our community in general. This blog, written by YLNI member Kara Hackett, will hopefully facilitate conversation and motivate our members and readers to be even more involved in the community. Please enjoy, and if you have feedback please feel free to send it to the HereSay address at the end of this post or to

    When I moved back to Northeast Indiana after college, I wanted to get involved in the local community, but I didn’t know where to start.

    I heard about Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana (YLNI) through friends, and I knew they hosted events around town. So I thought I might attend something to see what it was about or at least meet some new people.

    But time always seemed to get away from me. There were always more pressing things to do, and the vague intention of community involvement sort of slipped by the wayside.

    That’s the way it usually works when you aren’t in the inner circle.

    You get the news in headlines, and it doesn’t always mean much to you.

    Skylines are rising. Decisions are being made. Riverfront development ebbs and flows.

    It’s all exciting enough to make you lean in. But you don’t feel like you have a say in it.

    This blog is designed to change that.

    It’s about breaking down the barriers between inner circles and our community—YLNI and people who might be interested in knowing more about what’s happening here so they can support or change it.

    There are a lot of interesting stories and ideas in our region—things we should discuss or at least recognize. And as a new member of YLNI, I’ve learned that this group can give us the direct access to make a difference.

    In meetings and surveys, we can share our opinions about everything from political issues to what types of entertainment we want to see in downtown development, and we can have a real say in regional discussions.

    So HereSay is a blog about our say on what’s happening here.

    It’s not necessarily news. It’s more like why the news matters to us, and it’s written from my perspective as one voice in a group of many.

    I’ll be writing to you bi-weekly about anything of interest to Northeast Indiana’s 20s and 30s crowd on, and my articles will also appear in YLNI’s newsletter. If you have ideas about topics I should cover, you can send those to me at

    As far as opinions go, mine don’t speak for the entire group. And they might not represent what you think either. But that’s OK.

    It’s not about telling you to agree with me. It’s more about opening the door to new conversations and discovering our own thoughts in the process.

    Because if we all had stronger feelings about what’s happening here, we might be more inclined to get involved.
    HereSay, in partnership with YLNI, is a bi-weekly blog about our say on what’s happening here. It is written by YLNI member Kara Hackett, and the opinions are her own. Photo by Matt

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