Persist and Persevere

Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must be driven into practice with courageous patience.
-Hyman Rickover

Economic development can be slow and incremental. When significant things happen, they can be perceived as quick leaps forward, when in actuality they may be the result of years of persistence and patience. Headlines often only report on the outcome, while there is often a long, rich story behind each success.

The economic developer often sits between those who wish to preserve the status quo and those who seek a wholly different path to progress. So often, the role is to take the best ideas from both and gain ground (and revenue) where possible. Sometimes that means taking the gain of a single block and not the entire neighborhood, or a single parcel instead of an entire business park. Sometimes it means forgoing an immediate opportunity for one that is much larger in the future.

Again, progress can be slow and incremental, but leadership accelerates progress through vision and the acquisition of assets that contribute to success. Where leaders work together, progress can be multiplied many times over.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team will travel to Los Angeles for meetings with companies and consultants and to Dallas for Consultant Connect. Back at home, we’ll attend the Columbus Chamber Annual Meeting 2016.
  • Next week, an inside look at Central Ohio’s major development projects will be given at Columbus Business First’s Power Breakfast. Click here for details.

Jobs Drive Growth and Competitiveness

When I was growing up, my parents used to say to me: “Finish your dinner—people in China are starving.” I, by contrast, find myself wanting to say to my daughters: “Finish your homework—people in China and India are starving for your job.”
-Thomas L. Friedman, author and New York Times foreign affairs columnist

There is always a lot of debate about how to measure economic success. What is the right stake in the ground for your community and what will your economic development organization strive toward? Some would argue that jobs and investment are the sole measures, while others promote the growth of specific industry clusters, tax revenues, entrepreneurial startups or patent filings. All of these are legitimate measures.

The Columbus 2020 Regional Growth Strategy uses three key indicators: Net new job growth, capital invested in the economic base, and per capita income growth. Of those indicators, net job growth is the driving factor. With more jobs, there is more capital invested. And with accelerated job growth, wages tend to grow. The Columbus Region is a good example of this – since 2010, the area has added 113,000 net new jobs, over $7 billion has been invested by economic base companies, and Columbus now leads the nation in wage growth.

Jobs should not be the only measure of healthy growth in a local, regional, state or national economy. However, there is no measure of opportunity that is more clear than the growth of full time jobs that offer health care benefits. Your citizens and civic leaders may not know if patent filings are up or down, but they will certainly know if the job market is good for their family and their neighbors.

The job market is hot in many cities today, especially for skilled, experienced workers. While the pressure to grow jobs is certainly not eliminated, it is far less intense than it was in 2009. In fact, in many communities the dialogue has shifted toward finding enough qualified workers. Things have changed and it may be time to have a dialogue about your goals, but be careful.

While it seems simple, retaining net job growth as a factor forces your community to address its competitiveness in all things – education, energy costs and sustainability, taxes and quality infrastructure. The pursuit of job growth compels your community to be more competitive in every way, even if you are pursuing very specific clusters. Other measures supplement and reinforce this, but often are too narrow to move the needle.

We are interested in your thoughts on this subject. Please comment below or reach out to any member of our team to let us know what you think.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Congratulations to third-party logistics provider Kenco Group and IT company Ventech Solutions, who have announced plans to expand in Groveport and Columbus, respectively. Combined, these companies will add 138 new jobs and invest nearly $3 million.
  • Next week, the Columbus 2020 team will travel to Los Angeles to meet with companies and consultants.

Creative Force

What is honored in a country will be cultivated there.

The quote above is the central idea of a book I’m reading called the The Geography of Genius. It is a fascinating look at both culture and economics, and the forces that shape the places where genius and creativity thrive.

I am writing this from New Orleans, one of America’s most creative cities. Arts of all kinds are woven into the everyday culture here, and not separated from everyday life. Business leaders touch and feel creativity every day as a part of their routine. Is that an advantage?

The Columbus Region’s arts community launched Columbus Makes Art, which highlights the people who create art in Columbus. Artists share their stories of inspiration, challenges, passion, and incredible successes — and they all agree there’s no place they’d rather make their art.

Are we cultivating creative spaces that allow for different thinking and approaches to planning and economic development? Are we cultivating creative people, and exposing arts and entrepreneurial models to kids, businesses and governments each day? Are we inviting facilitators into our everyday processes that will force us to adapt and think differently about transportation, workforce training and marketing?

Seek a creative nook in your community. Visit an incubator, a makerspace or your local arts district. Hang out, look around, and be inspired.

-Kenny McDonald

First Impressions

A basic tenet of economic development is that businesses have their choice of location. Another tenet is that the little things matter. While the cost of doing business, talent and tax base, and energy costs are critical, e–v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g is important.

Seemingly small things like the entrance to your community might be a big deal to some making a decision about whether to do business in your area. For both fantastic small communities where entry is typically via vehicle and international business centers where the primary point of entry is by air, this is worth thoughtful examination.

What business leaders see when they enter your community is important. So, first, the basics. Is it clean? Is the grass cut? Do visitors see fresh paint and clean restrooms? Are you showing that you care about the quality of the community?

I get excited when I drive into a small town with fresh flowers and a nice welcome sign along the roadway. I am also impressed upon landing at an airport with signs in multiple languages and advanced technology. As Andy Levine recently described in Forbes, “you can think of an airport as a community’s front door.”

Major financial centers like New York, London, Dubai and Hong Kong announce immediately that they are global centers of commerce. High-tech cities announce their penchant for innovation through the available broadband and by showcasing local innovations. College towns announce their unique talent base and special arts amenities through local art. Small towns all across America announce that they are vibrant and open.

All of these things immediately tell the customer of your area’s values and aspirations. Next time you enter your community, ask yourself if it aligns with the brand you are trying to portray. If not, it’s time to get to work.

NOTE: Port Columbus is undergoing an $80 million renovation and will officially open its doors this spring. We are excited about the physical upgrades, and even more excited about the message that it will send to business visitors and local companies.

-Kenny McDonald

Sources of Optimism

The year is starting off in interesting fashion. $1.1 trillion was lost by the S&P 500 in a rough start for Wall Street, and the Chinese market halted twice to avoid a meltdown. The December jobs report shows that job growth is strong, but wage growth and general labor participation remain weak.

Times like these can scare the average citizen invested in the economy through 401(k)s and college funds. They should also frighten the holders of the economic status quo, and give pundits the opportunity to draw plenty of doomsday scenarios.

In disruptive times like these, I find that two types of people are especially interesting to speak with: entrepreneurs and mayors. I had the opportunity to meet with several new mayors last week. Instead of being overwhelmed, I become excited about the prospect of helping them tackle the problems they face in their neighborhoods and economies. I also spoke with several business leaders and small business entrepreneurs. They are excited in much the same way. They are excited to compete, even if it can be brutal some days, and to take advantage of the volatility – not run from it.

Entrepreneurs and mayors share a lot of common ground. They are inherently optimistic, they rightly feel that they are the last line of defense, and they consider themselves especially accountable for the people who look to them for leadership and paychecks. They are also resilient and practical. They have to get things done.

As these leaders are starting the year, pick up the phone or write a letter to the editor to let them know that they aren’t alone. Let them know you want them to act and succeed, and let them know how you can help.

-Kenny McDonald

Back to the Basics

It all comes back to the basics. Serve customers the best-tasting food at a good value in a clean, comfortable restaurant, and they’ll keep coming back.
-Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s, one of the Columbus Region’s 15 Fortune 1000 headquarters

This first note of the year is aimed at and for economic developers, although it may also apply to the many allies who invest in economic development organizations. Here are a few priorities to consider in 2016:

First, give back. Perhaps you can point to one or more individuals who lifted you up some time ago. Economic development is a wonderful profession and offers so many diverse career options. Share your story with students and young professionals and provide them with opportunities.

Second, focus on learning more about our economy and the communities within it. Really examine it with new eyes. Cut through the political and economic punditry and ask the tough questions about competitiveness and conditions for economic growth. What is driving jobs and investment to and from your community? How are socioeconomic changes and challenges likely to impact the community, region, state? What one event could singlehandedly turn your world upside down?

Third, focus on the fundamentals and test whether your services and programs are matching opportunities and challenges. Are they best in class? What is falling through the cracks? What could you improve with simple effort and focus?

Finally, celebrate and invest in success. We all know that there is no “goal line” in economic development, so celebrate expansions as well as new locations, celebrate programmatic progress, and celebrate the individual and organizational success of economic developers. Invest in those areas where you are strong and could get even better. Invest in the people and organizations that make progress possible.

2016 will likely be a wild ride. Saddle up!

-Kenny McDonald

Our First Economic Developer

There are seasons in every country when noise and impudence pass current for worth; and in popular commotions especially, the clamors of interested and factious men are often mistaken for patriotism.
-Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton, one of our country’s founding fathers and the founder of our economic system, should also be considered the nation’s first economic developer. Trained as a merchant in the Caribbean, Hamilton recognized the need for a national financial system. He understood that a sustainable tax base was necessary to fund the government, and that investment in infrastructure and talent was needed to fuel economic expansion in a fledgling country.

The principles Hamilton adhered to are still instructive 225 years later. His Report on Manufactures outlined an global economic strategy that is still relevant in today’s information- and technology-driven economy.

First, capital must be available to entrepreneurs and expanding enterprises. Second, we must create and attract talented people through education, training, and immigration (the know-how for manufacturing resided in Europe at that time). Finally, there should be economic incentives that encourage the purchase of new equipment and the hiring of talent to accelerate innovation. While economic incentives are often seen as a modern creation, our country adopted them from the beginning as a necessary and healthy part of the system.

As is often the case, we must look to the past for understanding and lessons learned in uncertain times. Hamilton’s enduring legacy can be drawn upon and also improved, but it must be considered by civic leaders that are examining how to stimulate their own economic development.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Columbus 2020 was honored as a first place winner for the Columbus Region website at the annual Competitiveness Conference & Site Selection Forum held by the Mid-America Economic Development Council. Thank you to our partners who contribute content to make the website the trusted source of information about the Columbus Region economy.
  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team is hosting companies considering the Columbus Region.

Of Course

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
-Eleanor Roosevelt

Last Friday, over 450 people heard great presentations from thought leaders at Economic Development 411. Speakers focused on manufacturing competitiveness, maximizing infrastructure investment, using technology to increase your value proposition, and staking your claim through courageous community marketing. The audience was full of elected leaders, business leaders, civic leaders and full-time economic developers.

Here are a few things I took away from the half day session:

  • Data available to us is often very clear, but our interpretation of it is often muddled by internal politics and the inertia of the status quo.
  • We have enormous capacity to achieve goals and to overcome the challenges in our way. Technology and collaboration are powerful tools in this fight.
  • There is overwhelming evidence that says that when we align public, private and academic leaders and leverage our resources, we can achieve nearly any objective.

These are great lessons, and they prompt me to say “of course.”

Of course we should strive to be more prepared to aid manufacturers innovate and compete. Of course we should maximize the infrastructure we have, and both invest in and finance infrastructure very differently in the future. Of course we should employ the latest technologies to serve our citizens and accelerate business and the economic development of our communities. Of course we should include citizens in the process of economic development, and invest them in their future. Of course we should boldly stake our community’s claim, and help our businesses and institutions stake theirs.

If we do so, good things will happen in the short term, and that which is thought impossible will be achieved in the long-term.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

Location, Location, Location

Location matters. Have you ever passed by a gas station because it was on the wrong side of the road, or made a decision about whether to eat at a restaurant based on its available parking? Have you passed by a closed down factory and wondered why it closed? The location of a business, whether a large operation or local storefront, can have dramatic and profound impact on its success.

Location is critical to business operations that depend on talent. In today’s labor market, where skilled people can be selective about where they work, it is important to be in a location that allows your company to retain and attract talent.

For transportation-sensitive logistics and manufacturing operations, the location of your business is important for the same reason, but even more complex as there are big differences between utility districts and transportation capabilities.

It is also critical to understand how different countries, states and local governments tax operations.

Finding the right location for your business – small or large, local or global – makes a critical difference the success of businesses. Location decisions should not be taken lightly or emotionally, which is important for communities to understand. Are you providing the services, transportation infrastructure, technology, and business environment that mitigates your natural weaknesses and enhances your strengths?

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Economic Development 411 is this Friday. In its fourth year, ED411 brings together economic development professionals, civic leaders and business leaders to learn about building a stronger economy. This year’s program includes four industry experts providing insights about the future of manufacturing, infrastructure, technology for local governments, and marketing your community to win. Register here, and use this toolkit to share information about ED411 with your network.
  • Next week, the Columbus 2020 team will head to Chicago for MAEDC’s 2015 Mid-America Competitiveness Conference and Site Selector Forum and Orlando for Area Development’s Consultants Forum. We’ll also travel to California to meet with companies and consultants.

Prepared Communities Win

The will to win is not nearly so important as the will to prepare to win.
-Vince Lombardi

Prepared communities are not made overnight. They take years of work and collaboration by public, private and academic entities.

Together, big things happen. There’s proof of that in the Columbus Region, which has become a leading global region by leveraging its assets and competing for business. That kind of success is not possible without communities that work together and are constantly learning about what it takes to be competitive.

On December 4, the fourth annual Economic Development 411, hosted by the Mid-Ohio Development Exchange and Columbus 2020, will bring together economic development professionals, civic leaders and business leaders to learn about building a stronger economy. This half-day session will provide insights about the future of manufacturing, infrastructure, technology for local governments, and marketing your community to win:

DavisMarketing: Andrew Davis, author, Town Inc.
Town Inc. unpacks the link between building a booming business and growing a prosperous town. The secret, according to Davis, is to market your town just as passionately as you market your own business.


HaislerTechnology: Dustin Haisler, Chief Innovation Officer, e.Republic
Dustin Haisler works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, academia and nonprofits on innovation and engagement strategies. As the finance director and CIO for Manor, TX, Haisler quickly built a track record and reputation as an early innovator in civic tech. Haisler pioneered government use of commercial technologies not before used in the public sector.

PalterInfrastructure: Robert Palter, Director, McKinsey & Company
Robert Palter leads the global Infrastructure Practice at McKinsey & Company, and specializes in helping clients identify infrastructure investment opportunities and manage infrastructure assets.


RaehlManufacturing Competitiveness: Sarah Raehl, Senior Manager, Deloitte Consulting 
Sarah Raehl advises companies on their facility and location strategy decisions. She helps businesses to determine where to locate operations on a global scale to enable access to new markets, cost cutting and increased availability of talent.

I hope to see you next Friday.

-Kenny McDonald