Local Leadership

It is never very crowded at the front.
-Creighton Abrams

Economic development is a team sport and, like any team activity, it needs leaders. Each year, public and private leaders are asked to serve on their local economic development boards, advisory councils and task forces to improve local strategies. To those who serve, we admire your leadership and your willingness to assist in this important effort. I feel confident in speaking on behalf of many in the profession when I say we look forward to partnering with you to strengthen the economy and create opportunity. Here are a few general principles to remember:

Your economic development team needs your encouragement. Economic development is a rapidly expanding profession that requires technical knowledge, political awareness and stubborn persistence. Your local economic developers work hard at both the science and art of the craft, so please support their professional development efforts. They are on the front lines of economic development and are competing for business on your community’s behalf every day, so equip them for success.

Your economic development team has its finger on the pulse of the economy, but they could use your perspective and your network. Communities work best when they leverage who they know and their collective networks. Provide economic developers access to your contacts so they can gain further perspective.

Your economic development team needs to be resourced and staffed to compete. For your team to stay active within the marketplace, they need both financial and human capital to act and be successful. It is equally important that resources are available year after year in order to have long-term impact. Help your economic development team build a sustainable funding model that allows them to fully function.

Growing an economy is a competitive process that requires focus and tireless attention. Economic development is a game of inches, and even the largest projects are often won by the slightest of margins. Economic developers are often on the frontline of the battle, and we need the perspective of others to help us serve the businesses and people involved in the process of growing an economy.

Working together, we can make a tremendous difference in our communities and our country.

-Kenny McDonald

Are you an economic development ally with a perspective to share? Add your comments below.

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus Region is welcoming thousands of college students as they move in for the 2015-2016 academic year. These students are a critical component of our region’s workforce, and events like The Ohio State University’s First-Year Columbus Welcome are a great way to introduce students to the leisure and professional opportunities available.
  • The next Columbus 2020 Investor Update will be held on September 22 and celebrate the economic progress being made in the Columbus Region. Columbus 2020 investors are invited to join our team and leadership from companies that have located and expanded in the Columbus Region over the last five years. Click here to RSVP.
  • Planning is underway for the fourth annual Economic Development 411, a half-day economic development training summit. Be sure to save the date for this year’s event, Friday, December 4.

Making a Difference

The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.
-Sydney J. Harris

I’ve taken a few weeks off from this blog this summer to recharge and reflect on the last five years. I’m more energized about the Columbus Region and the profession of economic development than ever before. I am also more convinced than ever that having visionary community leaders, a straightforward plan, a well-resourced team and bold goals can cause great things to happen.

Doubt remains about the future of the overall economy, even in the midst of unprecedented job growth, the attraction of capital investment and a rise in wages. However, there is also more faith that we can overcome the ups and downs of global economy by taking action, breaking old models and collaborating. There are more windows and mirrors today than there were five years ago.

I’m excited that our region is in a much better position to act and react to opportunities. Around the country, economic development is being revolutionized by the ability to collect, aggregate and understand data. This is leading to a better understanding of what drives local and state economies, and a more effective use of resources.

Challenges remain. We’ve all had to be reminded that job growth and consumer confidence — and not just low interest rates — are critical to initiating and sustaining the economy. We are also learning that job growth by itself does not lead to opportunity for everyone. More has to be done to lift all of the boats in the harbor, to lift families out of cyclical poverty and to create a workforce that will fuel businesses’ insatiable appetite for talent.

There is no better time than now to face these challenges and to act upon the opportunities we have in front of us.

The next six months will be exciting for Columbus 2020. The Columbus Region will execute four international missions and dozens more around the country. We will meet with hundreds of local companies and conduct research on a number of emerging industries in the Region. We will work with our state and local partners to prepare our communities for growth and investment and will continue to create a platform so we can understand our challenges and opportunities. Above all, we will listen to our public and private partners so that the Columbus 2020 Regional Growth Strategy can be improved.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

Drivers of Growth

Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours.
-Richard Bach

Last week’s votes in Washington, D.C. regarding trade promotion authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership led to complicated analysis, with some calling it a defeat for President Obama, and the White House saying it was a step toward success. Either way, it brings up important questions about how we will seek growth and engage in a world economy being remade.

The Columbus Region’s work with the Brookings Institution over the past three years has given us a great perspective on how competitive Central Ohio is for attracting investment from abroad, and also on how competitive our companies are in entering markets around the world. The world’s middle class is largely in foreign markets, and it is critical that we assist more directly than ever before to compete for business around the world. To do so, we must do things differently, and adjust our programming to ensure that our companies are as prepared as their foreign competitors.

Two articles on the subject are informative and reinforce what we have learned by working through a process to develop our trade and investment strategy in the Columbus Region. The first is a blog post by EY’s Global Chairman Mark Weinberger, which offers an interesting look at some of our nation’s biggest issues. The second article is by former U.S. Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers. Both offer strong opinions that you may or may not agree with, but it is hard to argue that paralysis is a sustainable position. Decisions must be made in order to signal progress and to build confidence in markets around the world.

Finally, it is easy to point to Washington, D.C. at times like this, but it is equally important to ask the hard questions about our own strategies at a local and state level. What lessons can we apply to our own communities? What issues are we pushing off to the next generation? Are we paralyzed around issues in our own community that are limiting growth and success?

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Congratulations to Columbus, named the 2015 Intelligent Community of the Year! Columbus was selected by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) after a year-long evaluation that included a quantitative analysis of extensive data, site inspections by ICF, and votes from an international jury of experts. We are proud to see Columbus recognized as the top community in the world when evaluated against ICF’s Intelligent Community Indicators, which include broadband connectivity, knowledge workforce, innovation, digital inclusion, marketing and advocacy. ICF praised Columbus for the presence of organizations like Rev1 Ventures, the cultural revitalization of the East Franklinton neighborhood, initiatives to make higher education more accessible for low income residents, and for its regional approach to economic development.
  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team will host companies considering the Columbus Region. We’ll also travel to Texas to meet with companies and consultants.
  • The Columbus Region May 2015 Economic Update has been released. The reports shows more than 150 active projects in the pipeline, led by the manufacturing and business services sectors.

Who’s Making You Better?

Competition is not only the basis of protection to the consumer, but is the incentive to progress.
-Herbert Hoover

Last week we welcomed a few hundred economic development leaders from the Midwest and beyond, to join us for the inaugural TrustBelt Conference here in Columbus. In preparation for the event, I took a few hours to examine the other economic development organizations in the 10-state area. From Omaha to Buffalo, from Grand Rapids to Louisville, the good work being done across the Midwest and the entire country is impressive.

It is equally motivating. Economic development is a competitive pursuit and, in part, it’s the competitive nature of cities, regions and states that helps propel the American economy forward. It seems that every area is trying to find the edge — trying to determine how to work with universities and colleges to commercialize research, how to create a vibrant city center, how to leverage economic clusters, and how to grow foreign trade and investment.

Who do you look to as your competitive set? Who are you comparing yourself to and measuring yourself against? What are they doing that you are not doing well, or at all? Where do you have an advantage? When was the last time you checked out your competitors’ websites, visited their locations, or gave them a call?

What edge can you gain not by chasing your competition, but by learning from them?

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team will travel to Madison for IEDC’s 2015 Economic Future Forum and Toronto for the Intelligent Community Forum Summit. We’ll also be in Texas to meet with companies and consultants.
  • Back at home, our team will attend the Greater Columbus Chinese Chamber of Commerce’s seminar on the Chinese Supply Chain. Click here to learn more and to register.

Where the New Midwest Begins

The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.
-Winston Churchill

This week we welcome the first annual TrustBelt Conference to the Columbus Region, where the new Midwest begins. Just five years ago it may have seemed audacious to hold a conference celebrating the economic success of the Midwest and Ohio, but now it is entirely appropriate. The Midwest’s success has taken leadership from state and local elected leaders, large and small business leadership, and a lot of hard work by all. This map of unemployment rates shows just how well we’re doing:


While the work is not complete and unemployment rates are not the ultimate indicator of success, there is much to celebrate. Last week, right here in the Columbus Region, Amazon announced projects in three different Central Ohio communities and committed to additional investment that will help them serve their customers. They will join thousands of businesses who are betting on our region and the Midwest.

More technology companies and manufacturers, more entrepreneurs, more artists and machinists, and more students are on their way here, and we welcome them all. They will find vibrant cities, great neighborhoods, world-class healthcare and creative enclaves. They won’t find economic bubbles, hyper-inflated housing prices or egos, or a lagging economy.

As we’ve said before, we have more opportunities than limitations. Let’s keep it up, and stay hungry and humble.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the 40th Memorial Tournament kicks off at Muirfield Village in Dublin. You can follow the tournament online with #theMemorial.
  • Next week, the Columbus 2020 team will travel to Madison for IEDC’s 2015 Economic Future Forum. We’ll also be in Toronto for the Intelligent Community Forum Summit.
  • The Columbus Youth Employment Challenge has launched to identify more employment opportunities to help young adults find seasonal, full-time or part-time employment. To join the challenge, add a youth employment position(s) in your organization and use social media to spread the word.

Simply Better

Last week I was very fortunate to attend a retreat of the Columbus Partnership, a group that includes over 50 CEOs from the Columbus Region. I have pages of notes from the discussions, both inspiring and challenging. We were joined by not only by our regional leaders, but also by guests from the cities of Boston, Atlanta and Minneapolis.

I am struck by the common challenges and the uncommon people that are around our community tables trying to grow our economies, address educational and social issues, and make our communities simply better.

These were some of the thoughts that recurred in my notes from the retreat:


-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Big news! The Columbus Region has added more than 100,000 net new jobs since 2010. Thank you to the growing companies who’ve committed to our region, to our state and local partners, and to all Columbus 2020 investors. The Columbus Region is experiencing the strongest decade of economic growth in its history because of you.
  • Last week, the Columbus 2020 team joined Kegler Brown in hosting a delegation from India.
  • This week, our team is in China for a business development mission. Back at home, we’ll host companies considering the Columbus Region.
  • The Columbus Region Logistics Council is holding a logistics job fair tomorrow, May 19, with more than 40 companies participating. Click here for more information.

Learning From Those Before Us

If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.
-George Bernard Shaw

I am fond of reading history, and lately I’ve been fascinated by books about pivotal years. The book 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War by Charles Emmerson brings together two great interests – the development of cities, and history itself. This sweeping account of a “rapidly globalizing” world in 1913 is told through dispatches from over 20 cities. The world was on the brink of two horrible wars and a century of technological innovation greater than all other centuries combined.

Los Angeles was a booming oil town and California was the most important oil producing state in the U.S. The Shanghai Bund was a bustling international port where “cosmopolitanism was the rule,” and in Tehran, the Persian capital, “uncertainty reigned as to the future.” In St. Petersburg, Russia’s capital city, the streets were lined with advertisements for European products—a point of pride and debate about whether to embrace Europe or not. The City of Detroit was over a half-million people and growing larger each year, and it was said that Berlin’s “brightest days lay ahead of it.”

We should not take economic progress and peace for granted. We should take every opportunity to build relationships—both economic and cultural—that bind us together. And we should know that at similar points in history, public and private leaders were wrestling with questions about their development and their place in the world.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team will travel to Omaha for the  Mid-America Economic Development Council 2015 Best Practices Conference and to Norfolk for the Virginia Maritime Association’s International Trade Symposium. We’ll also travel to the West Coast and China for business development missions.
  • Back at home, our team will host a company considering the Columbus Region.
  • Columbus 2020 has released an industry profile on the Columbus Region’s automotive supply chain. The report shows that the Region’s automotive supply chain has recovered nicely from the recession, driven largely by Honda’s growth and the emergence of a significant base of automotive suppliers supporting that growth. For key findings and the full report, click here.
  • The Big Give, a 24-hour online giving rally, is this Tuesday starting at 10 a.m. The Big Give is a dynamic opportunity to join the Columbus Foundation and all of Central Ohio in supporting 630 nonprofits working to strengthen and improve our smart and open community. Click here for learn more.

Let’s Start Something

Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.
-Willie Nelson

For the cynics of business, capitalism, and the pitfalls of the global economy, here is some medicine to make you feel better: Columbus Startup Week, powered by Chase, is here. For the next several days, entrepreneurs will be touting their businesses, learning from others and generally having one great time. A celebration of entrepreneurs seems simple enough, but it represents much more.

Capitalism has lifted more people from poverty and improved more lives than any other system in history. The founders, inventors and financiers that make it happen will be present here on our streets for the coming week, and we should take a moment to thank them for their investments in our communities, the jobs they create and the hope they generate.

If that isn’t enough for you, please take a look at this list of Top 100 Business Ideas by Trendhunter. Ideas, businesses and opportunities to grow are unlimited. I especially like #63 – that’s something humanity has needed for a long time. It’s also important to remember that growing our economy is serious, but it we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously!

Let’s have a great week, appreciate what we have and start something.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team is hosting companies evaluating the Columbus Region.
  • Our team will also speak at the Columbus Chamber 10th Annual Government Day as well as a webinar on Best Practices for Working with Site Consultants.
  • Next week, our team will travel to the West Coast and China to meet with companies.
  • From May 31 through June 3, the TrustBelt Conference will bring major players in the economic transformation of the Midwest together in Columbus. Learn more here.

Work Hard to Make It Easy

The simplification of anything is always sensational.
-Gilbert K. Chesterton

On a recent plant tour, one of our clients noted that you must work very hard to make things easy. He explained that it takes an enormous amount of effort and careful thought to strip away the complexity of his product so that clients and partners can identify with and understand his product and work with him to improve it.

How do we apply this principle of aggressive simplification to our community and our economic development efforts and organizations? How do we strip away layers of bureaucracy so that ideas can be turned into businesses, and opportunities can be turned into contracts? How do we melt away the impairments of our educational system and simply educate and train our workforce for the careers of today and tomorrow? How do we design our cities so that they are more “useable” for people, families, and businesses?

Perhaps this week we can take a hard look at our services and see where we can remove complexity in our processes and offerings so that we can make doing business in our region even easier. A few suggestions:

  • Ask a customer—or a few—to honestly tell you if there is an area of your service that seems unduly complicated.
  • Empower a small internal team to look at a slow or complex piece of our business and ask them to radically simplify it.

Happy simplifying!

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team is in California to attend the Industrial Asset Management Council’s Spring 2015 Professional Forum and to meet with companies in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas.
  • Back at home, our team will join the U.S. Department of Commerce, JobsOhio, the Ohio Development Services Agency and the Ohio Aerospace Institute to introduce Chicago International Trade Commissioners Association members to the Ohio marketplace with a focus on aerospace manufacturing. Learn more here.
  • The Columbus Chamber 10th Annual Government Day is next Friday, May 8. The event will feature a keynote address from U.S. Congressman Pat Tiberi, as well as opportunities to learn about business-critical topics and engage in discussions with public policy thought leaders. Click here to register.

What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There

Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have – and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.
-James Belasco and Ralph Strayer, Flight of the Buffalo

We often talk about the need to deeply understand your economy and the foundation of its successes and challenges—from your economic history and the reasons your community has succeeded in some areas while failing in others, to your companies’ opportunities and threats. This understanding is critical to your economic development planning process, as what brought your community to its current place will not take it to the next level.

In 10 to 20 years—or perhaps sooner—your largest employers and workforce will look and work differently as innovation and technology may drastically change jobs, the workplace and the overall economy. While you can’t know what the future holds, you can be prepared by:

  • Staying in touch with your companies
  • Aggressively marketing your community to attract market-leading companies and talented people
  • Making it easy for business to begin and to scale up

In order to be successful in the future, your economic development strategy will always be changing.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • The Columbus Region March 2015 Economic Update has been released. The report shows 141 active projects in the pipeline, led by the manufacturing and business services sectors.
  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team will be in Italy, New York and New Jersey to meet with companies and consultants. We’ll also be in Detroit for the Global Cities Detroit Economic Conference hosted by the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings and JPMorgan Chase.
  • From May 4 to 8, Columbus Startup Week will bring the Columbus Region’s top entrepreneurs and innovators together for five days of discussion and networking. Click here for the schedule and for free registration.