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.

Face to Face

There is no substitute for face-to-face reporting and research.
-Thomas Friedman

Who are your very best customers? Who are your very best prospects? When was the last time you went to see them and sat down to discuss their business?

There are so many reasons to not take the time to meet face to face. Technology makes it easy to email, or text, or have a web conference. Technology is great and it has a place. But, it does not replace what you can gain by showing up. This Harvard Business Review article reminded me of that.

First, clients care that you take the time and effort to come to them and have a discussion. It shows you value their time and relationship, and shows you are willing to learn more about their operations. Second, you learn things when you are face to face that you cannot learn any other way. You can see the client in their home environment, check out their facility, see the people who work there, and experience the company culture. You’ll better uncover opportunities and you’ll be able to provide more meaningful proposals.

Who will you go see first?

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, our team is hosting companies that are evaluating the Columbus Region.
  • Next week, we’ll be traveling to New York City, Detroit and Europe to meet with companies and consultants.

Building High-Growth Companies

Go to any community in the country and ask who their largest private sector employers are. I suspect that you will find at least a few stories of homegrown companies that were started on a shoestring by some extraordinary people. Ask that question in the Columbus Region, and you will quickly hear the names Wexner, McConnell, Schottenstein and several more. These men and women built their companies into worldwide brands from the communities that they grew up in – sometimes with a lot of help, and other times with barely any.

Every community wants to create entrepreneurial successes and companies that can scale to become large employers, investors and wealth builders. These high-growth enterprises are extraordinarily important, and competition between communities to keep them is intense. How can you be more intentional about this as a community? There are a number of strategies and many of them can be quite technical, but here a few things anyone can do:

  • Identify high-growth companies and speak with them directly. It is important to establish a relationship with these entrepreneurs and let them tell you what they most highly value. What infrastructure do they need? What talent? What customers are they seeking?
  • Develop support infrastructure to assist them directly. Provide the basic financial and coaching tools necessary to accelerate their development.
  • Introduce them to your largest companies. This may help them gain a customer, or get insight from those who have systems that have allowed them to scale. This will also help inspire innovation and creativity within your largest companies.
  • Celebrate success and use it to attract others!

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Congratulations and thank you to Hirschvogel Automotive Group, which announced a $50 million expansion of its U.S. presence in the Columbus Region. The announcement is another example of companies leading the rebirth of Columbus’ South Side.
  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team will host companies considering the Columbus Region.

Enjoy the Game

Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.
-Michael Jordan

We have some enormous challenges in the world. Public education, transportation funding, geopolitics—and yes, economic development. So it can be easy to lose sight of just how much fun it is to work together, and how enjoyable it is to do the work of growing our communities. Addressing big problems and the myriad of little ones that pop up each day is not only challenging, it is worth all the hard work.

People who are committed to the economic development of their states, cities and neighborhoods are fun and motivated, and they bring energy and passion to their work every day. If only every workplace were like that! The work itself has great purpose, to increase the quality of life for other people. Ask an economic developer what gives him the most satisfaction and he will tell you that the payoff is when he sees something he has worked on come to life. That might mean visiting a company you helped and seeing people working in the jobs created, or seeing a dilapidated area rise to become a thriving neighborhood. Those things are well worth the late nights and early mornings.

Let’s remember to enjoy the economic development professionals and the volunteers we work alongside this week, and let’s remember our greater purpose to create opportunities for individuals and families.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Last week, our team joined JobsOhio and regional network partners from around the state at the SelectUSA Investment Summit. To see highlights and conversation from the event, check out #SelectUSA. You can also watch President Obama’s remarks here.
  • This week, our team will attend the IEDC 2015 Federal Economic Development Forum in Arlington, where we’ll gather with federal economic development policy makers and fellow economic development professionals. We’ll also be in Toronto meeting with companies and consultants.
  • Back at home, we’ll see you at the Ohio Food Industry Summit and the MORPC 2015 State of the Region.

Selecting the USA

The wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed, but the liberation of the diverse energies of free nations and free men.
-John F. Kennedy

This week, our team will join JobsOhio and state and local economic development groups around the country at the second SelectUSA Investment Summit. President Obama will speak about our great advantages as a nation including our rule of law, our affordable energy, our productive workforce and our great research universities.

The summit also brings together companies from around the world considering investment into the United States. Leaders of these companies are entrepreneurs and business executives faced with the daunting task of navigating the world’s largest and perhaps most complicated market. The U.S. is a competitive place often split into regional marketplaces and differing state and local systems of commerce.

It is the economic developer’s responsibility to help companies navigate these issues, introduce them to others that have gone before them, and introduce them to private and public partners who can assist in making an informed decision. It is not our responsibility to woo them to our market, to give them unfair advantage against domestic companies, or to sell against other locations.

It is an exciting time for the United States. We have great advantages and we must work to maintain and increase those advantages so that companies continue to invest and create high-wage jobs in our communities.

You can watch the SelectUSA Investment Summit here, or follow the conversation at @SelectUSA and #SelectUSA.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • In addition to the SelectUSA Investment Summit, the Columbus 2020 team will be in Washington, D.C. meeting with the Brookings Institution this week. Back at home, we’ll host a company evaluating the Columbus Region.
  • Next week, our team will travel to Toronto for a business development mission.

Enduring Goals

At the height of the recession and the beginning of the Obama administration, a goal was set to double U.S. exports. Given that only 1-2% of companies in the United States export products or services, it is an important and achievable goal. The National Export Initiative has brought new ideas, resources and people to the table to discuss how to help companies compete globally.

Much progress has been made. However, because of recent fluctuations in the currency markets, this goal is being questioned. While it is right to examine goals both nationally and locally, economic development requires a long-term view. Economic conditions constantly change — goals should not.

Helping our companies expand and compete around the world is necessary to level the playing field and to create jobs at home. Evidence shows that when companies grow internationally, they create high wage jobs and careers in our communities, innovate more as they adjust to fit other markets, and become more stable as they diversify their revenue streams.

Becoming more competitive is always important. Just as an athlete does not lose the benefits of her training if she doesn’t win the race, companies are better off when they prepare for international competition. Even if they choose not to serve international markets, their international competitors may come to our shores. There is simply no downside to helping our companies become more globally competent.

The goal to double U.S. exports was — and is — a priority, and we have to get better if we are to grow our economy. The Columbus Region has accepted this challenge and is working collaboratively to achieve greater competitiveness and an increase in global trade and investment. Currency fluctuations, oil prices and geopolitics will factor into our success over time, but the goal will endure and is well worth pursuing in a smart and aggressive way.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team will host companies evaluating the Columbus Region.
  • Next week, our team will travel to Washington, D.C. for the SelectUSA Investment Summit.
  • The Columbus Region February 2015 Economic Update is now available. Findings in the report include 124 active projects and a regional unemployment rate of 3.9 percent. Visit for the full report.