Going Where We’ve Not Been Before

The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.
-Dan Millman

Do you get excited about going to a place you’ve never been before? Perhaps a little scared?

The adventurous few embrace the journey and are always up for the trip, while others are more cautious and need to be calmed by studying what they may see or speaking to others with experience. The largest group of people may be those who require even more information, support, and strong and skillful leaders to take them to a new place.

The 11-county Columbus Region is going where it’s never been before. The area is growing at an unprecedented rate and more than 111,000 net new jobs have been added in just five years.

Is your community entering unknown territory? Are your citizens, business leaders, elected officials and academic partners prepared for the journey? What leadership will be required to get there and succeed? Are you excited?

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team is continuing a business development mission in Korea. Our team is also in Anchorage for the IEDC 2015 Annual Conference.
  • Back at home, TechSolve will hold Ohio Aerospace Day 2015 and the Columbus Chamber will hold CEO Insights featuring AEP’s Nick Akins.
  • The Trans-Atlantic Business Council, in collaboration with Columbus 2020, will host Jobs and Economic Growth: How the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) Will Help the Columbus Region. Join us this Friday to learn about TTIP, its benefits and how trade with the European Union effects affects the Columbus Region and the United States.

Investing in Economic Development

I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.
-Abraham Lincoln

Does your community have an obligation to invest in and perform economic development? Many agree that it is “good business” to develop policies and tools that attract and stimulate investment and job growth, but is it an obligation? Should civic leaders feel accountable to invest time and resources into economic development efforts?

It could be argued that if government officials simply focused on the delivery of basic government services, businesses stayed in their lane and focused on maximizing profit, and academic leaders taught a defined curriculum, that everything would just work out.

While it is certainly true that each sector of the system needs to perform its duties well, it is also true that there is much to be gained by going well beyond. By leveraging the strengths of each sector and bringing them together to multiply their impact, the greater good benefits.

Economic growth creates more paying customers for business and sustains a healthy tax base for government. Economic growth is also completely necessary to address a complex array of socio-economic issues that cause persistent cycles of poverty. Without intentional, consistent intervention, too many of the most vulnerable would be left without opportunities for jobs and careers.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020

  • Thank you to the more than 400 Columbus 2020 investors and public and private sector leaders who joined us for the Columbus 2020 Celebration and Investor Update last week. Your respective commitments are the reason why our region has added more than 111,000 net new jobs and $6 billion in capital investment over the last five years. Click here to view and share the last week’s presentation as well as the Mid-Decade Review that summarizes the Columbus Region’s progress since 2010.
  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team will embark on a business development mission to Korea. We’ll also be in Cleveland for the IAMC’s Fall 2015 Professional Forum.
  • Back at home, EWI will hold an open house as part of National Manufacturing Day and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission will hold its Summit on Sustainability.

Strengthen Your Defenses

The economy is under constant assault. New business models threaten your community’s largest employers and new technology threatens entire industries. Cities, states and nations are competing fiercely for new jobs and investment.

Just as the human body and military institutions have to strengthen their defenses to fend off attacks, you can study and prepare for predictable enemies of economic growth. You can also prepare for the unknown by proactively diversifying and building protections for your economy.

Defenses become truly effective when they encounter the enemy. To strengthen yourself for the fight, it is important to start with an honest examination of your vulnerabilities. Are you dependent on one industry? One company? One critical asset?

It is also necessary to ask which actions you can take today to address those vulnerabilities without weakening your current economy. It is never too late to begin.

Finally, ask what would happen if you did not take proactive action. In medicine and the military, the impact of being unprepared can mean life or death. With regard to your economy, it may not be that dramatic, but it could affect the well-being of thousands.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • The Columbus 2020 team has returned from a fruitful business development mission in Japan. Thank you to the partners that joined us on the trip.
  • On Wednesday, Kenny McDonald will provide the keynote presentation at Columbus Business First’s Smart Strategies event.
  • Next week, our team will embark on its next international business development mission to Korea.

Seeing is Believing

More than 20 percent of the U.S. population — nearly 60 million Americans — live in rural areas. These rural communities are often historic, resilient and thriving. Even though they are often less affluent than urban centers, they are not backwaters or ghost towns as some would have you believe.

This recent article from the Washington Post struck a nerve. While the author initially wrote this Midwestern county off as “the worst place to live in America,” the writer backtracked when he visited the county seat. Kudos to the the writer for actually getting out from behind his desk and visiting the location to write about it.

The 11-county Columbus Region has many rural areas within one hour of the the urban center of Columbus (get to know our counties here). Rural places contribute greatly to Central Ohio’s strength and diversity. Not only are rural communities some of the most idealistic places to live, but their economies are changing. The services and retail sectors are growing in many rural communities, and manufacturing continues to be a large contributor to the local tax base and wage growth. Agriculture, while not the wealth generator that it once was, is adapting to new technologies and the farm to table movement taking place across the country. This White House report on the state of rural America provides a great snapshot.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team will continue a two week business development mission in Japan with state and local partners, and will attend the 2015 Japan-Midwest U.S. Association Conference in Tokyo.
  • If you have not registered for the Columbus 2020 Celebration and Investor Update on September 22, today is your last chance. Register here.

Engaging Academia

Our combination of great research universities, a pro-risk business culture, deep pools of innovation-seeking equity capital, and reliable business and contract law is unprecedented and unparalleled in the world.
-Marc Andreessen

The Columbus Region boasts over 60 college and university campuses across the 11-county area. While The Ohio State University is the largest, there are dozens more serving the public, educating the workforce, and contributing to the economy and our culture.

While focus is often on students and their potential as a future workforce, institutions of higher education are critical to engage. Their leadership and faculty have the ability to greatly influence economic policy and contribute to a healthy dialogue about growth. And their ability to commercialize technology, launch student and faculty entrepreneurs, and be ambassadors for cities, states, and our country is unique in the world. In fact, SelectUSA, an organization of the U.S. Department of Commerce, points to America’s universities and colleges as one of the five primary advantages of doing business in our country.

For leaders in higher education, it is important to think about your institution’s role in increasing and enabling economic prosperity. Appointing someone who understands the assets of academia, including faculty and alumni relationships, to help facilitate engagement with local and state leaders is a great first step. Working with local and state economic development organizations can often be an extended laboratory for research, and is a way to gain perspective on the issues impacting your area.

For economic developers, it is important to work diligently to understand and engage institutions of higher education with a great respect for their educational mission. Their gifts to all of us often go well beyond the mission to improve our communities.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This weekend, the Columbus 2020 team will begin a two week business development mission in Japan with state and local partners.
  • Back at home, BrewDog will host two events to provide an update on their plans in the Columbus Region. The first will be held on September 8 and the second on September 10, both at 6 p.m.

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.