Finding Our Way

“The reality about transportation is that it’s future-oriented. If we’re planning for what we have, we’re behind the curve.”
-U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx

Most problems are solved out of necessity. We will usually put off what we can until the problem becomes too painful, or when a habit we have becomes so ridiculously unsustainable that we must find another way.

Fairly soon, the conversation will begin about a major infrastructure package to build and rebuild roads, bridges and airports across the country. Some say it could be as much as a trillion dollar stimulus package. That’s a big number, and yet, this article from thought leaders at McKinsey says that the scale of the problem is roughly $57 trillion. We are in desperate need of a different path.

To correct some of the problems that infrastructure of the last century has caused at our ports, in our cities and neighborhoods, and in our air traffic system, we must find another way to achieve the goals. The technology exists, the next generation will certainly adapt, and the rest of us will adapt, too.

Will the investment make us more competitive? Will it improve the quality of living for people—improving their safety and accessibility to jobs, healthcare and education? Can the infrastructure be developed in a way that will allow it to adapt to rapidly emerging technologies?

While we cannot delay repairing and maintaining what we have, we must move quickly to catch up to our competitors and to once again claim title as an infrastructure leader and innovator.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

The State of our Region

“Average leaders have quotes. Good leaders have a plan. Exceptional leaders have a system.”
-Urban Meyer

At Economic Development 411 each year, the Columbus Region comes together to dialogue about economic development fundamentals and issues of the day. As we approach the event this year, the state of the Columbus Region and Columbus 2020 Regional Growth Strategy is strong thanks to a lot of hard work, collaboration and good fortune.

While we have work to do to close gaps in our strategy and to provide opportunities for the entire region, our metrics are strong. 130,000 net new jobs have been created in the 11-county region since January 2010. Over a million Central Ohioans are working, and we have a higher than average labor participation rate at 68 percent.

Over $7.5 billion dollars have been invested by key private sector employers, and billions more have been added by the growing healthcare and education sectors. Per capita income is growing and is also up over 17 percent since 2010. Our population is growing faster than ever before and Central Ohio is home to more than 2.1 million people, creating momentum for our housing industry and providing opportunities for local entrepreneurs to start small businesses.

Technology commercialization, venture- and angel-backed startups, and our entrepreneurial support networks are thriving. And, there is great energy to advance transportation through Smart Columbus and Smart Corridor efforts.

We are positioned for success and we have the tools to continue to compete for opportunities well into the future. If we continue to work at closing the gaps and if we are as resilient as our beloved Buckeyes, we will do just fine!

We look forward to seeing many of you at ED411 on Friday and we welcome the input and support of everyone reading.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Today is the last chance to register for Economic Development 411. Join elected and appointed officials, civic leaders and business leaders on December 2 for a day of insightful sessions and dialogue. Cindi Marsiglio, vice president of US manufacturing at Walmart, and Alec Ross, New York Times bestselling author and one of America’s leading experts on innovation, will deliver keynote addresses. Register here.
  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team will host companies considering the Columbus Region for expansion.

Adapt or Perish

“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.”
-H.G. Wells

It is with great gratitude that I write this week. It is the beginning of the holiday season, a time when we should reflect on the people who support our work and make progress possible.

I am deeply thankful for the fantastic opportunities I had to take part in a series of presentations and interviews last week that were inspirational and thought-provoking. The New Albany Foundation brought Thomas Friedman and David Brooks of The New York Times and Anna Navarro of CNN to the community to interpret the election results and discuss the future. The Columbus Partnership held its annual retreat and included “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D Vance, FedEx founder Fred Smith, General James Conway of Securing America’s Future and a host of speakers from the world of autonomous vehicles and the connected city. Ohio University also had a terrific meeting that included Siemens North America CEO Eric Spiegel. Each person was exceptional and it sparked so many thoughts and questions about our future.

As I review my notes, there seems to be a recurring theme: Disruption.

Change does not come easily to most people, businesses or governments. Yet, the world is in a period of great disruption socially, economically and politically. To fully leverage the opportunities and to mitigate the negative impacts to society, we all must hold fast to our values and adapt, adapt, adapt.

My notes also reveal three recurring questions:

  • What opportunities are created from the disruptions and how can our region take advantage of them?
  • Which companies, industries and location advantages do these changes make obsolete?
  • How do we change our organization’s tactics and culture to adapt and win?

One way our economic development community can adapt is to engage in regular dialogue about the reality of a changing world. I would like to invite you to do just that with us at Economic Development 411 on December 2. Hundreds of leaders from throughout our region will discuss a variety of topics and also hear from two keynote speakers:

Alec Ross, author of “Industries of the Future,” will speak about the future of our economy and society, and Walmart Vice President of US Manufacturing Cindi Marsiglio will speak about the company’s commitment to America’s competitiveness. More details and registration are available here.

We look forward to seeing you for an intense day of discussions and insights.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

Last week, Columbus 2020 in partnership with Ohio Development Services Agency executed its first trade mission to Mexico. Led by Licking County Commissioner Tim Bubb, the mission had 5 companies in attendance: MES from Lewis Center, Polymer Technologies from Heath, Replex Plastics from Mt. Vernon, Sequent from Columbus, and xperion from Heath. Customized meetings for each company resulted in successful outcomes for all involved. Thanks to all who joined us!

Back to Work

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”
-Max de Pree

I spent Election Day in both 2008 and 2016 in Europe, while on business. These are two unique experiences that will remain etched in my memory. Because of our country’s important role in world affairs, the intense interest in who leads the United States does not stop at our borders.

2008 was a time of near-depression in the global economy, as we had just begun a nearly decade-long journey out of the Great Recession. The foreign press and business leaders we were meeting with were nervously excited about the hope that President Obama represented, and they were eager for the United States to lead the world out of ominous circumstances.

The 2016 election was extremely contentious and had the backdrop of a global economy that, while stable, is underperforming from China to Europe. The surprise result of Donald Trump winning has caused many to openly wonder what will come in the near future.

In both cases, working families, young people just entering the workforce, and those close to retirement have wondered what the future holds. In both cases, it has been important to convey that the American system requires leadership at all levels of government and business to move forward, and to build confidence in the future.

It is critical to actively participate in providing solutions for each other, whether it is to serve your neighbor or our economic partners around the world. Our economic development leadership can make a tremendous difference worldwide, and I look forward to getting back to business this week.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team is hosting a trade mission in Mexico for Columbus Region companies looking to begin or increase exports to Mexico. Our team is also in Los Angeles to meet with companies and consultants.
  • Just announced: Alec Ross, one of America’s leading experts on innovation and author of The Industries of the Future, will deliver the afternoon keynote at Economic Development 411 on December 2. Alec speaks to audiences around the world about the future of our economy and society, and helps entrepreneurs, investors and government leaders navigate disruptive change. View the full event agenda and register at

Public Leadership

“Your nation will succeed or fail to the degree that all of us citizens and businesses alike are active participants in building strong, sustainable and enriching communities.”
-Arnold Hiatt, Former CEO of Stride Rite

Election day is a great time to remember that the public sector plays a vital role in private sector growth and economic development. Public leaders at all levels of government must have private sector growth in order to achieve their goals and the private sector needs public investment to provide the infrastructure, sponsored research, policies and practices to keep us competitive with other nations.

As economic developers, we often build a bridge between the public and private sector. We appreciate the public sector’s willingness to serve and we look forward to dialogue and debate about how to achieve broad based, dynamic and sustainable growth. Government invests in economic growth to retain and to grow the economic base, to attract employers that are creating new jobs and making substantial capital investments, and to nurture and often fund entrepreneurs and small businesses. All are important and necessary.

To civic leaders everywhere, please help those elected to serve effectively. To those who are running, very best of luck to you in this election. The business, academic and non-profit communities can help you serve your constituents and achieve even greater things than you’ve imagined.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team is in Europe to meet with companies. We’re also hosting companies who are considering expansion in the Columbus Region.
  • Next week, our team will host a multi-sector, customized trade mission to Mexico for Columbus Region companies looking to establish or enhance their market in Mexico. Our team will also travel to Los Angeles to meet with companies and consultants.

In Plain Sight

“The best customer of American industry is the well paid worker.”
-Franklin D. Roosevelt

American workers are some of the very best in the world. They are a primary competitive advantage for the United States and a driving force for growth. Given that, we should listen to their views of the workplace and economic development more closely. This is not to diminish economic surveys, global indicators and CEO interviews, but the workforce can be a source of great information in plain sight.

A recent PEW Research Center report on The State of American Jobs illuminates some of the workforce’s thinking. Here’s a summary of some key findings about American workers:

  • They recognize the need for constant training and skill development. Currently, 1 in every 4 workers in America hold a license or a certificate for the skill they use in the workforce; this increases with salary. The worker sees this correlation and understands it.
  • They see threats to their jobs from foreign competition and technology. They are feeling squeezed to produce more and to adapt rapidly to technology and demographic changes around them. They understand that this threatens their earning ability and future, just as the CEO sees these issues as a threat to the overall enterprise.
  • They are willing to take responsibility for training and increasing their skills if given the opportunity, and they wish public schools prepared them and their families better for the working world.
  • They increasingly question the costs and benefits of a college education, and are willing to take non-traditional jobs and career paths to earn a living.
  • They are working even more than before (and the American worker already works more than most), and they are increasingly staying in their jobs longer.

To me, these results are not just interesting, but inspiring. There is so much common ground on which to align broader economic interests with those who actually execute the work each day. There are hundreds of different perspectives from which to examine these issues, and it seems clear that business, government and academic leaders should read this report carefully, and fully appreciate the perspective of the people right in front of them.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Today, leading accounting and consulting firm BDO USA, LLP announced a commitment of 400 jobs in Columbus by 2021. Congratulations and thank you to BDO for choosing the Columbus Region for its new business service center.
  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team is in Atlanta to attend Economix, and traveling to Europe to meet with companies.
  • Back at home, Columbus 2020 will partner with CoreNet Global to host site consultants as part of a familiarization tour of the Columbus Region.

All Investment is Local

“Without promotion, something terrible happens… nothing!”
-P. T. Barnum

Great empires and countries have promoted trade around the world for centuries. The development of trading routes was developed through force or commercial persuasion by ancient civilizations and is still done by nearly every country. The pursuit of foreign investment from one country to another is a relatively modern concept.

The creation of the global corporation has, in fact, changed the world. Major companies from former adversaries now are employers of choice all over the world. As an example, Siemens and Honda are two of our very best employers in the Columbus Region, and there are hundreds more.

While the United States remains a great recipient of foreign direct investment, it has also benefited from having its companies enter other markets, which creates jobs and investment and enhances global relationships. Until recently, however, the U.S. did not promote itself quite as directly as a destination, leaving it to states and local areas to compete for investments and providing only high-level support. That changed with SelectUSA, an organization that is now an incredible partner to Ohio and the Columbus Region as we work to secure foreign investment and promote our market around the world.

It is worth a virtual trip around the globe to see how countries promote themselves from different regions. The striking thing is that the websites for the countries listed below resemble so many local websites in your city or county. The fact that countries go to great lengths to develop a brand and provide content that makes it easier to do business in and with their countries shows that all investment is local, whether you are sitting in your nation’s capital or your county seat.

The Middle East


North America


Indian Subcontinent


Rest of the World

I’d be keenly interested in what you observe. Please send me your thoughts or leave a comment below.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Last week, independent online retailer Huckberry announced its first expansion outside of San Francisco will be a new fulfillment and logistics operation in Columbus. Congratulations and thank you to Huckberry for its commitment of 158 new jobs in our region.
  • Columbus 2020 was recognized at the Ohio Economic Development Association’s Annual Summit with the Excellence in Economic Development Marketing Award for the Columbus Region’s One of US marketing campaign. Thank you to OEDA and to dozens of partners for their commitment to the campaign.
  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team is in Las Vegas for Money20/20 and in Little Rock for Site Selection Guild’s Fall Forum.
  • Next week, our team will travel to Atlanta and to Europe to meet with companies and consultants.

Playing to the Base

“A nation is not made wealthy by the childish accumulation of shiny metals, but it is enriched by the economic prosperity of its people.”
-Adam Smith

How does new money enter your community? Do tourists descend and spend in your hotels, restaurants and attractions? Are your manufacturers expanding into markets around the world and bringing profits back to the local community? Are entrepreneurs and venture capitalists helping form new enterprises that will attract capital and create jobs that didn’t exist before? Are your healthcare organizations and universities commercializing intellectual property to create jobs and license fees?

All of the above are examples of building your economic base. As the base diversifies and expands, it multiplies jobs and investment within the economy. When a local manufacturer expands in your region, each job generated within the plant itself will create up to 3-5 new jobs outside of the plant. The same is true when a new company is attracted to your area to set up a new plant or corporate facility.

Locally-oriented small and mid-sized businesses, local and state governments, the arts and non-profit organizations all benefit from a durable and dynamic economic base. Whether your base is growing or eroding determines the economic health of your area over the long-term. Mark Lautman, co-founder of the Community Economics Lab, is cited in a great post on this subject, Measuring economic base jobs vs. flying blind about economy.

It is becoming easier to compare and contrast your area to others with new datasets and tools that didn’t exist before. It is even possible through JPMorgan Chase’s Local Consumer Commerce Index to determine where new dollars are coming from and in what sectors.

As your community makes plans for the next year or the next several years, take time to closely examine your economic base and how your efforts can strengthen or diversify it.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team is joined by partners from the City of Dublin and Madison County in Japan to meet with companies. Our team is also in New York City to meet with companies and consultants.
  • Next week, our team will join several Columbus Region companies, JobsOhio and JobsOhio Network Partners at Money 20/20, the world’s largest payments and financial services innovation event.
  • Breakout sessions have been announced for Economic Development 411. Click here for more information and to register.

Mr. October

“The only reason I don’t like playing in the World Series is I can’t watch myself play.”
-Reggie Jackson

There may be some reading this who weren’t old enough to see Reggie Jackson slam three homers in one game during the 1977 World Series. If he had a humble bone in his body before that game, it was officially removed that night. He earned the nickname “Mr. October” because he delivered when it meant the most and backed up his, let’s just say, very quotable persona.

How does this relate to community marketing? In flipping through a magazine dedicated to site selection and economic development recently, I counted dozens of claims of greatness and “unique” attributes of locations and sites for business. Some of these claims may even be true, but most are worded in a way that removes accountability for the claim.

What claim is your community ready to make about its readiness or ability to help companies become more profitable? Can you back it up? If you can, more power to you. In fact, you should shout it from the mountaintop. If you cannot, perhaps you should stick to the edict of under-promising and over-delivering.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Last week, the International Economic Development Council’s annual conference welcomed 1,600 economic developers to Cleveland. Columbus 2020 took home two marketing honors, and GROW Licking County was awarded for its Economic Development Week events.
  • Thank you to the Columbus Foundation for leading the effort to bring the CEOs for Cities national meeting to Columbus last week. More than 400 leaders from 75 U.S. cities attended the meeting.

Always Be Competing

“It’s about being the very best you can be. Nothing else matters as long as you’re working and striving to be your best. Always compete. It’s truly that simple. Find the way to do your best. Compete in everything you do.”
-Pete Carroll

I am not sure if there are economic development maxims, but there should be. One maxim would surely be “You are always competing, whether you know it or not.”

Your community is being evaluated as a business location all the time, regardless of whether it is thriving or struggling in this intensely competitive world. Your existing economic base companies are constantly evaluating how to maximize profits and achieve strategic objectives, and location is a key factor in their success. Businesses seeking new locations are evaluating you via your website, your local newspaper, talking with your citizens and more. What messages are they receiving? Are they good or bad?

I recently spoke with a community that is working really hard to lift itself up after a period of stagnation. Years have passed since it was well-prepared to compete, and it has not had well-funded economic development organizations. During that time, the community most certainly lost opportunities it could have secured for its residents. It most likely also failed to help its existing companies grow, and lost jobs that could have been grown organically. This community is only now realizing that getting back in shape is harder than maintaining health from year to year.

I spoke to yet another community that would be considered a thriving location by most measures. When asked about their economic development efforts, they said that growth seems to come to them, and they don’t have to pursue it. In that case, you have wonder what else would be possible if they intentionally and aggressively competed for specific kinds of businesses and industries. Will their natural advantages not erode if not nurtured and carefully maintained?

Just like in athletics, natural talent will only carry you so far. Every community has a competitive set they should compare and contrast themselves to regularly, and while we can learn a lot from each other, it is also important that community leaders know that they have to constantly compete to grow the economy.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Last week, the Columbus 2020 team and several partners visited Toronto to meet with companies considering a facility in the U.S.
  • This week, our team is attending the International Economic Development Council’s annual conference in Cleveland. Thousands of economic developers will visit Ohio to discuss growth, opportunity and innovation.
  • Our team will also travel this week to California to meet with companies, and to Washington, D.C., for the Global Cities 2016 Summit.