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.

Gaining Perspective in a Time of Transition

“Companies will not survive for the long run if their communities are stagnant.”
-Jan Rivkin, Harvard Business School

Our team will be fortunate to take part in three great events next week that will, in different ways, address the future of economic development. Against the backdrop of a weak recovery and political gridlock, economic developers are at the front lines of generating growth and opportunity. These events offer perspective and inspiration for us in a time of transition in our country.

First, the International Economic Development Council will hold its annual meeting in Cleveland next week. The nation’s largest association of economic developers will visit Ohio to discuss growth, opportunity and innovation. Cleveland and all of Northeast Ohio will offer a great setting to discuss what the future may bring.

Second, here in Columbus, the CEOs for Cities 2016 National Meeting will welcome leaders from 75 cities to discuss a range of issues facing our communities. The intersection of economic, community and social development requires that our nonprofit, government and civic leaders be better than ever.

Finally, we are always humbled to be with the Brookings Global Cities Initiative leaders and our cohort group to discuss the impact of global trade and investment. We remain very committed to this aspect of our economy and look forward learning from our peer cities.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team will travel to Canada to meet with companies and consultants. Back at home, our team will host companies considering the Columbus Region.
  • Kudos to The Ohio State University’s National Center for the Middle Market for hosting a successful event last week to discuss opportunities and challenges faced by companies going global. Their Winning in the Americas report provides great insight for companies and the communities that support them.

Healthy Skepticism

“On the road from the City of Skepticism, I had to pass through the Valley of Ambiguity.”
-Adam Smith

We know that we can’t believe everything we read or hear, especially in the internet age. But, as in all things, sometimes we could use a reminder.

To listen to the most skeptical would lead us to believe that economic competition is simply a race to the bottom and that technology and robotics will replace us all. The truth is that every revolution brings new technologies and worries about economic disruption. We are in the early innings of a massive shift in demographics, technology and economic development, and it can sometimes be difficult to see its positive aspects.

Four articles gave me a dose of optimism and some perspective about our economic opportunities:

  • The United States is poised to become a more diverse country based on the makeup of the millennial generation, something that will make us more competitive, not less.
  • Countries and people that live in countries that are part of major supply chains, like Mexico, will continue to become more advanced and at the same time generate wealth and jobs in the United States. See this informative LA Times article.
  • Will technologies like blockchain bring more trust and security to our global financial system and address economic equality?
  • Robots and artificial intelligence may generate more jobs than they replace.

Fear not, be skeptical of the skeptics and push on! Let’s have a great week.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Last week, Bell Incorporated, one of the largest independent folding carton companies in North America, held a ribbon cutting to commemorate the opening of its new facility. Congratulations to Bell and the City of Groveport.
  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team is in New York to meet with companies and in St. Louis to attend the Midwest U.S.-Japan Association 2016 Conference. Back at home, our team is hosting companies considering the Columbus Region.

Precious Time

“We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”
-Nelson Mandela

I know that summer isn’t over quite officially over yet, but the kids are back in school, Labor Day is this weekend, and yes, football is back! While we can’t wait to watch our beloved Buckeyes start their season on Saturday, it is tough to say goodbye to the summer each year. The roughly 90 days of summer always pass too quickly. Did we prepare well for the coming fall?

There are 70 days left until the national election. Closely watching the Federal Reserve and the Presidential election, it’s easy to conclude it is an uncertain time. Business does not embrace uncertainty, and we will be glad to see these 70 days pass quickly. We appreciate the leaders willing to run for elected office, putting it all on the line to serve at a local, state or national capacity. We hope they debate intensely and advance new ideas to move us forward with respect and integrity.

Finally, there are 124 days until the New Year. We should use them wisely, strive to achieve the goals we set last January, and make adjustments for an ever-changing landscape in business and government.

Perhaps the most important day is the one we have in front of us.

Have a great week and a safe and fun Labor Day weekend. Go Bucks!

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Tomorrow, the Columbus Council on World Affairs, Mid-Ohio Development Exchange and Columbus 2020 will host a global fluency learning session. Participants will learn how to communicate and interact more effectively in business situations with individuals and companies from the Italy, India and Israel. This session will be held again in October. Click here to register.
  • This November, Columbus 2020 will host a customized, multi-sector trade mission to Mexico for Columbus Region companies looking to establish and/or expand their market in Mexico. Click here to learn more.

Great Expectations

“High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation.”
-Charles F. Kettering

As the school year and fall sports begin, there are great expectations of straight As and championships. These expectations drive lofty goals and often cause people and teams to achieve more than they ever thought possible.

When expectations are expressed directly, discussed and supported, wonderful things often occur. When they are simply implied or not expressed at all, they often lead to disappointment and frustration. Unexpressed expectations lead to unmet expectations that pull people, organizations and communities apart.

For leaders, it is important to define your goals and expectations consistently and measure against them in order to make adjustments as conditions change. For those being led, it is important to ask directly what the expectations are, and convey your expectations in return.

For organizations and communities, it is important to talk openly about your expectations and seek feedback from diverse stakeholders. Expressing your goals and expectations will create dialogue. That dialogue will likely inform you about what is expected of you as a leader, and where the gaps exist.

It is a great time of year to check in with your colleagues, your constituents and your community.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

Columbus 2020 is working in partnership with Columbus CEO magazine to publish a special section in October titled Columbus: The Region Where Retail Works. The section will highlight our area’s retail companies and thought leaders, highlighting the Columbus Region’s distinction as the home of the industry’s growth and innovation. To advertise, please contact Susan Kendall at 614-410-0692 or The deadline to reserve space is August 26.

Energy Dependence

“Formula for success: Rise early, work hard, strike oil.”
J. Paul Getty

Some topics can seem so complex that we push them aside to speak about more convenient issues. Our economic and personal dependence on the energy industry is one of those topics that many of us avoid until a crisis emerges.

Energy, like education, touches us all. We depend on it as we sleep to keep us cool or warm, to help feed us during the day, and to make it possible for us to make a living. The importance of reliable, low-cost energy to our daily lives and to our economy cannot be overstated.

In the past 10 years we’ve seen dramatic changes in the energy markets due to events like the 2008-2009 financial crisis and TARP subsidies, upheaval in the Middle East power structure, a tsunami in Japan, scientific breakthroughs in hydraulic fracturing, and the continuous improvement of renewable energy and automotive technologies.

It remains true that our manufacturing and technology sector business models are built on the ability to deliver energy reliably and at a very low cost. It is also true that the U.S. consumer is dependent on fuel prices remaining low in this era of limited growth.

Changes to the industry, some based in science and others in politics and geopolitics, will continue to impact our competitiveness at national, state and local levels. As economic development stakeholders, it is important to remain involved and educated about this subject. A few sites and articles I’d recommend include:

The U.S. Energy Information Administration
The U.S. Energy Information Administration Ohio Energy Profile
Hengel: Will U.S. Return to Begging for Oil? – The Houston Chronicle
SelectUSA Energy Industry Spotlight

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team will meet with site consultants in Cleveland.
  • Back at home, our team will host companies considering the Columbus Region.
  • Mark your calendar for the next Columbus 2020 Investor Update on October 6.

An Uncertain Future

“There must be consistency in direction.”
-W. Edwards Deming

I enjoy visiting the Gallup website every now and then to check in on polling numbers. Their indices for the sentiment of the country, consumer spending, real unemployment and other measures are quite fascinating.

The question I have is this: Should economic development organizations pay close attention to these numbers as they plan for their activities and expenditures?

Should activities be slowed during an impending downturn? Should plans be put on hold to wait and see what happens? Perhaps. You certainly don’t want to overinvest when there is an expected downturn in a certain sector, or spend dollars that will not likely yield a return for taxpayers and private investors. Still, others might say you should double or triple your efforts in a downturn to take advantage of the fact that others that are playing wait-and-see.

However, economic development is largely a game of consistency and requires a long view. It is critical to invest steadily during natural fluctuations in the economic cycle. When activity slows, the consistency of your efforts will build relationships and help build or rebuild confidence in the market. When activity is high, it is important to leverage opportunities for shorter term gains for those you serve.

Ultimately, while polls and indices are important and can provide interesting insight, they are only truly valuable when paired with insight gained from direct dialogue with business leaders and government finance officials. This underscores the importance of a strong business outreach program for existing industry.

It is the economic developer’s duty to prepare for the future, pay attention to trends in community sentiment, and be consistent and calm whether times are good, bad or simply uncertain.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team will meet with site selection consultants in Phoenix.
  • Back at home, our team will attend a panel discussion by Kegler Brown, the Ohio SBDC Export Assistance Network and the Ohio Development Services Agency on Business and Educational Opportunities in Cuba.

Private Mission, Public Purpose

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche

Economic developers strongly believe in the positive power of the private sector. We have the humbling opportunity to meet with companies that reflect the best of capitalism – those within our communities and those considering expanding to our area. We meet executives who are passionate about their company missions, their value systems, and about making a profit so that they can make positive changes in their customers’ lives. I’ve had a feeling lately that we don’t celebrate that enough, and a trip to China provided a reminder of why we should.

Sometimes you have to study others to better learn about yourself. Our team recently visited China to speak with companies about their growth plans for North America. We met some very large, older companies and some that were smaller, tech-driven, and led by passionate entrepreneurs. We traveled to several different areas of the country and met with several different industries, so we were able to get a great sampling of attitudes and the business environment.

First, company leaders have an intense pride in their company mission to serve customers and grow. Their teams were unabashedly proud of their companies and their future potential. I don’t mean to suggest that these employees are blind followers of the company doctrine, but they are motivated by the excitement of competing on the world stage. Second, they had a clear understanding of their broader public purpose, and their role in society as job creators and forces for lifting people and advancing their country. Perhaps that is because China is still emerging, with millions of people mired in severe poverty, so the public purpose is more visible and palpable.

This week, I invite you to celebrate the great companies that you work for and with. I ask that, if you are a government or non-profit leader, you pause to appreciate the entrepreneurs in your community who create jobs and add to the fabric of your community. Let’s celebrate the companies in our communities and all that they do for our society. They create jobs, build wealth, sustain our tax bases, support social causes, and bring their products and services to market to make the world better. For a host of great Columbus Region stories, start here.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Congratulations and thank you to VirtusaPolaris, a leading worldwide provider of IT consulting and outsourcing services, which announced 50 new jobs in Dublin. The company will open a new innovation and technology development center and credits the Columbus Region’s large IT talent pool for its location decision.
  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team is hosting companies considering the Columbus Region.
  • Mark your calendar for Economic Development 411! This year’s date has been set for December 2.

Keep Striving

My mind is troubled, like a fountain stirred; And I myself see not the bottom of it.
-William Shakespeare

Our team is too often expressing the pain and sympathy we feel for communities struck by tragedy. The past two weeks we’ve found ourselves doing so yet again.

Events in our nation and around the world have exposed divides and complexities that confront us each day. It is not easy to heal, build safe and prosperous communities, and trust one another. As we discuss difficult issues and identify how we can help affect solutions, we also remember that many people are doing remarkable work that makes our world better each day.

Fortunately, a dose of good news is not hard to find.

Jobs – Good jobs and great jobs are prevalent in our economy. They are often full-time, offering healthcare benefits and safe work environments. They are created by entrepreneurs and institutions that have a greater purpose. As a nation, we have greater ability to work now than at another time in history.

Data and Insight – Advanced computing power has given us the ability to aggregate, interpret and draw insights from massive sets of data. Often referred to as “big data,” this technology allows us to draw conclusions that we can act upon with confidence. We now know more about what works and what does not in the fields of health, criminal justice, transportation, and a host of social issues. Insight gleaned from data is moving institutions and policies forward that have sat dormant for years.

Health – Major diseases, like colon cancer, dementia and heart disease, are in decline. While far from gone, people in the U.S. are starting to beat back diseases of aging.

Diversity and Globalism – Because of technology, economic need and ability to travel globally, we are doing more business with each other and developing more diverse relationships around the globe. There has always been cross-border travel, but never to this extent. This continues to weave the world’s citizens together, creating interdependence and building trust. No longer are we completely dependent on national government cooperation to bring people together.

The United States of America – We live in a celebrated country that enjoys incredible freedoms and opportunity. We can live, worship and speak freely. We have enormous economic opportunities and freedoms to build careers, start businesses and roam over 3 million square miles of land from ocean to ocean. We have fissures, but we continue to be a light for others who do not enjoy such freedom.

Let’s keep striving.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

This week, the Columbus 2020 team is in China to meet with companies. Back at home, our team will host companies considering the Columbus Region.

Olympic Development

The 2016 Summer Olympics will be here in just weeks. While the trials are on and teams are being formed, construction workers are hard at work finishing dozens of massive projects. It is a process that repeats itself in cities all over the world, this time in Rio.

It is expensive and risky, but it often pays off. There are those who argue that the money should be spent in other ways. In Rio, there are neighborhoods and favelas without basic services.

On the other hand, the spotlight surfaces these issues, pushes these cities to new heights, and makes them each global from that point forward. Atlanta is a wonderful example of a city that made a step up the global ladder when it hosted the Olympics in 1996.

What if you had just a few short years to begin and complete dozens of transformative projects in your city? Where would you start and what would your priorities be? How big are you willing to think? How could you transform your city and complete projects that would leave a legacy?

In less than a month we will see if Rio gets it all done. I’m sure they will and that the legacy of being host of the Games will last for decades.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

This week, the Columbus 2020 team will travel to China to meet with companies.