The Economic Developer’s Agenda

Last week, a number of us from the Columbus Region were fortunate to attend the International Economic Development Council’s annual conference in Fort Worth, Texas. It provides an interesting look at what is “on the agenda” for communities. That is, the things that economic development groups are concentrating on and the challenges they are facing in delivering services for states, cities and communities.

For me there were three clear themes. First, like many industries, there is the search to bring talented young people into the economic development profession. In a rapidly changing world, it is ever more important to have representatives from younger generations to better serve and understand clients and communities. How do we transform our organizations so that they not only challenge young minds, but keep them engaged so that they commit to the profession and develop the experience to serve their areas for decades to come?

Second was the development of global skills to work in our current economy. How do we help companies grow through international expansion and exporting? How do we attract investment from foreign-owned companies? How do we build a globally competitive workforce? JPMorgan Chase provided a grant to help in these areas in their continuing commitment to economic development. Ambassador Vinai Thummalapally from SelectUSA addressed the conference about these issues, as did Assistant Secretary Jay Williams of the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Finally, it was all about workforce. The demographic changes facing our country are causing challenges for employers and a once-in-a-generation opportunity to develop smarter solutions and to align our education, workforce development, and economic development goals at a local and national level. The challenge is daunting, but it is exciting to see the solutions being generated.

As always, I walk away proud of my chosen profession and excited by the opportunities to build communities and generate opportunities for people across the Columbus Region. Economic development does indeed matter!

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • At the IEDC annual conference last week, Columbus 2020 was ranked No. 2 “best in class” among the country’s top regional economic development organizations. Columbus 2020 also won six IEDC Excellence in Economic Development awards for various marketing projects and campaigns. Many thanks to our partners and investors for your support – we share these awards with you.
  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team continues its two week business development mission in Japan and China.
  • Back at home, our team is hosting companies that are evaluating the Columbus Region.


It is easy for community and business leaders to assume they know all there is to know about their communities or market areas. For economists, it can seem easy to draw broad conclusions about countries and regions from afar. Thank goodness the world is more interesting than that! Although we are awash with information about our communities and the world in general, there are new discoveries to be made every day.

Our communities and local economies are changing constantly, driven by vast changes in technology and demographics (for example, did you know that 60 percent of the Columbus Region’s population growth from 2000-2013 is represented by minorities?). As a community leader, it is very important to challenge yourself to look at your community in new and interesting ways. Perhaps you get this perspective by traveling to other communities and comparing them to your own, or you take half a day to visit a part of your community you are unfamiliar with, or you simply drive to work on a different route. I contend that it is well worth your time to “get lost” in your own community one day this week to see it from a different angle.

For business leaders, it is important to challenge assumptions that are drawn from data alone. Companies are constantly looking for growth opportunities and pools of talent that can help them innovate. To fully understand the possibilities, it is necessary to get on the ground. Take a later flight and check out the city you are in, or contact the economic development group in the city to ask a few questions. You will undoubtedly be surprised by your findings.

This week let’s take the time to rediscover our own communities and uncover new possibilities.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

This week, the Columbus 2020 team begins a two week business development mission in Japan and China, where we will meet with dozens of companies and consultants. Our team is also in Fort Worth for the 2014 IEDC Annual Conference, and here in Dublin we will attend the 2014 OEDA Annual Summit.

A Partnership for Growth

The alignment of a region’s commercial real estate community and economic development plan is critical. In order for an economic base to expand, development-ready sites and marketable buildings are a necessity. Communities can be overlooked for projects that they are well suited to win simply because the available site or building inventory is too low. Available properties must be marketed aggressively by both the developer and the community to achieve absorption, development and economic growth.

The development of real estate is a game of risk, and good information is key to making sound decisions. Communities must work in partnership with private developers to encourage the development of business parks, commercial office buildings and industrial buildings. This requires an open and constant dialogue, transparency about competitive forces and a willingness to work together on economic development strategy.

The Columbus Region is fortunate to have a very active and involved real estate community. Organizations like Columbus REALTORS, the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties and the Urban Land Institute have terrific leadership and are active both locally and statewide. Their events bring the community together to have candid dialogue about the area’s future, and to bring national and international best practices to the local market.

Explore some of the largest speculative projects being developed in the Columbus Region and try searching the site and building database on

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

A Powerful Network

In a networked world, trust is the most important currency.
Eric Schmidt

Columbus 2020 was started at the beginning of the decade under a simple premise – that we can grow stronger together. By collaborating as a region, leveraging our resources, increasing the dialogue about challenges and opportunities, and generating economic opportunities for the entire Columbus Region, we are more likely to succeed.

I’m often asked if this exists in other metro areas around the country and around the world. Of course, the answer is yes. Local leaders around the globe have come to the same conclusion and are working just as hard as the Columbus Region to position themselves as a competitive business location.

Right here in Ohio there are several examples of excellence, and Columbus 2020 is proud to call them all allies and colleagues in the daily effort to strengthen Ohio’s economic foundation. Six organizations represent six regions in Ohio, and we work together as partners in the JobsOhio Network:

We can grow stronger together and go further faster when we collaborate, compete and share best practices.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Friday, Oct. 3 is the next Columbus 2020 Investor Update, where we’ll celebrate Manufacturing Day and Ohio Manufacturing Month. The event will feature keynote speaker Jeffrey Rothfeder, author of Driving Honda: Inside the World’s Most Innovative Car Company. Today is the last day to RSVP.
  • Next week, our team will hold a Pipeline Report. We will present the scope of our current project pipeline. We will also share the findings of a survey of site consultants and corporate executives, which uncovers insights about how the Columbus Region is perceived as a business location.

Something Big?

Ten years from now, will we look back on Alibaba’s IPO as a seminal moment in business history? Will it mark a moment in time that changed global trade, shopping habits and the balance of power in the world of technology? It is hard to imagine, given that most people in the U.S. have not even visited the Alibaba website, but it may be true. (More about China-based Alibaba is here.)

Foreign companies enter the U.S. market all the time and they have almost exclusively been from developed nations. For China, Alibaba’s IPO is a proud national moment. While China represents a giant economy and has progressed fantastically in the past 25 years, it is still a developing country and an enigma to many in the western world. Alibaba isn’t the only Chinese company that is globally competitive, but last week’s massive IPO ensures that they will have the scale to make an long-term impact. Not to mention that they dominate China’s marketplace – a marketplace that our own technology companies want to grow.

Will this moment cause the United States to accelerate innovation, think about immigration differently or change consumer buying habits? The U.S. has exported products and technology, music and shopping concepts around the world for a long time. Will the reverse also be true as Chinese companies bring their business models to our market? Does that scare us or make us better?

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team will be in Washington, D.C. for meetings with the Brookings Institution on foreign direct investment as part of the Global Cities Exchange. We will also meet with companies and consultants in Chicago.
  • Next week, our team will hold a Columbus 2020 Investor Update in celebration of MFG DAY and Ohio Manufacturing Month. Learn more and RSVP here.
  • Last week, the Columbus Chamber announced that Jamie Dimon, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co., will serve as Keynote Speaker at its 2015 Annual Meeting. Mark your calendar for February 12.

How Dynamic Are You?

Local, state and national economies are in a state of constant change akin to a living, breathing organism. The economic health of a place is often debated, and it is true that economies change based on how well nourished they are and what conditions the surrounding environment provides. While only slightly different, economic dynamism takes the debate to a new level. I think we can all agree that we would like to be called dynamic, rather than merely healthy.

An ongoing study by Grant Thornton of how dynamic economies are across the world is quite fascinating. The analysis looks at 22 factors within five critical areas: business operating environment, science and technology, labor and human capital, financing environment, and economics and growth. Singapore was recently ranked as having the most dynamic economy in the world.

Looking at each factor for your state or local economy is instructive about how to become a more dynamic economy. One thing that most would agree on is this – an environment where entrepreneurship thrives is more dynamic than an environment where it does not. This recent post from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research quotes Columbus Region entrepreneur Sharon DeLay of BoldlyGO, and makes a great case for why entrepreneurship is the foundation of productivity and the creation of a more dynamic economy.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

Never Forget

This week thirteen years ago, our world changed. The events of September 11th are seared in our memories. Thanks to the men and women of our military, and thanks to sacrifices made by families in our country and allied countries around the world, we are safe, secure and able to pursue our dreams. It is our responsibility to remember the innocent lives that were lost over a decade ago, and those that have been lost protecting our freedom.

It is also our responsibility to take advantage of that freedom. Whether you are starting a business, teaching kids to read, furthering your education at night after a long day at work or simply showing up to work every day – these acts fly in the face of those that sought and seek to diminish freedom around the world.

Visit the Ohio Department of Veterans Services to learn about resources available for veterans or better yet, hire a veteran through Ohio Means Veterans Jobs.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Last week, our team joined state, local and private sector partners to celebrate and congratulate Columbus Castings. The company announced the addition of 550 jobs to their South Side manufacturing facility – the largest steel foundry in North America. The nearby Reeb Elementary School will be reborn as the Reeb Avenue Center, and will serve as a training ground for new workers.
  • This week, our team – along with Logan County, Union County, the City of Dublin and the City of Marysville – will join JobsOhio and REDI Cincinnati at the Midwest U.S. – Japan Association Conference in Des Moines.
  • Our team will also join the rally on Wednesday, September 10, to welcome the NCAA Women’s Final Four site selection committee. The committee is visiting Columbus as they consider host locations for 2017 to 2020.
  • The Columbus Region Logistics Council is hosting its fall logistics job fair on Friday, September 12, at Columbus State Community College. Click here for a list of participating employers and to register.
  • The next Columbus 2020 Investor Update will take place on October 3. In celebration of Ohio Manufacturing Month, the event will feature keynote speaker Jeffrey Rothfeder, author ofDriving Honda: Inside the World’s Most Innovative Car Company.

Development is Still a Priority

A recent edition of China Daily included an article and an editorial, both in praise of former Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, that captured my attention. The first article, “Entrepreneurs benefit from legacy of Deng” discusses Deng’s “reform and opening-up” of the Chinese economy in the ’70s and ’80s. The first sentence sums up the pre-Deng environment – “In 1963, businessman Nian Qiang’s father was caught selling fish on the streets and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment for ‘speculation.'”

The editorial served as an even more poignant reminder. The headline, “Development is still priority,” is not one that you would often see in a U.S. publication. Of course development is a priority. When it ceases to be a priority and when communities and people cease to pull together in order to grow their economy and improve their standard of living, they move backward – and backward is almost always dangerous.

This week let’s commit ourselves to forward movement, and the development of more prosperous and inclusive communities. With so many places across the world moving in reverse, let’s remember that development is still a priority in the United States of America – the greatest country in the world.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team will attend COTA’s 2014 Luncheon Meeting. Click here to learn more and register for the event, which will include a keynote address by Therese W. McMillan, acting administrator of the Federal Transit Administration.
  • The Ohio State University will hold its Columbus Welcome Event today. The 7,000 first year students will experience a high energy, multi-media production featuring key community leaders, alumni and current students who will encourage students to take advantage of the opportunities beyond campus.

Start Us Up, Again

I don’t spend my time pontificating about high-concept things; I spend my time solving engineering and manufacturing problems.
-Elon Musk

Start Us Up, Again

In the ’80s and ’90s, there was tremendous energy in our society about the personal computer and the software that made it possible to do things unimagined previously. Remember Microsoft’s inspiring “Start Me Up” launch for Windows 95? That was a big deal – a seminal moment.

The information technology movement inspired a generation to create a whole new economy that has transformed our world in every imaginable way. It changed the way we communicate and the way we travel, and has helped democratize the world as never before. I am equally inspired by the movement underway to use that technology to “make stuff.” My hope is that the Maker Movement described in this documentary trailer will inspire a new generation to improve the standard of living for billions of people around the world and once again transform our economy.

There are dozens of examples within the Columbus Region of this movement. Beam Technologies, a company that just expanded here is a great example of the convergence of information technology and manufacturing design. If you want to see the Maker Movement in full effect, visit the Columbus Idea Foundry. It is an amazing place where ideas can be transformed into reality – how cool is that?

For more on this revolution in manufacturing, please download this official report from the White House.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Last week, Ascena Retail Group held the grand opening of their shared services center and expanded distribution facility in Etna Township. The expansion, an example of state-of-the-art technology and automation, will result in more than 375 new IT and distribution jobs. Congratulations and thank you to Ascena, Grow Licking County and the community.
  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team will travel to Atlanta and London for company meetings.
  • Back at home, our team will host companies evaluating the Columbus Region.
  • Plans are commencing to coordinate manufacturing tours this October in recognition of Manufacturing Month. If you have interest in opening your facility to school-age children, parents and community leaders, please contact Patty Huddle at and 614-225-6065.

The Greatest Market in the World

There is a basic tenet of economic development often gets overlooked in the dearth of economic data and economic punditry: Companies need to sell their services and goods, and they need a competitive, reliable marketplace in which to do it.

The U.S. comes in at No. 5 in the World Economic Forum’s annual competitiveness ranking. I would suggest that North America is the greatest market in the world for companies to start, scale and sustain themselves over the long-term.

The combined GDP of North American countries is over $20 TRILLION. The United States is clearly the alpha dog – accounting for 80 percent of the combined GDP. Mexico, Canada and a number of smaller markets contribute the other 20 percent. Some believe Mexico’s market reforms could substantially increase their economic power. Given that so many global companies look at North America as one market, Mexico’s growth would create an even more powerful continent. We have shared economic interests with our North American neighbors – for example, Ohio exports more than 50 percent of its goods and services to Canada and Mexico.

We don’t often use the term “North America” in the U.S., but the rest of the world increasingly sees this continent as one diverse marketplace and source of natural and human resources. The growth of the trade corridor from Canada to Mexico has exploded since NAFTA was signed in the ’90s, and it continues to expand and evolve as a market. Canada and Mexico both have aggressive trade policies with various parts of the world that the U.S. does not. Workplaces are diverse and range from Silicon Valley to the oil sands of northern Alberta, from Wall Street to the maquiladoras and “co-production” manufacturing facilities in Mexico.

What does this mean to the U.S.? It means that we have a tremendous advantage when competing with markets around the world. It also means our neighbors require that we continue to compete and evolve. There is a gravitational pull created by growing companies, and there are capitalists who want to grow and protect their fortunes. I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world!

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Last week, the Democratic National Committee was in town to evaluate Columbus as a potential location for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Congratulations and kudos to Experience Columbus, the Columbus Partnership and others who did an outstanding job of hosting the group and showcasing Columbus. You can see pictures from the visit and follow the latest news on the Columbus 2016 Facebook page.
  • This October, Columbus CEO magazine will publish a special supplement in partnership with Columbus 2020. The advertising deadline has been extended – this week is your last chance to reserve ad space. Click here for more information.
  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team will attend Walmart’s 2014 U.S. Manufacturing Summit in Denver.
  • Back at home, our team will host companies evaluating the Columbus Region.