Economic Development 411

What information do you need as a civic or business leader to appropriately advocate for and participate in your community? What challenges does our region face now that it did not five years ago? What opportunities do we have to grow our economy, and how do we continue to compete globally?

Next week, the Mid-Ohio Development Exchange (MODE), Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) and Columbus 2020 host the third annual Economic Development 411, a half-day summit to help leaders throughout the Columbus Region gain a greater understanding of economic development. Each year new topics are covered, but the overall focus remains on how we ensure that the Columbus Region remains competitive in a global market.

This year, Bill Fruth will provide the morning keynote address. Bill’s experience in helping communities throughout the nation, and his skill at making the complexity of economic development simple to understand will help to set the stage for the day. We’ll then hold breakout sessions led by great local presenters on a host of topics. We’ll also be joined by Dr. David Kolzow who will travel in from Tennessee, where he helps inform newly elected leaders about the basics of economic development. Dr. Kolzow brings decades of experience that have proved to be invaluable to hundreds of communities across the world.

During lunch, Columbus 2020 investors will join ED411 attendees for the final Columbus 2020 Investor Update of 2014. We’ll hear from Dr. Jeffrey Wadsworth, President and CEO of Battelle, one of the Columbus Region’s finest institutions. Battelle is the world’s largest nonprofit R&D organization, and one of the Columbus Region’s leaders in manufacturing and innovation. Dr. Wadsworth will present about challenges and opportunities in the global marketplace, and his unique insight into our nation’s laboratories and worldwide technology trends is sure to inspire and challenge the audience.

We hope you can attend this important annual forum on the state of economic development in the Columbus Region. We believe that the agenda will educate and the dialogue will invigorate. Together, we will continue to move Columbus Region forward.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020

  • The Columbus 2020 team wishes you a very happy Thanksgiving. Good luck to the Ohio State Buckeyes – let’s beat that team up north!
  • Congratulations to the Greater Columbus Sports Commission, The Ohio State University and all who were involved in bringing the NCAA 2018 Women’s Final Four to Columbus.
  • Our thoughts are with the family of Southgate Corp. founder Jack O’Neill, who passed away at age 91 last Sunday. Jack began developing housing in Licking County for WWII veterans in the 1950s, and later focused on retail and industrial park development. He also helped establish NAIOP, the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties. We honor Jack for his legacy of leadership and his dedication to the Columbus Region.

In Praise of Longevity

Our society places an intense focus on the next new thing. The latest technology, the newest business model, the hottest startup. As well we should, since all of these things point to the future, deconstruct outdated ways of approaching problems and help us move forward economically and socially.

However, when you have the occasion to interact with a company that has endured for decades – or even more than a century – it is something to truly appreciate. How have they constantly reinvented themselves and stayed current, while others have flamed out or sold out? How do their original values translate to current times? Why have they made it when so many others could not or chose not to?

The Columbus Region is blessed to have such companies. Greif and Scotts Miracle-Gro were founded over 100 years ago, and each have terrific histories that serve as a model for others to follow. White Castle sold its first hamburger over 90 years ago, and has amassed legions of raving fans along the way. Worthington Industries, NetJets and L Brands continue to change their respective industries 50 years after their founding.

What can we learn from these storied companies? How can our community help them thrive for generations to come?

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020

  • Last week, the Columbus 2020 team and local economic development partners met with companies in Germany considering location in the United States.
  • This week, our team is hosting companies evaluating the Columbus Region. Our team will also serve on the panel for Young Professionals to Students – How I Got Here, an IEDC webinar intended as a professional primer for students in economic development.
  • The Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation is seeking input on Ohio’s Unified State Plan, which will improve outcomes for students, adults and employers by better coordinating local workforce administrators, caseworkers and K-12 educators. The deadline for input is Wednesday, November 19.
  • William Fruth, president of POLICOM Corporation, has been announced as the keynote speaker for Economic Development 411. Fruth is a nationally recognized leader in the field of geographic economics and also has extensive experience in economic development. Click here to register.

Narrowing the Gap

The 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is a reminder of the triumph of freedom, and the virtues of capitalism over communism and authoritarian rule. The climb out of that dark period has been long and tenuous. For those in the U.S., the Wall coming down was the end of a long period of tension and fear. For those closest to the fight – the people significantly impacted by the Wall and all it stood for – it was the beginning of a long process.

This article from Deutsche Welle details the economic struggle to integrate the German economy. While Berlin is a burgeoning technology hub and a city coming of age, much of the rest of the former East Germany lags its western counterpart in wages and economic productivity. Forty years of progress in the west versus 40 years of repression in the east have made it quite difficult to reconcile. This is a very poignant case study in the power of history and economic geography.

The cycle of poverty in many neighborhoods and rural locations in the United States reflect the same fact – that despite efforts to level the playing field, it is very difficult to narrow the gap between communities. It is indeed complex. Despite intentional efforts to intervene and change the cycle, only modest gains are made most of the time. It is known that education – while not a magic elixir – is a potent weapon in this battle. The creation of wealth in poorer communities, if reinvested in those communities, is also a path to success. Enterprises create such wealth by bringing new money in and providing jobs for those who live there, creating an economic base. Hopefully, a virtuous cycle of growth and redevelopment ensues.

It is important to celebrate when barriers to growth and development are demolished. But, it is just as important to help narrow the gap that’s left behind.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Last week, the Columbus 2020 team returned from a successful business development trip to Japan and China. Our team was accompanied by Canal Winchester development director Lucas Haire, who recently touted the value of such trips.
  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team and local allies are in Germany to meet with companies considering location in the United States.
  • Economic Development 411 will be held on Friday, December 5. ED411 is a half-day training session for government officials, business leaders and economic development professionals that will feature networking opportunities and breakout sessions on workforce challenges, local economic development strategies, global trade and investment, incentives and entrepreneurship. Visit to register.
  • The final Columbus 2020 Investor Update of the year will be held on Friday, December 5 in conjunction with ED411. Click here to learn more.

Gas Prices and the Economy

Gas prices fell below $3.00 per gallon this week, saving the average American at least $50 a month. What does an extra $50 a month mean you? For many, it makes all the difference in the world. It makes it easier to buy groceries, pay rent or to take the family to eat. For local governments and businesses who purchase large quantities of fuel, falling gas prices could also provide some needed relief.

Less than a decade ago, economists could not conceive that the United States would be an net exporter of energy, or that oil would ever be at $80 a barrel again. Both of those things are true as we approach 2015. Low gas prices are generally good for the economy, the American worker and small businesses. They should lead to spending in other categories and create a little wiggle room for families as we enter the holiday season.

So this is a good thing, right? Like so many things concerning economics, it is complicated. Too much of a good thing means there is a downside to dropping crude prices. Oil at $80 a barrel is considered good, but $70 may begin to have a negative impact on the booming oil and gas industry in the U.S., and right here in Ohio.

If you have a story about how falling gas prices are impacting you and your business please comment below or email us at

-Kenny McDonald

  • Last week, two companies announced expansions that will bring a combined 70 jobs to the Columbus Region. Lubrication Specialties will invest $1.9 million in Morrow County while Sage Sustainable Electronics will invest $2.5 million in Franklin County. Thank you to both companies for their commitment to the Region.
  • This week, the Ohio Board of Regents will begin hosting meetings throughout the state to seek input from manufacturers about the funding for workforce development equipment. The Columbus Region meeting will be held on Thursday, November 6 at Tolles Technical Center. Industry participation is strongly encouraged to ensure funds are directed towards acquisition of machinery that will provide the greatest benefit to manufacturers. Click here to register.
  • The Ohio Manufacturing Institute has launched a new podcast, Manufacturing Tomorrow. The bi-weekly series will highlight the innovations and groundbreaking relationships that are embraced by leading manufacturers.
  • The Ohio Development Services Agency has launched the Ohio Career Exploration Internship Program, a partnership driven program between businesses and high school students. Employers may host up to three interns in a calendar year and can be reimbursed 50 percent of each intern’s salary, up to $5,000. Click here to learn more.

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