Do the Work

“‘Life is struggle.’ I believe that within that quote lies the most important lesson in entrepreneurship: Embrace the struggle.”
-Ben Horowitz, author of The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

The value of work cannot be denied. There is an addictively good feeling when a sale gets made, a product delivered, a building constructed, a mission accomplished. Even if the work is extremely difficult, underappreciated and the pay is less than it should be, the value in doing something hard and getting it done brings a pride few other things can deliver.

Economic developers know that when our economy grows, work is created and lives are changed for the better. Opportunities to design, finance, construct, deliver and build companies and communities come from behind-the-scenes work done by a lot of people coming together. Beyond the complex strategies, organizational charts and leadership maxims, there lies hard work.

This week let’s accept the challenge, put our heads down and do the small, unseen things that make big dreams possible.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team is traveling to Europe for meetings with companies. Back at home, our team is hosting companies considering the Columbus Region.
  • The new Columbus Region Overview Brochure provides a look into the Region’s economy, from market access and operating costs to major employers and workforce advantages. Click here to download the brochure, and contact Nick Reshan at for complementary print copies.

Tools of the Trade

“If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

A musician’s instrument, a painter’s brushes, a chef’s knives. All of these tools are integral to the success of the professional who uses them each day to practice her craft.

What instruments do economic developers use or need to practice their craft?

At a national, state, local and even a neighborhood level, programs exist that are critical to conduct economic development and to compete for investment and jobs. The ability to add value to public-private partnerships through financing, grants to catalyze further investment, and workforce training funds are critical to generating activity and building community infrastructure. These programs bridge gaps, remove obstacles and remove market inefficiencies so that private sector investment and jobs can be deployed. There are very few projects that don’t require one or more of these tools to move even the smallest initiative forward.

While under constant scrutiny as “business incentives,” the breadth of these programs and the agencies that implement them are far more important to our everyday lives than many citizens understand. There is a lot of debate and analysis about whether the programs are necessary, sufficient or if they perhaps yield unintended consequences. While communities should review the use of tools from tax credits to loan funds, it is necessary to have a full complement of functional programs that allow your area to compete for jobs and investment.

Local leaders, both urban and rural, depend on these programs to build up and repair their communities and to catalyze private sector partnerships. Ask any small business leader about the power of the small business programs that helped them to take an idea and turn it into a business. These same small businesses often grow quite large and can ultimately employ thousands of people.

As the global economy becomes even more competitive and new ways of working and forming companies are created, it is important to ask what programs will we need to keep pace and which are outdated. Are we fully leveraging what is available today? Does your local economic developer have the tools needed to nurture small businesses being created, accelerate high-growth companies, provide support for existing employers, and attract new businesses to the area? Each “bucket” requires a different toolbox!

-Kenny McDonald


Columbus 2020 Update

This week, the Columbus 2020 team is in Tucson for the Site Selectors Guild 2017 Annual Conference. Next week, we’ll begin an international business development mission in Europe.

Start with a Question

“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”
-Thomas Berger, Novelist

Columbus 2020 took time at the beginning of this year to revisit our mission and original strategy. With so much change happening in business, technology, Washington D.C. and across the globe, the time was ripe for the conversation.

While there are many facets to the analysis, we’ve come back again and again to the basic question that we’ve attempted to answer since 2010:

With an organized, competitively resourced, and intentional region, can we grow the Central Ohio economy faster and make it stronger than any other decade in its history? 

It was a bold question posed during a global recession in a community that was doing well compared to others.

The question has continued to drive our strategy and desire to collaborate. Our results indicate we are on track to accomplish the goal and there are even bolder questions on our mind for the future. Revisiting the question time and time again is important as things change and we need to adjust tactics.

That was our question, and something that drives us each day. What’s your question?

A link to spark your curiosity can be found here.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team is traveling to Los Angeles for the Natural Products Expo. Back at home, we’re hosting companies evaluating the Columbus Region.
  • In the coming weeks, our team is traveling to Tucson for the Site Selectors Guild 2017 Annual Conference, and to Japan and Europe to meet with companies.
  • JobsOhio is reinvesting in the SiteOhio Program for a second year to certify industrial properties as development-ready. The program will increase competitiveness by ensuring that Columbus Region communities are ready to respond with available sites when opportunities to grow or attract an economic base company surface. Our thanks to JobsOhio and the advisors at InSite Consulting Group for meeting with our team and our local economic development partners last week to share 2017 program updates.

Cashiers or Customer Service?

“The customer experience is the next competitive battleground.”
-Jerry Gregoire, CIO, Dell Computers

Last week, I read an article in the Washington Post that stopped me in my tracks. It was about saving cashier jobs across America.

As an economic developer, I was dismayed. Does this columnist, obviously a well-educated person, really believe this to be a real economic development strategy? I acknowledge that there are huge number of cashiers, but does this really reflect the broader public’s perspective of how to strengthen the economy and to embrace the future? If so, we are in trouble!

As a person who goes to the grocery store and shops in person occasionally (sorry, Amazon), I have a more personal view. I would most often love to have a real live person check me out politely and help me fulfill my transaction. Other times, I just want to interact with a kiosk or gas pump and not a person (sorry, New Jersey. I’ll pump my own gas and move along).

The underlying issue is that we obviously can’t grow an economy on front line jobs that can be done better and more easily with technology. We must build a strong economic base, and embrace technology and the evolving expectations customers have for speed and quality. We can predict that cashiers will likely succumb to the same technologies that replaced many front-line jobs.

That does not mean that the front lines of customer service aren’t important and even differentiating for certain services and companies. It is human nature to want to be treated well when purchasing something or completing a transaction, and it is increasingly rare.

Here’s something to take notice of this week: If you have a differentiating experience with a company or organization, take the time to not only thank the employee, but also the organization. While they may not lead us to greater economic growth, those who deal most directly with the customer at the point of sale can make or break the client experience.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • The Columbus 2020 Investor Update will be held this week. We look forward to seeing you there—and if you can’t make it, follow along on Twitter with #cbus2020.
  • Also this week, our team is hosting companies evaluating the Columbus Region.
  • Next week, the Columbus 2020 team will attend the Consultants Forum’s Automotive Workshop in Nashville.

Software IS Eating the World

In 2011, Marc Andreessen said, “More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services – from movies to agriculture to national defense.”

The observation seems ever more prophetic each day. As Alex Rampell, a general partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, alluded to in this interview, it is the business models made possible by technology that are beginning to methodically chip away at every industry, including banking and finance, that have enormous implications.

Economic developers once did and still do fear the local plant or headquarters closing. In watching the launch of the new Boeing Dreamliner last week, I was reminded that Charleston, South Carolina’s economy was nearly obliterated in 1993 when the Naval base was closed and over 22,000 jobs were lost. The community embraced the change, went to work and just three years later it was recovering, as this article from 1997 cites.

But what do you do when technology is eating away at your companies and industries like the proverbial frog in a pot? I believe the first thing is to accept the premise that ALL industries will be transformed in the next five years – not in the next 20. Some current jobs will be made obsolete, while others have not been created yet. This includes positions in retail, healthcare and government, not only manufacturing and information technology.

The No. 1 competency an economic developer needs to succeed in this environment is curiosity. We must have insatiable appetite to research and interview existing businesses about what is next and prepare our communities for the coming changes.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team is in Phoenix and Los Angeles as well as China to meet with companies and consultants. Back home, we’ll be hosting companies considering the Columbus Region for expansion.
  • Speaker announced: CoverMyMeds co-founder and CEO Matt Scantland will join us at the Columbus 2020 Investor Update on March 2 to share what the company’s $1.1 billion acquisition means for the company and the Columbus Region. This week is the last chance to register! For more information, click here.

Civic Literacy

“The practice of democracy is not passed down through the gene pool. It must be taught and learned anew by each generation of citizens.”
-Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

Being a well-informed citizen has, in some ways, never been easier. Citizens have excellent access to information, facilities and government services. Access to basic healthcare and information about public health has never been as abundant. Educational resources are available in the most remote locations and an astonishing amount of content is available for free from libraries and online resources.

However, being civically literate has never been more challenging. One source from Wayne State described civic literacy as “the knowledge of how to actively participate and initiate change in your community and the greater society.” As an example of the fast changing skill requirements, Mae Jemison, former NASA astronaut and principal of the 100 Year Starship Foundation, speaks passionately about the need for leaders and everyday citizens to also be “science literate.” The ability to process and understand basic science and technology concepts is increasingly important to fully participate in today’s fast-paced world.

The set of skills beyond basic reading, writing and arithmetic that were once required for citizens to get a job and maneuver throughout the day are simply not enough to keep up today. A growing list of technology-oriented skills are necessary to understand the fast paced, global era we are living in.

Why does this matter to economic development leaders? Because without a well-informed citizenry your community cannot thrive or sustain itself, set ambitious community goals or compete economically. A globally competitive workforce requires that employees be engaged, competent citizens as well.

This report from the Partnership for 21st Century Learning is an excellent reminder of the importance of civics today.

While many look backward to a time when civics was taught in every school room, I urge us all to look forward to a world where that is necessary not only in the school room, but also in the workplace and at home.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team will travel to Canada to meet with companies and attend the SelectUSA Manufacturing Forum at the Canadian International Auto Show.
  • Next week, our team will travel to Phoenix and Los Angeles as well as China to meet with companies and consultants.

Necessary Ingredients

“A dynamic economy begins with a good education.”
-Bob Taft

I’ve written before about the balance sought in building an economy that is both durable and dynamic. Economic strength and diversity create durable economies that able to “take a punch,” and dynamic economies that foster technological growth and a high number of new firms are very rare.

A new report by the Economic Innovation Group, “Dynamism in Retreat,” points to the declining number of new firms being created across the country in all but a very few regions. Larger firms are dominant and getting more so. This points to declining entrepreneurship and the fact that larger firms have become exceptionally great employers by any historical standard. At issue is our ability to grow quickly and to create genuinely new jobs in the economy.

The Columbus Region is the home of CoverMyMeds, a fast-growing software maker founded in 2008 and recently acquired by McKesson for $1.1 billion. Drive Capital’s Chris Olsen called this “a seminal moment for the Columbus startup community.” While it is extraordinarily rare for such an outsized success to result from a startup, even modest growth by newly formed firms can yield big benefits for communities.

For economic developers, it is a reminder that their plans need to include a focus on fostering tech commercialization, startups and high-growth enterprises. This does not mean that efforts to grow existing companies and attract new operations should be halted. All of these activities help to create healthy communities and are necessary ingredients for a dynamic environment.

See and for more on how this works in the Columbus Region.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Last week, three companies announced expansions in the Columbus Region. Automotive supplier Jefferson Industries Corporation is adding 20 jobs in West Jefferson, e-commerce agency Rocket Code is adding 30 jobs in Columbus and manufacturer West-Ward Pharmaceuticals is adding 65 jobs in Columbus. Congratulations to all three companies and their communities.
  • If you’re flying United this month, you’ll find this section on Columbus in United Hemispheres magazine. Thank you to the partners and businesses who participated to help to share the story of our region with millions of air travelers.
  • Next week, the Columbus 2020 team will travel to Canada for a business development mission.

Open and Smart

“Because we share the philosophy that Columbus is open to all, we are always taking risks, always thinking big and always open to new ideas.”
-The Columbus Image Project

Communities often struggle to define an authentic message about who they are and what they stand for. This was true for Columbus when I moved my family here years ago.

The difficult work of examining this was undertaken by thoughtful civic leaders and fantastic marketing firms. They reached out across the metro, inviting citizens from all walks of life and all neighborhoods to weigh in on what they thought best described the community. After all the research was analyzed by local firm Ologie, it was found that our core characteristics are quite simple. When asked what type of community Columbus was, the responses repeatedly supported two attributes: Open and smart.

As a region with nearly 140,000 enrolled college students, one of the largest land grant universities at its core, research institutions like Battelle and OCLC, and a cadre of science-driven businesses like Abbott and CAS, it makes sense that we would value “smart.” This attribute has since been reinforced by Columbus winning the U.S. DOT’s Smart City Challenge and the growth of our IT and analytics cluster.

“Open” was harder for those not familiar with the area to understand. Upon closer examination, it becomes much clearer. The Columbus Region is one the largest fashion, apparel and retail headquarters hubs in North America. It is the beneficiary of foreign direct investment from Honda and hundreds of its Japanese-based suppliers, and it is a seat of government and public debate in America’s 7th largest state. It makes perfect sense that Columbus area citizens have more exposure to diverse perspectives and ideas and the people who brought them.

It turns out that these words are not just a statement of values. They have become our region’s value proposition. When welcoming a new family, a new business or a talented young student into our region, it is something that we convey and discuss. It is also an expectation for those who become One of US.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Last week, the Transportation Research Center announced a $45 million investment in a state-of-the-art hub for automated and autonomous testing. Congratulations to TRC, which will be at the forefront of future mobility.
  • Congratulations to Columbus’ first unicorn, CoverMyMeds. The startup has been acquired for $1.1 billion by McKesson, allowing CoverMyMeds to maximize its impact and continue its commitment to being a best place to work in Ohio.
  • Next week, we’ll join 1,300 guests for the 2017 Columbus Chamber Annual Meeting. Learn more and register here.

Demographic Waves Begin to Come Ashore

“The human being is a self-propelled automaton entirely under the control of external influences. Willful and predetermined though they appear, his actions are governed not from within, but from without. He is like a float tossed about by the waves of a turbulent sea.”
-Nikola Tesla

Demographics are destiny is a common refrain. It is difficult to refute, but often dismissed by businesses and economists too focused on the short-term. Three articles that follow reinforce that demographics are a powerful economic and political force.

As a member of Generation X, this recent article from Joel Kotkin and Wendell Fox caught my eye about how our generation is beginning to assume leadership from the baby boomers.

As a native of Montana and someone who continues to follow the state’s fortunes, I was struck by this article raising concerns about the state’s future based on its economic trends. Many states, metro areas and rural areas face this same dilemma.

Finally, a global view. A.T. Kearney conducted a deep analysis of the largest millennial markets in the coming years. While Asia is poised for great growth and Europe continues to age, the United States is in an attractive position. Not only do we have a large millennial generation, but it is relatively wealthy with discretionary income – something that consumer product and technology companies must serve if they want to grow.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • This week, the Columbus 2020 team is hosting companies considering the Columbus Region.
  • Next week, our team will travel to Chicago to meet with site location consultants.
  • Congratulations to Columbus 2020’s Matt McQuade, named by Consultant Connect as one of North America’s top 50 economic developers of 2017.
  • Join 1,300 thought leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs helping shape the future of our region’s business community at the Columbus Chamber Annual Meeting on February 8. Click here for details and to register.

Leadership by Engagement

“Markets are conversations.”
-The Cluetrain Manifesto

Change is in the air. The Internet of Things (IOT), artificial intelligence (AI), the explosion of e-commerce, advanced mobility, personalized medicine and wide-ranging changes are shifting the power centers of nearly every industry and community.

The relevance of institutions and activities that are perceived as institutional are under attack. All of this is disruptive, but it is also understandable. Most institutions need to be reformed or at least adapted to serve their stakeholders better, and for most it has been a long time coming.

This week the World Economic Forum will convene. This annual event is something I have come to appreciate for its consistency and for its ability to capture the narrative of the global economy. Some have questioned the relevance of this gathering of top leaders at a time when there is a groundswell of activity from the bottom up.

I would argue that the World Economic Forum and meetings like it across industries are even more necessary in these times. Leaders need to meet, help each other gain perspective, challenge each other and simply digest the upheaval.

As leaders of organizations within our communities it is important that we engage with our industry associations and communities of interest, and do so personally where we can.

Much of the content may make us uncomfortable, and even overwhelm us, but being hands on will likely lead us to find a path forward in the fog of all the change.

-Kenny McDonald

Columbus 2020 Update

  • Last week, the Columbus 2020 team joined JobsOhio, The Ohio State University’s Center for Automotive Research and Transportation Research Center to showcase Ohio as a premier automotive location at the North American International Auto Show. Also during NAIAS, Mayor Ginther joined mayors of Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit for a panel on the future of mobility, moderated by New York Times CEO Mark Thompson.
  • Save the date for the next Columbus 2020 Investor Update. Join the Columbus 2020 team and fellow investors on March 2 at Hollywood Casino. Additional details are coming soon, and in the meantime you can register here.