Business First of Columbus - by Jeff Bell
Partners in the Columbus2020 economic-development effort want to raise $30 million over the next five years to help spur economic development in Central Ohio.
The money will be used in support of attracting new businesses to the region and retaining ones already here, said Alex Fischer, CEO of the Columbus Partnership, an organization of top executives from Central Ohio’s largest companies and public-sector employers. The Partnership is leading the 2020 effort with the ColumbusChamber, TechColumbus, Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and public-sector economic-development partners, including the city of Columbus and Franklin County.
“We’ve got a fabulous set of strategies and aggressive goals and ambitions,” Fischer said.
Among them are creating 180,000 new jobs in the region by 2020, 40 percent per capita income growth in that 10-year span, and moving Central Ohio into the top 10 for economic development in the country.
But it will take more than the $2 million a year that the Columbus region has historically invested in economic development, Fischer said. That sum is only a half to a third of the economic-development funding available to regions that compete with Central Ohio for businesses, he said. Among them are Nashville, Tenn., Austin, Texas, Raleigh, N.C., Denver and Charlotte, N.C.
Fischer said the money will be used to support a number of areas to attract, create, expand and retain businesses. The spending will include hiring of a sales staff and creation of marketing materials to sell the region to national and international companies, site selection professionals and targeted industries. In addition, campaign dollars will be spent on creating what Fischer called “civic infrastructure” needed by businesses. That includes road, water, sewer and utility improvements as well as quality-of-life factors such as the arts, cultural events and education.
“We want to be in a position,” Fischer said, “to advance smart investments across all aspects of the community with a direct impact on economic development.”
Broad fundraising base
A campaign council of more than 50 business and community leaders has been formed to work on the fundraising plan. They include Columbus Partnership leaders such as Limited Brands Inc. CEO Les Wexner, Nationwide Insurance CEO Steve Rasmussen, Battelle CEO Jeff Wadsworth and Columbus Dispatch Publisher John Wolfe. Also on the council are ColumbusChamber board members, including ODW Logistics Inc. President John Ness and Lonnie Miles, CEO of Miles McClellan Construction Co.
Columbus Partnership members have not determined their financial commitments to Columbus2020, Fischer said, but they are expected to be substantial. Support also will be sought from medium-sized and smaller companies and local governments.
“It will be important that the largest companies in Columbus continue to support economic development,” he said, “but we’ve got to broaden the base, too.”
Fischer said about 70 companies, organizations or individuals in the region invest $1,000 or more annually in economic development. Columbus2020 leaders would like to grow that number to 700, he said.
The Columbus Partnership has committed an undisclosed amount to hire a fundraising consultant, Research Development Group of Columbus, to lead the 2020 campaign. The firm has had success with economic-development campaigns in a number of U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma City, Jacksonville, Fla., St. Louis and Fort Worth, Texas, according to the ColumbusChamber.
The idea for Columbus2020 began to take shape in 2009 after an economic-development study was completed for the Columbus Partnership. Among the findings were that Central Ohio needs to tell its story better if it is to attract new companies. To address that and other economic-development issues, the Partnership held leadership roundtables a year ago that involved about 600 people from the community. From there, the 2020 concept emerged.