Speaking during Monday’s meeting of Delaware City Council, One Columbus CEO Kenny McDonald gave an update on the partnership between his company and the Columbus region.
Formerly Columbus 2020, One Columbus launched in 2010 with the goal of getting central Ohio back on its feet following the recession. A public-private nonprofit, One Columbus runs the regional economic strategy for the 11 counties that make up the Columbus region. Those counties are Delaware, Fairfield, Franklin, Knox, Licking, Logan, Madison, Marion, Morrow, Pickaway and Union.
Now, as the year 2020 is near, McDonald spoke on how the partnership can be taken to the next level as its first decade comes to a close.
McDonald said the growth of the counties is “unprecedented in any modern times,” and while there is a lot to be celebrated, he added there is a lot of work to do in order to “leverage (that growth) into the next decade.” He said One Columbus has spent the last 15 months researching and planning across the entire region with the help of feedback from the stakeholders in each county.
McDonald said there was no specific vision when One Columbus began, other than “getting us back on our feet” by creating “activity” and jobs. With the Columbus region now in far better shape, McDonald said One Columbus has landed on a forward vision that has nothing to do with being the biggest or richest region, but rather to be the most prosperous region in the country.
“That would mean that we have lots of people gaining economically, which we know that we can do,” McDonald said. “We’ve proven that we’re really good at that. But we also have to do things that advance people socially as well.
“You know all too well, as leaders of a city, the challenges you have with transit, and with housing, and with education,” he went on to say. “Where we’re winning and losing these days is more on those topics than it is just our ability to compete with our talented workforce and how competitive we are for a business. We have to answer questions about where our people are living, how they’re getting to and from work, and how we’re setting the table for the next generation.”
McDonald identified four critical components for the Columbus region to continue to attract business over the next decade, starting with the momentum, which he said the region “unarguably” has captured as the “envy of Ohio” and the second-fastest growing area in the Midwest.
To highlight that momentum here in Delaware, McDonald pointed to the city’s population growing 14.59% over the last decade, and the labor force also growing by 16% over that span. He called the combination of population and labor force growth an “anomaly” in the region in that, typically, the labor force doesn’t grow as fast as the population.
“You have the labor force, you have what is the envied product that all the companies want, and that is the talent and the people are living here in the city of Delaware,” McDonald told council. “And more and more are coming. Your total jobs increased by almost 31%, and your average salary is over $50,000, an increase of 17.4% this past decade … These are all incredible luxuries for (the Columbus region) to have.”
McDonald said that while all the other counties are doing well, Delaware is “set apart” in how well it is doing. He went on to say maintaining that momentum and avoiding anything that could stall it is critical, and he added that innovation and the connectivity of the Columbus brand to business capitals all over the world are imperative in furthering that momentum.
McDonald also said attracting the most competitive businesses in the various industries is a must, given how competitive those industries are becoming.
“Every industry we have is under enormous threat from automation and global competition,” McDonald said. “If they’re competitive, we’re going to be fine. If they’re not competitive, they may not exist tomorrow.”
Mayor Carolyn Riggle said of the partnership between Delaware and One Columbus, “I remember when Columbus 2020 first came to Delaware. I was on the Chamber (of Commerce) Board and just wrapping our heads around why Columbus wanted to be partners with us. When a company comes in, why isn’t Columbus just going to eat them up? What makes us ever think (companies) are ever going to get to Delaware? It’s proven me wrong so many times, and I thank you. Our economic developers really do work together to do what’s the best fit for them, so I appreciate everything you guys have done and our partnership.”
City Manager Tom Homan added, “For years, prior to Columbus 2020, there was this competition (between Delaware and Columbus) … Your leadership, Kenny, and the board and our partnership with Shawn (Hughes) and others on the team has really proven to me and, I think, everyone else why regionalism and rowing in the same direction as a region makes sense.”
“We’ll try to stay after it, with your help,” McDonald said in closing.