A look at the present — and future — of Columbus’ economy

Over the past eight years, Columbus 2020 has become a household name — and met its goals positioning the Central Ohio region as a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity. Now, Columbus is attracting venture capital and private equity investors from New York and Silicon Valley.

From this strong foundation, Columbus Partnership President and CEO Alex R. Fischer is helping determine the next steps for Columbus’ economic development and economy. His viewpoint: The best is yet to come.

“Could we imagine a world of Columbus in which none of us are in the room because it’s become so big and so vibrant that it’s not the same four or five people that are constantly moving around, talking to one another?” Fischer asks.

Fischer shared his insights as a panelist at ASPIRE 2018. Here are some of his observations.

How important is entrepreneurship for what’s next in 2025, 2030?

Entrepreneurialism happens when kids are coming out of college. The average age of the Fortune 100 CEO when they founded the company is 25. We have 150,000 college students, and I would dare say that we’re not harnessing them, we’re not even coming close to our full potential. That actually excites me. I don’t view that as a negative. I view it as a positive because I intersect that with innovation, disruption, venture capital and entrepreneurialism. And yes, I think we’ve got to keep doing the blocking and tackling of expanding and recruiting great companies here, but I think the next several decades are our decades for true entrepreneurialism.

Collaboration and leveraging universities are key economic drivers. What else will help propel Columbus forward?

I’m going to go back to the size of this community. Being big enough to have scale, but still small enough that rooms like this come together on a regular basis.

We talk about it as The Columbus Way, but I think it’s a values-based aspiration. I remember having a conversation with Les Wexner a number of years ago and he told me this story of having an ambition of being worth $100 million by the time he was 30, and he achieved that. And having an ambition of being a billionaire by the time he was 40 — he well achieved that. When he was 40, he looked in the mirror and he said, “Would I want to have lunch with this person?” And his answer was no. And over the next 40 years, his ambition shifted to a values-based, principles-based set of ambitions. That it’s more than the bank account. That it is more than the size of the company. That there is a community aspect that is a part of it. And I think that’s uniquely Columbus.

How important do you think opportunity zones will be?

I think it is a phenomenal opportunity to unlock the trillions of dollars of capital gains that are sitting on the books right now around the country. And to energize it and put it to good use. I think it will prove to be, looking back a decade from now, the pivotal piece that happened in tax reform this past year.

How has being an Amazon finalist impacted the city?

Ten years ago, we would’ve never been on the list and if we were, we couldn’t compete. And what we’ve seen is, we’ve competed. …We know that we’re in the top echelon.

But beyond that, Amazon has made more investments in our community than literally any other city in America — in data centers, in back office operations, in distribution centers — not only in Columbus, but throughout Ohio. So, we’re already winning with Amazon. Being in the competition means that we’re going to continue to win, both with them and a lot of other key clients.

Alex R. Fischer is the president and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, which works to improve the economic and cultural base of Central Ohio. He spoke on the panel, Beyond 2020: What’s Next For Columbus?, which was moderated by Falon Donohue, CEO of VentureOhio, at ASPIRE 2018.