Jayne Gest: The fascinating world of logistics — Columbus leaders are making the area’s strengths even stronger

At the end of January, I received an email that Gwynnie Bee, an e-commerce retailer, was opening a flagship fulfillment center in the Columbus region, creating 400 jobs — and so began my research into Columbus as a distribution hub for this month’s feature story.

I’d always heard that Columbus is located in the perfect spot, accessible to most of the U.S. population within a day’s drive.

I knew it was basically the mini-New York with many fashion retailers headquartered in the area.

What I didn’t know was the deliberate effort on behalf of business and government leaders to turn a core competency into something stronger.

An intentional effort paying off

Within the past decade, Columbus has put together an intentional economic development effort on behalf of the region and community for distribution and logistics.

Kenny McDonald, CEO of Columbus 2020, told me that 50 percent of the industry’s growth has come from that effort.

He says they treat businesses that expand or relocate distribution centers to Columbus like customer accounts, periodically checking in with them.

Jeff Zimmerman, director of the Columbus Region Logistics Council, reports that there is a clustering effect in the city because people want access to intermodal terminals, air cargo freight, efficient roadways and transportation routes, and an educated workforce.

He called it somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy, where the council creates a visibility for the region’s capabilities, so people become more attracted to it, adding to the capabilities.

Katy Keane, an adjunct logistics professor at The Ohio State University, says that with transportation costs continuing to go up, Columbus’ proximity becomes even more important, but the outlook for logistics in Columbus is rosier than in many other cities because there’s such a great support system.

“All the plans that many people have worked on for years are coming to fruition,” she says.

Columbus has done a good job of building up its infrastructure — where Rickenbacker Inland Port is ground zero — “with the idea that if you build it, they will come,” Keane says. “And they are coming.”

Consciously, with purpose

This approach reminds us that there’s always room for improvement — a way to make something stronger. Successful businesses take what they do well and turn it into something great, and then strive for exceptional.

You need to find your strengths, and then create long-term plans to nurture, grow and cultivate those strengths into something more.

As a fan of Malcolm Gladwell, I like to think about the 10,000-hour-rule, where he says it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Have you and your employees spent 10,000 hours on your core competencies?

And just like the city of Columbus and its fortuitous location, you can’t rest on your current success because then you’re in danger of being left behind.

For example, every person I talked to about Columbus’ logistics industry kept reminding me that it’s an ongoing effort. They aren’t done. In fact, they’re just getting started.

Jayne Gest is an associate editor at Smart Business Columbus. Jayne is interested in the people and businesses making a difference in Columbus.

How to reach: [email protected], (800) 988-4726 ext. 281 or www.sbnonline.com.

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