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From politics to policies Featured

5:41am EDT December 11, 2003
After a national search, the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce hired a local -- Mayor Michael Coleman's chief of staff Ty Marsh -- as its president and CEO.

"All of my previous experiences lend themselves to this position," Marsh says.

Although he says there will be the usual adjustment period of getting to know the staff and board members, Marsh is confident he can hit the ground -- or the streets of the city -- running. He says his biggest challenge will be to position the region to take advantage of a rebounding economy.

"We all know now that Columbus is not a recession-proof city," says Marsh.

He will focus the chamber's efforts on economic growth and development, seeking to attract companies to locate here, and will address Columbus' ailing downtown.

"The downtown is the single largest employee base in the region," Marsh says. "Therefore the chamber will work to ensure that base is strong and growing."

Marsh, a former senior vice president of government relations for the chamber, is intimately familiar with the organization's mission and goals and knows where the region needs to step up its efforts.

"We need to play up our strengths more," including things such as the region's logistics and infrastructure related to logistics, research facilities and an excellent quality of life, he says. "All the things that attract people to the area need to be enhanced."

Smart Business spoke with Marsh about his goals for the chamber and the challenges the organization faces.

What do you think are Columbus' biggest business challenges?

We have suffered economically from the downturn in our region's economy the past three years. Our biggest challenge is to acknowledge that and position ourselves to be ready when the economy improves to take advantage of it.

One example is the chamber's focus on economic development and growth. We continue to make economic development visits to targeted countries and companies to encourage them to open offices or relocate here. Those have been positive experiences that will pay off once the economy rebounds and improves -- we will be in a position to take advantage of increased activity.

What are the area's strengths and what areas need to be improved?

Our strengths are fairly obvious. We are a major distribution district because of our location. A number of companies have located and expanded here because of our strength in logistics and the infrastructure related to that.

We also have The Ohio State University and Battelle Memorial Institute, two excellent research institutions working together -- and there is an initiative underway to utilize that collaboration for the advantage of the region. We also have an excellent quality of life that includes an excellent school system.

We have all the things needed to attract and retain employees. These are also the things we need to enhance. A few years ago, the chamber led a community leaders group that wanted to investigate and determine best practices in other cities.

First we went to Austin, Texas. Fifty people from Columbus went, and one of the primary lessons we learned was that Austin had a clear idea of where they were going. We came back and identified three areas that are key to the region's economic success: logistics, to enhance this area to become the premier region for logistics; life sciences; and the downtown initiative.

The life sciences area is being pursued through the Columbus Technology Council, Battelle and OSU, and their collaborative goal is to stand out in the life sciences field and develop strategies that will ensure our long-term success in that area. The chamber is complementing the Downtown Development Corp.'s efforts to get creative class businesses to locate downtown.

Will the downtown be a focus for you?

It already is, and the region itself is a focus as well. But the downtown is the largest source of tax revenue; therefore, the chamber wants to lead and support its economic growth.

The emphasis there is to attract creative class businesses -- architects, graphic design firms, public relations companies. They tend to operate in urban environments, so we are looking to help those companies to locate and grow downtown. And we're working to make the downtown a great space to live, work and play.

What are your top three goals for Columbus and the chamber's role in the region?

I see the chamber's role in three categories. The first is economic development, helping companies grow and to locate here, and within that is helping small and mid-sized businesses to grow. That is where our membership services like health insurance and networking opportunities come in.

We work to make certain that we serve a positive role for our member companies and that they derive value for their membership dollars. We also provide advocacy and community leadership on issues on a broader scale in collaboration with other groups in the region. Population growth studies project that there will be 500,000 more people living in this region by 2030.

We are working with many groups to ensure that the jobs and industries to support that growth and provide an excellent quality of life are in place. The third category is a broader one -- to make sure that the region is growing in the right way, which comes back to helping companies grow and create jobs.

What job experience will serve you best as president and CEO of the chamber?

I can't single out any one experience. I have worked for leaders or as part of leadership throughout my career, and all of those experiences have led up to this position.

What do you think your biggest adjustment will be?

Not getting phone calls in the middle of the night from the police and fire department will be one adjustment. But there will be a lot of adjustments.

I am going back to the private sector, learning new board members, member companies, employees. When it comes to the work, I know that my previous experience will help me adjust very quickly.

What is your biggest challenge in your new role?

There will be so much opportunity in helping the chamber fulfill its mission. I think that's the challenge of the organization.

For me personally, it's the opportunity to work with the board and our members collaboratively to make sure we have economic success. The challenge is to find a successful way for Columbus to do business. This region has been very successful facing economic challenges that we haven't seen in a long time.

We've got a game plan in place to focus on our assets, an excellent economic development program to help find and relocate companies, and to help existing companies grow. How to reach: Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, (614) 221-1321 or www.columbus-chamber.org