You’ve heard the saying, “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” As leaders in the Columbus region contemplated the community’s future and the importance of economic development, they understood that change was necessary. That change had to be broad-based and include a variety of people and perspectives. Here’s our story of making that change.
Nearly two years ago, the Columbus region embarked on a journey that has transformed the way in which it tackles the economic development of the eight-county, central Ohio region. The discussion began with The Columbus Partnership following a situation that forced the community to scramble to save an important local business. Members of the partnership, a group of more than 30 top business and community leaders representing major corporations, reflected on the way in which the region organizes economic development. Following months of research, benchmarking and discussions, my job was to return a recommendation to The Columbus Partnership. While many may have expected a proposed solution that put the partnership at the helm, I felt strongly that while this situation required a laser vision, it also had to be driven by divergent brains, talents and interests. This felt risky and was a change for our community — exactly what was needed.
I recommended and we executed a broad engagement strategy that started with a series of leadership round-tables that, over time, brought together more than 1,500 people representing big business, small business, government, elected officials, young professionals and more. Each round-table session was a three-hour conversation of our community, its strengths, its weaknesses, economic development successes and failures and most importantly a discussion on our collective aspirations. We asked a lot of questions, did a lot of listening and connected the dots as common themes emerged. Columbus 2020, a 10-year vision on economic development was born through broad community engagement.
Now to my favorite part of this story. A transition team was formed to discuss, debate and decide just how economic development could be different for our region. Each member of that team had skin in the game — they each represented organizations that had a hand in economic development. Members represented organizations including The Columbus Partnership, Columbus Chamber, TechColumbus, the city of Columbus, Franklin County, CompeteColumbus, the Columbus Foundation and the Mid-Ohio Development Exchange (MODE). This team came together at 8 a.m. every single Friday morning for more than one year. They did so because they decided to, not because it was dictated. These organizations had collaborated before but this situation was different. This time, the group was focused on a common vision, one that could make transformational change for our community. And, they knew that staying the same was not an option. Fueled by coffee, passion for our community, and a willingness to set individual interests aside, they reviewed, debated, questioned, presented options and, in the end, made difficult decisions.
Doing things differently
Today, Columbus2020 is our region’s economic development integrated strategy. It’s not a new organization but a compilation of organizations, each playing a role in achieving our aggressive goals for the region. And it’s working. As a community we’ve secured more investment in economic development than ever before. More organizations are contributing financially and with other resources. There is enthusiasm, commitment and, most importantly, a willingness to look through a different lens.
I congratulate Smart Business on recognizing a diverse group of business individuals as the 2011 Smart Leaders class because it’s this diversity in thought and action that will continue to improve our region. As a community, we must be open to ideas. That’s one of Columbus’ greatest assets. Let’s use it to our advantage.
Alex Fischer is the president and CEO of The Columbus Partnership.