It seems like nearly every week there’s a new study unveiled in Columbus that benchmarks specific performance metrics against our counterparts around the country. While it may sometimes feel tiresome to make constant comparisons, it’s an exercise that is deemed critical to our continued regional success.
“Occasionally I run into cities who think they know it all,” says Lee Fisher, President and CEO of the CEOs for Cities organization. “I’m not going to name names, but these are usually cities that are big and famous and they don’t think there’s anything new that they could possibly learn from a city like Columbus. Those cities are eventually not going to succeed. The cities that will succeed are the ones who continue to fight above their weight, because they don’t take anything for granted.”
CEOs for Cities is a national organization that seeks to connect city leaders all across the US to further enhance economic development efforts in urban places.
“The name is a little misleading,” explains Fisher. “If I could rename the organization, it would be ‘Changemakers for Cities’. We’re not just CEOs. We’re a membership organization for anyone who cares about their city’s success.”
And for what it’s worth, Columbus is a city that cares about its success. The Columbus Foundation sent a delegation of Columbus representatives to the CEOs for Cities 2013 National Meeting in Grand Rapids several weeks ago, which included GCAC President Tom Katzenmeyer, Columbus Partnership Vice President Steve Lyons, Tech Columbus CEO Tom Walker and several others.
The two day agenda kicked off with a keynote presentation from Bruce Katz, VP and Founding Director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. Taking a page from his new book The Metropolitan Revolution, Katz spoke highly of the role of urban places in the reemerging American economy, which he described as running counter to an ineffective federal government. His case studies for innovation included Portland’s thriving green technology export market, the globalized economy of Miami, and the new wave of industrialism and manufacturing in Cleveland.
A collection of walking tours unveiled a surprisingly rich Downtown environment in Grand Rapids where the annual ArtPrize festival served as a backdrop to the conference sessions. The creativity rippled through multiple small business incubation centers located Downtown, including the GRid70 innovation space, MoDiv retail incubator, and Start Garden idea funding program.
Another noteworthy keynote presentation came from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who’s newly relocated corporate campus is a large scale buy-in to urban principles in Downtown Las Vegas. Hsieh is shedding the built-in office amenities for proximity to neighborhood hangouts and services where employees can “collide” harmoniously with other creative types.
“This is not just about mayors, and it’s not just business leaders,” explains Fisher. “Our efforts have to include entrepreneurs, artists, foundation leaders and architects because the only way you can move your city forward is to cross sectors, and then bring people together to cross borders and share ideas with other cities. No matter how much talent you have in your city, if you’re not connecting with the talent and ideas in other cities, you lose this competition.”
CEOs for Cities unveiled their annual report at the national meeting, which focused on the “Green Dividend”. The research outlines the cost savings for cities that plan efficient and robust transportation networks that can save residents money on fuel and automobile costs that in turn can be redistributed into the economy through other types of local spending.
Additional community benchmarking was done via the City Vitals 2.0 report, where Columbus ranked highly compared to the largest 51 metro areas in areas including voter engagement (#6) and percentage of foreign students (#8), but also ranked poorly in areas such as the amount of venture capital raised (#42) and percentage of self-employed entrepreneurs (#44).
“Every city has it’s own unique DNA,” states Fisher. “I enjoyed the fact that Bruce Katz quoted Dolly Parton today when he said ‘Find out who you are and do it on purpose’. I would say that Columbus is distinctive from other cities, and that sometimes your assets are hidden in plain sight. Ohio is not just a swing state politically, it’s also a cultural swing state where people go to learn about America. And if Ohio is the heartland of this country, then Columbus is the heartland of the heartland.”
More information about CEOs for Cities can be found online at www.ceosforcities.org.