Interview: New Columbus Development Director Steven Schoeny
Steven Schoeny was appointed earlier this month to serve as the next director of the Department of Development for the City of Columbus. As director he will oversee a wide range of divisions responsible for things like zoning, code enforcement, planning, neighborhood services and the city’s land bank, as well as provide direction for the economic development efforts of the city, which involve both attracting new businesses and helping existing businesses to grow.
Although he does not officially start the job start until June, Schoeny was kind enough to answer some questions about his background, his plans for the department, and his thoughts on what the future holds for Columbus and its central city neighborhoods.
Columbus Underground: Can you talk a little about your background and how it has prepared you for this job?
Steven Schoeny: I worked in the Ohio Department of Development (ODOD) for 13 years. While I was with ODOD, I worked with Ohio exporters to sell Ohio products around the world, managed Ohio’s Toronto trade office, promoted Ohio as a location for international companies to invest, negotiated with companies seeking to come to Ohio, worked to streamline Ohio’s incentive programs to make them easier to understand and administer, and held a variety of management positions in the Department. I have also spent a total of 5 years in private sector consulting both before and after my time with ODOD.
Having worked both for private companies and government economic development organizations, I have a strong understanding of what both the public sector and the private sector need in order to move a project forward. Understanding what decision makers need and their constraints is the key to finding common ground and getting deals done.
On the personal side, I grew up in Forest Park, a suburb of Cincinnati. I earned my undergraduate degrees from Ohio University and a graduate degree from the University of Maryland – College Park. My wife and I moved to Columbus in 1997.
CU: Columbus has changed dramatically in the last 20 years, what are your thoughts on where it is headed in the next 20?
SS: Development today is about building places where companies can attract the people that they need and reach their customers. In the City of Columbus, we have amazing neighborhoods and a vibrant urban core. We also have more suburban employment areas, like Easton, Polaris and Rickenbacker, that allow for bigger footprints for facilities. Over the next 20 years, the key for Columbus will be ensuring that we have urban neighborhoods with flourishing commercial areas that attract the talented workforce that employers need. Those neighborhoods need to be integrated with and connected to our employment centers downtown and around the city.
CU: Do you plan to focus on any particular area of development during your tenure as Director?
SS: On economic development, we have to continue building an environment where employers can invest knowing that the City, along with other government, education and business groups, is an engaged partner. On community development, we need to ensure that we have places for people to thrive and be part of our great city. Columbus has already experienced success, in spite of economic challenges. We were recently ranked number 2 in Ohio for income growth and the 9th small business-friendly metro.
CU: What role do you see the City playing in encouraging the revitilization of our central city neighborhoods?
SS: The City must continue to facilitate development in our central city neighborhoods by addressing the needs of residents and our small businesses alike. In addition, we need to support growth through reasonable development standards and infrastructure to ensure development within our neighborhoods is sustainable. Programs like the Mayor’s Urban Infrastructure Recovery Fund are great community driven tools that support the type of neighborhood development we want to encourage.
CU: Are there any areas or neighborhoods that you see as being primed for development?
SS: The Mayor’s focus on our neighborhoods paying dividends around the city. There is momentum in our South Side neighborhoods with partnerships that include both public and private investors. The Near East Side of Columbus is experiencing revitalization with the creation of PACT. This partnership includes the City of Columbus, OSU, CMHA, as well as neighborhood residents and stakeholders. Both the South Side and the Near East Side efforts address housing, employment, health and overall improvement in the quality of life for residents. We need to focus our attention to the west side of Columbus, as well as the north central neighborhoods. The businesses and residents on the west side of our City are positioned to benefit economically from the opening of Hollywood Casinos. We need to continue supporting small businesses along the west Broad St. corridor and, provide assistance to homeowners as this neighborhood continues to grow.
More information can be found online at development.columbus.gov.
Photo by Walker Evans.