Columbus is the World’s Best…

Columbus 2020 formed five years ago to drive economic development in the 11-country region that is Central Ohio, setting a number of ambitious goals. The headway made on these goals in just five years is far surpassing expectations. Over 100,000 net new jobs have been created and $6.32 billion in capital investments made.

Last Friday, local economic development leaders gathered at Economic Development 411 to discuss this success, and highlight trends and topics that will continue to impact the economy of the Columbus area.

Columbus has been garnering more and more national attention over the last few years, racking up accolades like Forbes’ number one opportunity city in the country. (Check out even more recognitions here.) But all too often (especially in the startup and entrepreneurial community) there’s a constant comparison. Columbus needs to be more like Silicon Valley or Columbus needs to be more like the coasts.

Town, Inc. Author Andrew Davis took the stage to encourage cities not to strive to be more like this city or that city, but to figure out what makes them unique. (A mindset that just as well could be applied to business.) What’s their little corner of the world?

“We talk about lots of things that don’t differentiate us,” Davis says.

Positioning a place starts with one quote, “Homogeneity is the enemy of growth,” Davis says.

Most cities use the same, generic representations – talking about the past, comparing geographies (we’re a half hour west of this town), using resource descriptors (aka we’re a farming community), describing novelties that have no real meaning, claiming celebrities or basing the city on companies that are headquartered there.

“When it comes to marketing, we have to focus on showing people that we’re different,” Davis says. “Stop telling me you’re different and start showing me.”

The author has a surprisingly simple solution to take a city from Anytown, USA to the town.

“You’ve got to stake you’re claim,” Davis says.

Fill in the blank. This city is the blank capital of the world. Of America. of the Midwest. It’s marketing the place more than the business.

Everyone knows numerous cities that have done just this. Nashville is for country music, Charlotte for banking, Napa Valley for wine and San Jose for technology.

“These simple ideas have fueled these cities’ economies,” Davis says.

It’s not just a concept that sounds good, either. Davis has spent time quantifying his idea. Towns that have made a claim saw an average of $2.9 billion more pumped through their economy versus towns that didn’t have a claim.

Staking a claim does a few other important things for a city. It attracts the dreams and the innovators. It creates location envy.

“It’s the emotional belief that one’s success is defined by the location of one’s work,” Davis says. “It’s the difference between why should I move there and why shouldn’t I move there.”

Davis outlines three laws for creating location envy.

First is a good origin story. He cites Muscle Shoals, Alabama as an example. One resident turned the legend of a Native American Princess and the ability to hear her sing near the river and parlayed the city into the hit record capital of the world. Aretha Franklin recorded her first hit there and the Rolling Stones even travelled from London to make music in Muscle Shoals.

Law number two? The law of the cornerstone. A city needs to uses its success stories to validate its claim.

In less than 10 years, Batavia, New York has staked its claim as the Greek Yogurt Capital of the world – and home to a little yogurt empire called Chobani. The founder bought a closed Kraft dairy factory and started making this yogurt new to the states – Greek yogurt.

Chobani has grown to a $1.5 billion privately-held company. Other companies decided they wanted to see if they could find the same success as the yogurt-giant, resulting in two new plants and a $225 million investment in the community.

“You have to get rich by targeting a niche,” Davis says.

The final law is the law of the visionary.

“Who are your visionaries?” Davis asks. “How can we support their vision, no matter how odd it is?”

A quilt shop owner in Hamilton, Missouri put her 1,700 person town on the map by becoming one of the world’s most famous quilters. The woman took her idea of quick quilting to YouTube amassing a series of videos that have been viewed over 50 million times. She’s bought 17 building in the downtown area and is the now the largest employer in the county.

“All it takes is a few passionate people pursuing an audacious claim,” Davis says.

From quilts to music to technology, maybe it’s glamorous or maybe it’s unusual, but there’s a world’s best for everything. Now it’s time to figure out what Columbus’ will be.

Photo courtesy of Columbus 2020.