Why Columbus? Doing Business in a Growing City

Photo by Susan Post

When asking a business owner why they choose to operate in Columbus, it’s easy, and obvious, to say ‘because it’s where I live.’ But Columbus is proving itself a good place to do business because of more than just convenience.

The city itself is growing. In 2017, Columbus surpassed Indianapolis to become the 14th largest city in the U.S. The small business ecosystem is expanding along with it, seeing more starts, more resources and more capital.

There are a lot of factors that make a city a great place to do business – location to certain resources, cost of living, proximity to Fortune companies and higher education institutions, etc. But when it comes to Columbus, there is one factor unique to the city that make companies like Vantage Point Logistics (VPL) know it’s the place to do business.

The Columbus Way

Scott Crow, chief innovation officer and co-founder of VPL, says that when they started the company in 2010 they asked themselves the same ‘Why Columbus?’ question. The answer was their network. The team leveraged their connections and rounded up an eight-person advisory board of senior level executives to key startup players willing to help them pro bono. People wanted, and were willing, to help. It’s a demonstration of the “Columbus Way” oft touted in the city. There’s a level of openness and collaboration not often found in business communities.

Industries of Success

As VPL continues to grow, they find themselves transitioning from a logistics company to a tech company. Both happen to be thriving industries in Columbus.

Crow says in the early days the large number of logistics companies in Central Ohio was a big plus, but not for the reason many people associate Columbus as a logistics hub.

According to statistics from Columbus 2020, Columbus is located within a 10 hour drive of 46% of the U.S. Population. The city also boasts a low operating cost as a percentage of revenue for logistics companies – 7% compared to 8.1% for Indianapolis or 8.8% for Pittsburgh.

VPL is unique as a logistics company in that they don’t have any physical assets like trucks. The company offers technology-based software solutions for the logistical needs of health care systems and higher education institutions.

Columbus is within a 10-hour drive of 46% of the U.S. Population
Image via columbusregion.com

Tech is having a moment in Columbus. In 2017, Columbus was ranked as the Best City for Tech Workers in the U.S. thanks to factors like a low cost of living and talent coming out of Ohio State. (More on those later.) According to CBRE, the tech talent labor pool grew by 15.8% between 2012-2017, equating to 6,700 jobs.

Crow has seen the transformation to tech hub over the last several years. Recently wrapping up a fundraising round, Crow says they travelled and talked to VCs that recently considered Columbus a flyover city. CoverMyMeds changed that with their $1.1 billion acquisition by McKesson in 2017. A rising tide lifts all ships.

Crow sees more VCs shying away from the intense competition on the coasts and looking to the Midwest. He says what they find are successful companies with a more laid back attitude, but full of hardworking, passionate people.

Talent in Columbus

Columbus’ rising profile is attracting talent to the city, but there is also plenty of home-grown talent to fill in-demand positions.

Crow says VPL recently had a very niche supply chain role they needed to fill. He wondered if they would be able to find someone in Columbus or have to turn their search nationwide. However, a quick scan of LinkedIn found about 30 local individuals with this specific skill set. Crow says it was exciting to see that talent in the city.

In the early days, potential talent coming out of OSU was also a draw for VPL. As the third largest public university in the nation, thousands of students graduate from the school every year. In recent years, there has also been a citywide push to keep this young talent local, earning Columbus a #9 spot on Forbes’ list of The Best Cities for Young Professionals.

With a low unemployment rate in the city, competition for tech talent – and talent in any industry – can be stiff. How can companies get ahead?

VPL has been focused on telling their story and knowing their culture. Their guiding principles shape decision making, including their thoughts on hiring. Crow says they’ve always looked to hire bright folks, then get out of their way and let them contribute.

“We want our folks to have the ability to innovate, create new ideas, new concepts here so we really encourage those kinds of things,” Crow says.

VPL has also looked to non-traditional routes for hiring, tapping into the growing number of coding academies taking root in Columbus. The programs teach adults, often coming from other careers, programming in an accelerated setting. VPL has already hired one individual from i.c.stars.

Cost of Living

When it comes to rankings, Columbus historically scores well on cost of living. Especially in comparison to other tech cities.

A recent study from RENTcafé found Columbus witnessed the largest IT wage increase out of the top 15 largest Tech Hubs in the country. Wage growth went up 15.6%, outpacing a 9.9% rent increase for the city. With an average 2019 rent of $951, tech workers can expect to pay only about 12% of their income on rent. In comparison, average 2019 rents in the country’s biggest tech hub, the San Jose, California metro area, are $2,871.

What’s Next?

Crow has watched Columbus grow and change for 30 years.

“I think Columbus really still has the best part of its growth ahead,” he says.

As more startups grow or move to the city, it’s attracting attention across the country and raising Columbus’ profile. As the city’s startup ecosystem continues to mature, it’s also creating serial entrepreneurs. Serial entrepreneurs that can mentor, or fund the next round of businesses as is the Columbus way.

This is part of a multi-part series presented with paid support by Vantage Point Logistics.

VPL is a leader in delivering supply chain technology and solutions to the healthcare market. With years of experience, the continuous development of leading-edge technology and proactive account management, we are transforming their supply chain making it smarter, easier and better. Recognized as one of America’s fastest growing companies, we are poised to develop even more innovative technology solutions providing transparency and savings across the ever-expanding continuum of patient care.