Chamber speaker to examine Columbus

Columbus isn’t unique from other small cities in that it had a philanthropist and company spearheading initiatives that benefited the community. But what has set it apart, an urban issues expert said, is its pursuit of excellence.

Aaron Renn, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, will discuss Columbus’ success and challenges to address as the keynote speaker at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting March 2 at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center.

“When we organize our annual meeting we always look for someone who brings national perspective on what other communities do to be successful to face the challenges of the 21st century,” said Cindy Frey, Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce president.

“Because he works for a national think tank and is an expert in urban issues, he has some idea of what the most successful cities do to attract talent, improve education and grow the economy,” she added.

Renn knows the city more intimately than through data he’s researched. He grew up in the tiny town of Laconia, along the Ohio River, and visited Columbus as a child. Several years ago, he visited again as part of a bloggers tour set up by the Columbus Area Visitors Center to highlight the city’s architectural gems.

“Columbus is a city where excellence, and the pursuit of excellence, is respected,” Renn said.

He noted as an example the decision of former Cummins Inc. chairman J. Irwin Miller and the Cummins Foundation to pay the architectural fees for public buildings such as schools. That was a quality of life initiative that benefited residents, but also helped Cummins attract and retain talented employees, he added.

In a competitive world, “excellence is an ante to get a seat at the table,” Renn said.

Columbus is performing well, especially when looking at data such as job growth. Comparatively, it is outpacing peer cities such as Muncie, Marion, Richmond and Terre Haute, and ranking well nationally, Renn said.

However, one danger Columbus faces is complacency, he said. A community has to be prepared for shifts in fortunes and have the ability to adapt.

A community also cannot let its finances and infrastructure get out of control, such as what has happened in Flint, Michigan, he said.

“If you are not maintaining infrastructure, you are digging a huge hole of liabilities that you’ll never get out of,” Renn said.

Aaron Renn

Hometown: Grew up in Laconia, in Harrison County, west of New Albany.

Resides: New York

Job: Senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, and contributing editor at its quarterly magazine City Journal.

Areas of interest: Urban issues, economic development, technology, helping America’s cities thrive


  • Former partner at Accenture
  • Founded urban data analytics Web startup Telestrian
  • Co-author of an early social-networking platform at Indiana University in 1991
  • Launched one of the nation’s first blogs, the Weekly Breakdown, to cover the Chicago Transit Authority

If you go

What: Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting.

When: 11:30 a.m. March 2.

Where: Clarion Hotel and Conference Center, 2480 Jonathan Moore Pike, Columbus.

Why: To share what the chamber is doing and present annual awards for the top teacher, business and project, and community service. Aaron Renn, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, is the keynote speaker.

Cost: $50 (includes lunch); reservation required.

To make a reservation: Go online at or call 812-379-4457.

Author photo
Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at or (812) 379-5639.