Economic diversity effort makes sense

So much of Columbus’s economic fortunes are tied the diesel engine and automotive supply markets. When those markets are good, the city’s workforce benefits. When those markets struggle, such as during the Great Recession, the workforce suffers.

While Bartholomew County’s unemployment rate continued to be one of the state’s lowest at about 3 percent, that rate could easily double if auto-oriented industries experience trouble.

Broadening the city’s economic base would soften the blow if such a downtown were to occur. And that’s why a plan by Mayor Jim Lienhoop for the city to work closer with the Columbus Economic Development Board to bring new and diverse industries to Columbus makes sense.

Starting now with a proactive approach is better than waiting for bad economic news and then reacting to it.

Lienhoop is proposing that the city invest an additional $136,000 per year with the Economic Development Board for three years. The funding commitment is in addition to the $14,000 the city already pays for two board seats. The extra dollars would come from the city’s Economic Development Income tax fund, not through increased taxes.

The economic partners hope to avoid economic swings and maintain a strong workforce by attracting businesses and workers in three target areas:

  • Pharmaceutical manufacturing
  • Engineering research and development
  • Administrative support

The Economic Development Board could not take on this assignment with status-quo funding. A survey of 14 economic development boards in cities or counties with populations ranging from 40,000 to 120,000 showed that the Columbus Economic Development Board had the ninth-lowest annual budget at $372,750 — much of which has come through private funding.

Considering that Columbus is competing with other communities for new companies and employees, that level of funding puts the Economic Development Board at a disadvantage. 

The additional investment from the city will be used for a greater presence at trade shows — both in the U.S. and internationally — marketing materials and talent-attraction campaigns. Already the city plans to be at the Hannover Messe industrial technology fair in Germany, the largest industrial trade show in the world.

Additionally, the Economic Development Board has talked about having a talent summit with local stakeholders to discuss the best ways to address the needs of the local economy and attract more workers. 

This concerted effort by the city and Economic Development Board to diversify the city’s industrial base is a sensible way for Columbus to stay ahead of economic struggles and use a local resource — the board — without hiring additional city employees to do the job.

Most importantly, their collective efforts should make Columbus more competitive with peer cities for additional investment, giving the city a greater chance to succeed in the future.