Now into his fourth consecutive term as mayor of Columbus, Ohio, Michael B Coleman plans to put the mid-west state capital on the international site selection radar. To do this, he has introduced policies that include tax abatement programmes for new construction, financing to help cover infrastructure improvements and performance-based incentives for corporate hiring. “These pro-business programmes make Columbus more competitive and cover any gaps in investment to make deals happen,” says Mr Coleman.
A company locating to Rickenbacker Global Logistics Park – Columbus’s multi-modal inland port, which has both an international cargo airport and an intermodal rail terminal – will receive incentives including real estate tax abatement, income tax credits, reduced supply chain costs and duty-free treatment based on the fact that the park is located in a foreign trade zone. In a bid to make Columbus even more competitive, Mr Coleman is also lobbying the US federal government for the funding to build new road systems to facilitate the increasing volumes of traffic in the city.
The Rickenbacker Global Logistics Park is already benefiting from CSX Transportation’s recent completion of the 480-kilometre long rail-freight route, the Heartland Corridor. The corridor has enabled double stack rail services to run to Columbus via the Port of Virginia and has opened the city up to greater international trade possibilities. “[It is] the reason – we are three hours by truck and one hour by plane to 50% of the US consumer market,” says Mr Coleman.
Mr Coleman sees the forthcoming completion of the Panama Canal expansion, which is due in 2014, as as an opportunity for his city to establish connections with the emerging markets of Asia. “That is when we will begin seeing more freight delivered by ship through the canal, to the east coast, and to Columbus,” he says.
Going to town
The mayor’s efforts to revitalise Columbus's central district, which saw the city's real estate vacancy rate drop from 24% in 2000 to its current 10%, has won many accolades. Consumer information website RelocateAmerica ranks it as one of the 10 best large cites and one of the 10 most affordable metro areas in the US, while CNN's Money Magazine has recognised it as the eighth best place to live in the US, and the safest big city in the country.
“I have been very aggressive about our downtown by encouraging the development of parks, nightlife and a quality of life similar to that found in east coast cities – but [available] for [a fraction of] the cost,” says Mr Coleman. “This is important because the downtown is the economic engine for our region.” Columbus now fosters a quality of life that attracts professionals and prevents the city from experiencing a brain drain.
“What is more, we have about 150,000 students from 21 colleges and universities in the region that make Columbus a brain magnet,” says Mr Coleman. Meanwhile, ongoing research at Ohio University makes Columbus a city of innovation, with companies such as Japan’s Honda Motor Company and Germany’s Roxane Laboratories continuing to increase their presence in the city, adding to its international presence. Some 226 international companies are located in Columbus.
To further encourage relations with businesses overseas, Mr Coleman participates in international trade missions, the most recent of which saw him travel to China, Israel, Germany and India, with a trip to Japan planned for 2012. His biggest challenge, however, is getting Columbus's name known.
“Many people overseas are not familiar with Columbus,” says Mr Coleman. But the fact Columbus has experienced 12% growth in its population growth every 10 years [questioning this with author], is both attractive and unusual. “There are not many cities in the US that can say that,” he says. This suggests to would-be investors that there must be attractive opportunities available in the city, “and people are moving here from all over the world because of these opportunities”, says Mr Coleman.