What will it take to move Columbus to the next level? Our community has joined together through the Columbus2020! regional economic growth initiative to ensure that Columbus reinvents itself as an even more vibrant, successful place with the fastest-growing economy in the nation.

As the newly appointed president and CEO of the Columbus Chamber, I'm eager to be a part of this strategy as we get down to business in the Columbus region.

Recently I attended a retreat where I had the opportunity to meet Edward L. Glaeser, author of Triumph of the City. In his book, Glaeser, an economist and a member of the faculty of the Harvard University Department of Economics, explores how cities around the world thrive and wither. One point especially resonated with me. He wrote, "regional economic growth is highly-correlated with the presence of many small, entrepreneurial employers."

I couldn't agree more. Small and medium-sized businesses are our lifeblood--especially in an innovation economy. And working with these businesses is at the heart of the Columbus Chamber's mission.

Our Approach

We'll take a four-pronged approach to creating a supportive ecosystem for sustainable growth in the Columbus region:

• Regional sustainable development. Building wealth and generating opportunity. Think quality over quantity.

• Business development. Recruiting, retaining, expanding and creating businesses.

• Talent magnet. Establishing a community where talented people want to be and where their ideas can take root. We want Columbus to be the best place to live, work and play in the nation.

• Business2Business and Business2Government. Creating connections for workforce, research, marketing and public policy issues.

My hope is that you'll look to the Columbus Chamber as your partner. From Southern Indiana to San Angelo, Texas, regions where I previously worked, one constant is that businesses are always seeking a trusted agent to stand in their corner and help them find solutions.

So the chamber will continue to provide traditional programs like procurement and contract services, research and workforce support to empower businesses, both small and large, to stay and thrive in Columbus. Research shows that as many as 80 percent of new jobs come from businesses already located in a community, so we take our job of working with existing businesses very seriously.

You can also expect us to launch new programs as part of the chamber's role in Columbus2020! For instance, we're developing a referral network and a team of counselors whose job is to enhance relationships with business executives, respond to threats of businesses at risk of closing or leaving the region, and support businesses with expansion potential. This strategic targeting is now under way.

In the end, we may not be the expert at everything, but we can tell you where to find the best providers in our region to meet your business needs. Consider the chamber your business "concierge"--a one-stop-shop for extraordinary service and information in the Columbus region.

‘The Sky Is the Limit'

One of my favorite success stories from One Southern Indiana is that of a young man who sought assistance from our chamber at his parents' suggestion. A progressive member of Generation Y, I suspect that he questioned whether a traditional organization like a chamber could, or even would want to, help him. But we did.

Upon talking with him, we learned about his six-month-old social media business. He already employed four or five people at above-average wages. It was a true small business success story in the making. However, as much as he excelled at what he was doing, he didn't understand some back office functions, like how to handle health insurance for his team, and he didn't have a business growth plan. We helped connect him with the right resources, some within our organization and some from other groups within the community. Today, his business continues to grow and prosper.

I look forward to sharing more stories like that as I meet Columbus's small business and entrepreneurial community. I'm confident many of them have the potential to be members of the Fortune 500, should they choose. What's the next great business that will grow here? I'm eager to find out.

Very few places in the world can boast the critical mass of bright minds that we have in this region, and the collaboration of our community leaders is unlike any I've seen in my experience across the country. With all those pieces in place to support our success, I truly believe the sky is the limit in the Columbus region.

And as you move your business forward, remember that the Columbus Chamber is here to serve you.

Michael Dalby is president and CEO of the Columbus Chamber. Previously, Dalby was the first president/CEO of One Southern Indiana, a business development organization, and worked for chambers of commerce in Utah, New Mexico and Texas. He is a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, serving as an intelligence officer and attaining the rank of major. He can be reached at (614) 225-6917 or michael_dalby@columbus.org.

Reprinted from the July 2011 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.