Columbus exports are lagging other cities’

By

May 1, 2014

Columbus has some catching up to do if it wants to export as much as other big cities in Ohio.

A report released yesterday by the economic-development group Columbus 2020 finds that the region’s exports as a share of the local economy lag most of Ohio’s other big cities and several in surrounding states as well.

Central Ohio’s exports accounted for about 10.2 percent of its economy in 2012, according to the report. Meanwhile, exports as a share of the Detroit economy totaled 20.8 percent, and in Indianapolis, 16.9 percent. The average nationally is 13.2 percent.

“The data suggest we’re punching below our weight,” said Kenny McDonald, 2020’s chief economic officer. “We want to be an overperforming region.”

McDonald said the region ranks 32nd among large metros for exports; his goal is to see central Ohio in the top 25 by 2020.

Columbus 2020 produced the report as part of its involvement in the Global Cities Initiative, a joint project of the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Columbus has been involved in the initiative since its launch in 2011. The goal is to help communities improve economic development and gain a greater share of international investment.

Chase, Columbus’ largest private employer, has donated $10 million toward the effort.

As part of that program, the region must assess its current export landscape and develop a plan for increasing exports. Columbus 2020 officials met with companies that export or plan to export for the study.

The report found that many companies in central Ohio have not tried to export their services or products, and the ones that have often have done so at the request of a customer.

“Due to fragmented and perhaps under-resourced assistance from federal, state or private-sector programming, and lack of company awareness or intent related to overall global opportunities, many companies with high potential to export have not tried to export their services or products,” the report said.

Exports are important because they increase the size of the economy and add jobs.

The report said every $1 billion increase in exports adds about 4,000 jobs. One reason that export-related jobs are critical for the region is that they have an average wage of $62,599, 51 percent more than the overall regional average of $41,376, the report found.

The report lays out several goals for boosting exports, including attracting exporting companies here, removing barriers that hinder companies from exporting and building awareness about exports.

“Our companies are doing more business around the globe,” McDonald said. “It’s a great way to grow them and our economy at the same time.”

Before the report, Columbus 2020 wasn’t really aware of the region’s low ranking, he said.

“This is really an area where we’re underperforming, and we think with effort we can move the needle,” he said.

Mayor Michael B. Coleman agreed.

Speaking at yesterday’s Columbus Metropolitan Club lunch where the report was discussed, Coleman said Columbus likes to think of itself as global. He noted that there are students from more than 100 countries attending Ohio State University, hundreds of foreign-owned businesses that operate in Columbus and a diverse culture in Columbus in which more than 90 languages are spoken.

“That’s all true,” he said. “Here’s another truth — we aren’t global enough.”

mawilliams@dispatch.com

@MarkWil57730739