Les Wexner took a chance on Columbus as the home of his company and the Region.

Les Wexner took a chance on Columbus as the home of his company and the Region.

During his first decade operating a retail business, Les Wexner, founder of The Limited, would hear from naysayers who offered up a common theme-you can't run a fashion business out of Columbus, Ohio.

By the time he had opened dozens of stores around the Region, he had a simple response: "But I am!"

That's not to say Wexner, now chairman and CEO of L Brands and the longest serving CEO of a Fortune 500 company, didn't ponder a move to New York.

"I tried to be open minded, but I was stubborn," Wexner says in a conference room of his sprawling office complex off Morse Road.

He knew the Region had-and still does have-certain tangible and intangible assets, and he was inspired by real estate developer John Galbreath and other startup companies from the area, like Wendy's, Cardinal Health and the former Federated Department Stores.

"Columbus has always been a center of entrepreneurial activity; there's something in the air or water around here that supports startups," he says. "It was happenstance for me. I'm from Columbus, so I opened a store here and just grew the store."

Many of those assets are stronger than ever, which has helped create a robust, mature retail ecosystem that supports the Region's many retail operations, making it a powerful major hub, he says.

"There are multiple retail stores and probably each one of those has a support network of business. We have support businesses here that print sportswear, make labels and boxes, deliver stuff and provide all kinds of technical and practical services," Wexner says. "It wasn't always that way, but people figured out that if you get things closer to the nucleus business, it's more efficient for that business and its support network."

Providing an edge for the Region are solid, Midwestern values, numerous universities, which keep the area and its population vibrant, and a central location perfectly suited for a business model that relies on a speedy, well-functioning distribution system, he says.

"Years ago I put a compass on a map and drew a radius around Columbus and it had more than 30 major markets within it," Wexner says. "And now, with transportation improvements, it is even more sophisticated. It's the population center of North America and for an American business it is one of the best hubs for global business, too."

He should know. L Brands conducts business with 80 countries and up to 40 different languages connected to that business can be heard within the company's building, he says.

If the Region was ignored in the past, it won't be much longer.

"We are already seeing multiple people from around the world coming to visit us and they already accept the fact that we are an international city," Wexner says. "There's a high level of sophistication that exists in central Ohio."

In particular, the growth of the logistics business will be enormous for the Region's retail ecosystem, especially for the international freight business, thanks to the availability of Rickenbacker International Airport. One year ago there were no scheduled air freighters; now about 15 fly in and out every week, he says.

"In five to seven years Columbus will be a major international air freight hub in the country," Wexner says. "Air freighters need an airport that is accessible with facilities on the ground."

Meanwhile, L Brands is zipping right along, bringing the gold to Columbus, despite its early doubters.

"Of the four largest global retailers, our financial performance per square foot is the highest in the world," Wexner says. "We call it the retail Olympics-we're winning."