Schematic of the retail ecosystem in the Columbus Region

Schematic of the retail ecosystem in the Columbus Region

Sometimes stepping back and looking from another angle produces a keener appreciation of what's in your own backyard.

That's akin to what the staff of Columbus 2020 has done to better define and describe what they have come to call the Retail Innovation Ecosystem of the Columbus Region.

"From a very earlier stage we recognized, as many in the Region would, that retail was strong. There were mature companies here. There were emerging companies. It was a really broad group of companies that served as a very strong foundation for the retail sector in the market," says Matt McCollister, senior vice president, economic development.

He points to Jung Kim, managing director, research and business intelligence, as the one who "started looking at ways to visualize what was here."

Kim created a way to map more than 200 businesses-and counting-that are either Region-based retail headquarters or provide services that support retail operations. It's a unique concentration that gives Columbus a critical edge in keen global competition to attract new business or encourage expansion of companies already here.

Even casual observers of the local marketplace are aware of major retailers calling the Region home-from fashion giants L Brands and Abercrombie & Fitch to restaurants and food purveyors Bob Evans and Wendy's. But there are also dozens of companies that support retail through manufacturing and packaging, logistics and operations, IT, marketing and research, and even store design and real estate development.

"I don't know exactly when that moment was when we decided should connect all the dots, but the result was this ecosystem graphic that we produced," Kim says. "It was a process in itself in that it gave us a much clearer picture of how that ecosystem worked and what all was there. Before we knew it anecdotally from various examples, but then to put it all together has made a big difference."

It's not just the physical presence of so many players in the retail ecosystem that makes the Region attractive to even more similar business, McCollister says. It is the collaborative way those companies behave that helps pull in new companies.

"When we're talking to retailers outside the market and we're talking about e-commerce fulfillment, they want to talk to an existing retailer in our market that's doing e-commerce fulfillment. It's not uncommon for us to be able to call upon some of the companies within this ecosystem and ask them to sit and do an interview with another retailer that might be looking at the market," McCollister says. The Columbus Region firms might lead a tour of their facilities or share details specific to their industry.

"That becomes a pretty clear competitive advantage for us when we are working with a company that might be looking at our market and others, but the other markets are not offering that connection to the ecosystem," McCollister says.

Mapping out the ecosystem has also helped to identify targets for local business investment. Jung notes, for example, that tech companies are a top target for new business development in markets across the country.

"But for us, we recognize our strength in retail and other industries like financial services or automotive and say to ourselves, 'That's the kind of IT that we should be should be going after because we have the talent, the customer base, all of the other players here,' rather than just talking about IT in general," Jung says.

As the ecosystem keeps evolving, Columbus 2020 staff expect to find new ways to help connect companies in related industries. In fact, the National Retail Federation has already visited to spotlight the retail community in the Columbus Region.

"This is a critical piece of the dialogue that we have, especially when we're talking to retailers on the west coast or retailers in other countries," McCollister says. "When you talk to someone who is just starting to think about the US marketplace and is in the early stages of their research on the market, this is a critically important document."