Logistics: Growing Industry Can Put the Columbus Region on the Map

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

We already know that the Columbus region is an ideal place to live and work, but it also has become a hub for moving goods from one place to another. With its central location between the East Coast and Chicago and its strong (and growing) infrastructure, the region is establishing itself as a leader in the logistics industry--with little sign of slowing down.

As part of the Columbus Chamber's mission to retain and expand existing businesses, the Columbus Region Logistics Council (CRLC) has recognized and capitalized on the opportunities the logistics industry has presented.

The council was instrumental in creating the public-private partnership that led to funding the Interstate 270 Alum Creek road project. That project is under way and will be an important factor in spurring the continued economic development and creation of new jobs at the Rickenbacker Logistics Park.

Between 2009 and 2010, the council more than doubled its membership, which includes heavy hitters such as Cardinal Health, Honda of America Manufacturing and Limited Brands. Now, more than 500 logistics firms in the region are on the council's radar screen.

Riding this momentum, the CRLC will continue to emphasize its key strengths and build for the future by focusing on the following areas: fostering a logistics-friendly business environment, developing and enhancing an advanced logistics infrastructure, infusing working-class logistics technology into regional industry, and building a highly skilled workforce to give the area a competitive advantage.

A Growing Sector

The logistics industry is a key driver of the region's workforce, with an employment concentration far higher than the national average. The Columbus region has experienced triple the average job growth in transportation and related employment. Salaries are an average of 12 percent higher than other sectors with the same level of education and training.

Despite the most recent economic recession, the sector has managed to nurture job growth, with five companies committing in 2010 to add 1,000 new jobs in logistics.

Add to that the $4.6 million federal grant to provide training to new and displaced logistics workers through Columbus State Community College's Center for Workforce Development: The attracting and retaining talent initiative, which kicked off in spring 2010, will provide classroom and hands-on training to 1,000 workers in the next three years.

The CRLC also is committed to retaining the valuable graduates-to-be from the region's more than 20 colleges and universities. In addition to spearheading the logistics curriculum at institutions such as Ohio State University, the council started a logistics-specific internship program to help engage this demographic.

Over the past two summers, more than 35 undergraduate students have been matched with local logistics companies, where they receive hands-on training on everything from marketing to operations. The internship program is completely self-funded and will continue in summer 2011.

For both new graduates and veterans of the logistics industry, the CRLC has coordinated multiple jobs fairs to facilitate the industry's booming employment growth. Nearly 30 different employers have participated, attracting more than 650 job seekers. Additionally, seven planned networking events in 2010 boasted more than 700 participants, helping to foster a logistics-friendly business environment.

Further Progress

While the Columbus region was already an ideal logistics hub, it's gotten even better in the past year. September marked the opening of the multistate Heartland Corridor project, a three-year $191 million public-private partnership designed to increase the speed at which freight trains can travel.

Locally, Norfolk-Southern Corp.'s Rickenbacker Intermodal Terminal serves as a major leg. By raising vertical clearances in 28 rail tunnels (as well as bridges and overpasses) to accommodate double-stack trains, the project reduced transit time between the East Coast and the Midwest by up to one day. The opening of the Rickenbacker Intermodal Terminal three years ago also helped the region's logistics sector employment to outperform the national average.

Those outside of the region have taken notice of all of the progress, with accolades in numerous publications. They have included Inbound Logistics magazine, which highlighted the Columbus region as one of the nation's logistics hotspots in 2010. With the job outlook continuing to look strong for the remainder of 2011, logistics is again expected to remain in the spotlight.

Businesses that have an interest in executing these common goals are encouraged to join the CRLC on its mission to take the region's logistics efforts to the next level. Every voice counts, and we all benefit from collaboration.

Dan Ricciardi is the executive director of the Columbus Region Logistics Council. He can be reached at (614) 221-1321 or dan_ricciardi@columbus.org.

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