One Columbus entered this decade with a sense of accomplishment and a revised mission to do better: Instead of "growth for growth's sake," the organization wants to build equity in every economic development project.
Then a worldwide pandemic opened wealth gaps into chasms – making the work of job creation and retention more urgent than it's ever been, while scattering the economic development watchworks to videoconference chat rooms.
"As we studied our region at the end of the decade, we saw incredible gaps in job creation, in wealth creation, in the ability to participate in the economy in our workforce, because of the inequities," One Columbus CEO Kenny McDonald said. "This crisis has put a magnifying glass on that for the entire world to see.
"They aren’t looking at charts, and don’t need consultants to show it to them. We can see it every day as we drive through our communities. And we’re living through it."
McDonald talks about how the pandemic increased urgency of the job creation mission in Columbus Business First's latest episode of the Crisis Management podcast, about seeing businesses through the pandemic.
One Columbus adopted a prosperity-for-all agenda as it rebranded at the turn of the decade from its past 10 years as Columbus 2020. The nonprofit was formed out of the last recession to revive the economy of 11 Central Ohio counties, and met or surpassed its goals for private investment and job creation. At the same time, inequities persisted.
A full-time job has the power to change lives for entire families for generations, McDonald said.
Racism had already inequitably distributed access to education, jobs, housing and thus better health. Then the Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately threw members of minority groups out of work and exacerbated underlying health conditions.
The crisis also accelerated by years the shift to a digital economy: Consumers are shopping and getting medical examinations online in numbers that hadn't been expected for five years or more. And companies furloughing staff are seeking artificial intelligence to automate essential tasks.
Again, while the need to create jobs is greater than ever, forces in the very same market are decreasing need for headcount while demanding increased skills from those applying for jobs.
"And right now we need people working, earning wages, having health benefits and things like that," McDonald said. "So we’re going to have to be better than ever in economic development."
The interview outlines One Columbus' response, the path forward and more. However, it was recorded before nationwide protests erupted over racial injustice, so that topic is not discussed.