Secrets and surprises of Columbus, Ohio

Neil Mortine waxes lyrical about his beloved home city and explains why it has moved from the best kept secret to best of lists.

Secrets and surprises of Columbus, Ohio

The first thing you should know about Columbus is this: The secret is out.

There was a time not that long ago when visitors were surprised by what all of us living here already knew – that other city in Ohio is pretty cool. They came for the zoo or COSI or the Buckeyes or Blue Jackets, but they left raving about German Village and the quirky neighborhoods, the Thurmanator, the Scioto Mile, and the Punk IPA from BrewDog.

Word, as they say, got around. I noticed the change in subtle ways. Columbus stopped appearing on those "Best kept secret" lists and started popping up on "Best of" lists. Today when I travel, I say I’m from Columbus, dropping the "Ohio" that at some point became unnecessary.

My hometown that I love so much has become a destination for people who enjoy food, craft beer, live music, and sports. Take a little of Austin, sprinkle in some Portland, add a dash of Nashville, and a spoonful of Providence, mix it up and serve it with a dose of Midwest humility, and you get Columbus. If the city had a mascot, it would be a bearded 20-something with thick-rimmed glasses and a closet full of vintage T-shirts.

This is great. It’s fun being cool, and the best thing about it is it just happened. It’s authentic. It’s who we are.

And yet…

There are times it feels like the conversation about Columbus is focused on the dessert, while completely missing the main course. We all love dessert, but you can’t live on cake and ice cream.

Since this is the healthcare issue, let’s start there. Columbus is home to four independent, not-for-profit health systems – Mount Carmel, Nationwide Children’s, OhioHealth, and Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center.

These four hospital networks collaborate in ways that are unique among similar markets. Columbus is one of a handful of major metropolitan areas that hasn’t opened a public charity hospital or imposed a healthcare tax to pay for indigent care. Here, those four health systems share the burden of indigent care and follow uniform charity care guidelines, so all citizens receive the same world-class quality of care, regardless of their ability to pay.

That spirit of collaboration extends to other local companies focused on human health, including Cardinal Health, CoverMyMeds, CrossChx, and Equitas Health. And it’s truly a community effort – more than 8,000 riders take part in the annual Pelotonia event, raising nearly $150 million to date for cancer research at OSU’s James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

Healthcare is important anywhere, but especially in a community growing as quickly as Columbus. It’s seeing Sun Belt-like growth in the Rust Belt – although, to be fair, the only thing Columbus ever had in common with the Rust Belt is geography. This is an innovation economy, fueled by public- and private-sector investment at companies such as Honda and Battelle and universities including Ohio State, Capital, and Otterbein.

In 2016, Columbus received $50 million in grants through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge to lead research and development around intelligent transportation, including self-driving cars, more efficient mass transit, and enhanced, interactive transportation infrastructure systems. This work has important global implications, and it’s happening in Columbus because of the unique resources and brainpower available.

Ultimately, that’s the point. Everything special about Columbus is special not because of where we are, but who we are. And that’s no secret.

Columbus Facts and Figures

Population: 2,021,632 (metro) or 860,090 (proper)

Median Household Income: $49,429

Per Capita Income: $26,953

Unemployment Rate: 3.66 percent

Major Industries: Education, Healthcare, Technology, Financial Services, Government  

Major Employers: The Ohio State University, OhioHealth, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Nationwide Insurance, Honda of America Manufacturing, Worthington Industries



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