Columbus: A small town with big city dreams

Since moving to Columbus a little more than four years ago, I’ve noticed a “can do” spirit among local residents.

It doesn’t matter that they live in a city that most people don’t even know exists. Columbus is a small town with big city dreams, and there’s no shortage of dreamers.

I thought about that after interviewing Frank Braski, co-founder of ColumbusMakesIt! and the RiverCity Foundry, two local initiatives fueling an entrepreneurial movement in Columbus. The way Braski sees it, Columbus is fertile ground for another Fortune 500 company that’s still lurking in the mind of some local visionary. All it will take is community support to make it happen.

Two days after that interview ran in the paper, I went to the Columbus Memory Center on North Lake Road and found another big idea. I was there to interview Dr. Jonathan Liss, a local neurologist, about Alzheimer’s research that he’s been doing. After getting what I needed for the story, the good doctor let me in on a little secret.

Liss said he envisions Columbus becoming the world’s center for Alzheimer’s research, and he has already approached a pharmaceutical company called Novartis about making it happen. If the company agrees, he plans to present a proposal to Columbus Council.

“The reason why I proposed that is we’re not Atlanta or Los Angeles where you can’t touch everybody,” he said. “In this city, I can talk to just about every senior citizen. I can cover every billboard. I can cover every TV. I can cover the newspaper for a modest amount of money.

“And since there’s probably not any more than two degrees of separation between myself and everybody in this city, I think I can get them 40,000, 50,000 people to give their genetics,” he continued. “And if they do that, this thing launches so fast and so inexpensively compared to what it’s going to cost around the world that it will make your head spin.”

And what does Columbus get out of it?

Liss said Columbus becomes the center of the future instead of the past, already evident with such local amenities as the River Center for the Performing Arts, the Springer Opera House and whitewater rafting.

“When I moved here 21 years ago, everyone was apologizing for this city; everybody was saying, ‘Well, we live close to Atlanta, and we can do this in Atlanta,’” he said. “And we’ve seen in these last 20 years that we’ve really come a long way.

“I’m really proud of this city, and if I can have a small hand in making this the scientific center for Alzheimer’s treatment in the whole world, I would be very proud and happy.”

Liss is a native of Hollywood. He moved to Columbus after training in San Diego and seeing neurologists there age rapidly due to the stressful lifestyle. He was looking for something different. So he hired a headhunter who hooked him up with a job at Columbus Clinic in 1995. Since then, he has developed a world-class health research center. It was one of three initially chosen for the Alzheimer’s research currently being co-sponsored by Novartis.

Liss said Novartis seemed favorable to his suggestion that Columbus become the world’s center for Alzheimer’s research, and it could become a reality soon.

Alva James-Johnson: 706-571-8521, @amjreporter