Not for the first time, and we’re confident that it’s not for the last, others around the state and region have taken notice of this city’s transformation.
In the June issue of Georgia Trend magazine, an article by K.K. Snyder titled “Columbus: Seeing the Big Picture” takes a pretty detailed look at what has happened here since the old patterns and realities of the city, virtually unchanged for decades, began crumbling and being rebuilt.
“For more than a decade,” Snyder writes, “there has existed a need to define the identity of this city that morphed from a mill town floated on a textile economy to a center for financial data services and advanced manufacturing.”
While one might quibble with Snyder’s timeline — the identity redefinition and image change of Columbus have taken closer to three decades than one — her assessment is spot on.
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“Columbus has been a city in transformation for a while,” Brian Anderson, president and CEO of the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce, tells Georgia Trend, “some deliberate, some by nature of outside forces.”
The article attributes much of the city’s current progress to efforts that fall under the umbrella of the Regional Prosperity Initiative, whose strategy, Snyder writes, “boils down to three guiding principles: a reduction of poverty, increasing prosperity for all, and improving the overall quality of life in the region.”
Success in such an ambitious mission has obviously been mixed, despite the impossible-to-ignore signs of growth and rejuvenation over most of the city. The quality of life component has been the most visibly successful: There are more good things to do here, and more people doing them, than ever before. (The recent WalletHub “staycation” report on Columbus is more than just anecdotal evidence of that.)
A broader distribution of prosperity — or at least a comfortable standard of living — seems to have taken hold. Rarely now do you hear the age-old grumble that all the money and power in Columbus are controlled by “the same five or six families” (which always sounded more like a line from “The Godfather” than an economic/demographic analysis anyway).
Poverty, sadly, remains the most stubborn obstacle and challenge. Population growth certainly doesn’t make it any easier to deal with; Bill Murphy, the chamber’s VP for economic development, notes in the Trend piece that the Columbus population has grown by 22 percent in 45 years, while net job creation has been flat since 2000.
“You cannot be a thriving city with a 19.6 percent poverty rate,” Mayor Teresa Tomlinson tells the magazine. “You just can’t be.” (Georgia’s poverty rate stands at 14.8 percent.)
Tomlinson points to failure of the first TAD vote in 2007 as leaving Columbus, as Snyder writes, “a little late to the redevelopment game.” But easy passage of the more recent TAD vote two years ago is already paying off.
Georgia Trend spotlights the Uptown TAD as especially interesting: It “doesn’t fit the classic concept of blight because the area features two to three blocks of extreme vibrancy both day and night. But there are many vacant and underutilized properties … and that’s where the TAD will prove beneficial.”
While reducing poverty has been problematic, the article notes, reducing homelessness has been a more successful effort, with the city already having received 280 housing vouchers.
As for employment and work force development, the Trend piece notes collaborative programs like Columbus Tech’s high school intern program with Pratt& Whitney (and now several other local companies), and Columbus State’s new Center for Cyber Defense Education as part of the TSYS Department of Computer science as just two of many such aggressive efforts.
Chamber CEO Anderson told Georgia Trend that a core of talented young people is the key to sustaining the Regional Prosperity Initiative, and keeping Columbus moving forward: “We’ve got to tell our story better.”
Implicit in that, of course, is that we keep making ours a better story to tell.