Non-Present, Non-Caring Representation has Sucked West Columbus's Economy Dry
By Westside Craig
As Columbus leaders rave about the city's booming economy, they must ignore the fact that the only large private employer (500+ jobs) to open in West Columbus this century, is the Casino. In fact, this community that is home to over 65,000 residents has lost more than a dozen major employers over the last forty years. This entire Upper Columbus area looks closer to 100,000 residents.
The casino is currently the only substantial attraction in West Columbus. Yet it only employs 800 workers at the same location that General Motors once employed 10,000. Of course, the one and the only reason the casino came to west Columbus, is that city leaders did not want a casino downtown . . . or anyplace else around Columbus.
After the Mount Carmel West complex completes its relocation, taking most of 2000 more jobs away from West Columbus, the casino will become West Columbus's 2nd largest private employer. BIG LOTS will be the largest, but they have already expressed their disdain for the area and moved 800 of their 2000 West Side employees to the booming and congested northeast side of town.
BIG LOTS has smart and magnificent negotiators, they actually convinced Columbus leadership to give them up to $26 million in city tax breaks, which just about covers the cost one of Ohio's most prestigious sites, where Columbus butts up against the state's wealthiest city, New Albany.
A terrible precedent:
What is going to stop other large Columbus employers from threatening to leave, just to get city taxpayers to cover their fancy upgrades?
Most of (if not more than) 100 other employment sites within 7 miles west/southwest of city hall, which used to host 100-500 workers, are now condemned, deserted or diminished to the point of only employing a dozen or so workers.
Hundreds of shops and business addresses in Franklinton and the Hilltop that use to provide thousands of jobs to the area are now also barely alive, empty or have been taken over by charities or temples that use volunteers instead of a paid workforce.
It is a sad joke that the bicycle lanes recently painted along West Broad Street were actually installed for all the shopping cart traffic.
Happened before, it can happen again:
In 1945 Mayor James A. Rhodes intentionally sparked a boom in the West Side's economy. It lasted until the mid-seventies recession, so it can happen again. All the area needs are business and governing leaders who truly care about fixing this. From my brief study of the city's 53 mayors, James Rhodes appears to be the only Columbus mayor that ever tried to bring a robust economy to West Columbus, and he succeeded beyond anyone's expectations.
By 1955, his actions combined with all of the west side's previously ignored potential gave West Columbus an economy that was the envy of the other sides of town. The hundreds of empty and decaying structures you see around there today were built because he cared.
Should have sold tickets:
Mayor Rhodes sparked far more than jobs, most Columbus residents today do not know that from 1955-1960, West Columbus had one of the largest tourist attractions in the Midwest. It was called the "Wonders of the World". It was basically the prototype for Disney's Epcot Park but built in the center of the brand new Great Western Shopping Center's enormous (original) parking lot.
It could still be here had its developers charged admission. Its maintenance and vandalism expenses, that a paid admission could have offset, became so enormous that by the early 60s, the exhibit was replaced with a dozen or more stores. The exhibit was so detailed that it originally cost far more than the shopping center to build.
Things like this can happen again, just know when to sell some tickets.
Columbus was #2, now likely #1:
In 2015, after decades of city leaders ignoring this side of their city, a report by the Pew Research Center [PDF] in Washington DC, was released. It revealed that Columbus has the second largest disparity between low and high incomes of all large American metro areas, and fourth place among all American cities, small and large. Another study from the University of Toronto also came to the same conclution.
Tack on the huge West Side job losses since (without replacement), BIG LOTS HQ (800), Mt. Carmel West Hospital Complex (nearly 2000) and Express Scripts (450), and Columbus has likely overtaken Austin, Texas for the top spot. Congratulations present and past Columbus mayors and city council members, Columbus would have never reached the top without you.
It seems odd that these two very similar first and second place cities are also home to America's two largest college campuses. So with all that brain power in these two towns, they should have known better. Could it be that cities that see themselves as "big college towns" do not want skilled labor jobs competing against their academic offerings?
They can't fix problems until they know what caused them:
Sixty years of West Side misrepresentation from non-present, disinterested city and business leaders have not only drained its economy but has also held over a dozen communities, not in Columbus but totally surrounded by it, far below their economic potential, simply because they are surrounded by Columbus's economic drain.
Even the busiest area of Upper Columbus, Prairie Township (West Broad St, outside I-270), is nowhere close to its full economic potential because it is also being ignored, and these county communities do not have tens of millions of dollars to bribe potential developers, to come in.
Most of Prairie Townships' success is from being located in-between two economically hot suburbs, Grove City, and Hilliard, and also because this township did not lose its only large private employer (Doctors Hospital West), while the rest of Upper Columbus has lost over a dozen.
Nearly two dozen communities in this Upper Columbus area have to compete against powerful Columbus and state politicians, as well as the suburban cities around Columbus, which all have their own chambers of commerce, and internal government leaders, promoting their area's potential every day.
The isolated voices of these communities are just too small to be heard on their own. The Upper Columbus project is about uniting all west-southwest communities, with representation from both government and business leaders who live in or operate their business inside this area.
A group can get far more accomplished than an individual:
The united voice of two dozen communities will be exponentially louder than two dozen communities speaking on their own, making the entire Upper Columbus area impossible to ignore. Bringing great employment, industry, business excitement, and tourism back to this once proud highland area which most overlooks Columbus is what this project is all about.
Although these ignored sites are invisible to city leaders on Columbus Spreadsheets, modern maps of Columbus easily expose the modern version of this political avoidance problem: