Just like arguing about the “best ever” sports players across different generations, comparing the “best cities in the U.S.” invites too much circumstantial evidence like climate, culture and topography. But keeping the debate regional in scope, such as “best cities in the Midwest” – now we’re talking!
Columbus is a mainstay on a diverse list of city rankings as one of the top cities nationally for anything from millennials and tech jobs to logistics and e-commerce. And the city’s lively sports and entertainment scene, craft beer reputation, and distinct neighborhoods make it a fun place to explore after work hours. The Columbus Region also leads Midwest metros in population growth, job growth, and GDP growth. So is Columbus the best city in the Midwest? From companies to careers, the evidence suggests the answer is most definitely yes.
A Masterclass in Business Success
It’s hard to be the best in the Midwest without a deep bench of highly successful companies. Big and small, the Columbus Region delivers a strong mix of established players and fast-rising startups that provide career diversity and depth that often appeals to young couples, trailing spouses, and coastal transplants.
Name brand giants headquartered here include Nationwide Insurance, Honda Research & Development Americas, Victoria’s Secret, Cardinal Health, Abercrombie & Fitch, Scotts, and DSW. The list is even longer for those with a major presence in the Region—JPMorgan Chase (second-largest global hub and its largest technology center), Amazon Web Services, IBM, Whirlpool, Zulily, State Farm, Fiserv, Boeing, and Mars.
In their move to the Region in 2019, Google’s head of public policy and community development Andrew Silvestri told the Columbus Dispatch, “[Columbus] truly stood out because of the infrastructure … [and] because of the [tech savvy] talent and workforce pipelines that the community has worked to foster over the years.”
Mark Kvamme, the co-founder, and partner at venture capital firm Drive Capital, adds, “I think this is a jewel that is just beginning to be discovered. I think people are realizing what’s happening here.” Kvamme himself moved from Silicon Valley to start Drive in Columbus, and it’s now the Region’s most successful VC firm.
While any dynamic economy—particularly one that wants to be known as the best city in the Midwest—has to have the big names, it’s the next wave of employers coming through the ranks that give it a vibrant future as well. In high-rising startups like CoverMyMeds, Root Insurance and Olive, Columbus has three recent home-grown tech firms that have reached unicorn status ($1B+ valuation), deriving business success from the Region’s highly educated and technically savvy talent pool. In fact, 36% of Columbus residents 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, and it is the best city in the Midwest for overall concentration of college students, totaling over 134,000 enrollments.
Opportunity Far & Wide
Many areas are known for one, maybe two industries. The Columbus Region excels in several, with clusters for automotive, retail, technology, manufacturing, and logistics. New ones are emerging too—Columbus is arguably the best city in the Midwest for fintech and insurtech, cell and gene therapy, and e-commerce fulfillment, all sectors in their infancy and growing fast. By boasting such a diverse portfolio — with no one industry representing more than 18% of the economy — the Region offers plenty of opportunity for career growth in any field.
That economic diversity is a key reason Columbus has a stable and sustainable jobs market, evident in its strength throughout COVID-19. During the pandemic, Columbus maintained one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. According to the Wall Street Journal, that resiliency can be boiled down to the Region’s diverse economy, central location, young talent pool, and growing tech sector, which positions Columbus to lead the tech transformation of bedrock industries such as finance, manufacturing, and healthcare.
Biotech and Health Services
The Region’s biotech and healthcare sectors account for more than 45,000 jobs across world-class hospitals, medical supply providers, and research centers like Nationwide Children’s Hospital (NCH) and The Wexner Medical Center at The Ohio State University. Another segment with a strong lure is the Region’s startup scene, which is fueled by an open and progressive community that isn’t afraid to collaborate to bring an idea to life. That’s why CBRE called Columbus one of the best cities in the Midwest for top-ranked tech talent in 2020.
Logistics and Distribution
Logistics and distribution companies excel in the Region as well, with close to 5,000 business establishments – including e-commerce brands like Zulily, Dollar Shave Club, lullulemon, and Hims – employing more than 90,000 workers. Many of the local universities and colleges offer supply chain and logistics management training, and Roadmasters Drivers School recently opened a new training facility to help with the growing demand for truck drivers.
“We relocated to Columbus seven years ago and I remember during that process hearing things like Columbus is so accessible, Columbus is so open and collaborative,” says Doug Ulman, president of non-profit Pelotonia. “I sort of thought ‘yeah-that’s what most places say’ and I can tell you now, wholeheartedly that after seven years I’ve never been in a city or a community that embraced those characteristics and values [like Columbus does]. And what that leads to is endless opportunities. Opportunities professionally but also opportunities personally to grow as a leader, to be a part of something bigger than any one of us individually, and to have an impact, an out-sized impact actually, onto the community.”
Room to Make a Mark
Individuals that move to the Region are pleased to find that it is one of the best cities in the Midwest for job opportunity and affordability. Between 2011 and 2020, the region saw employment increase by 11.7% while employment growth at the state level was flat. The Region has also ranked as a top 10 U.S. city for work-life balance and is over 10% more affordable than the average U.S. city.
From job growth to population growth as well, the Region has ranked first among similar large metro areas in the Midwest since 2010. Between 2010 and 2020, the Columbus metro saw its population increase by 12.5%, considerably faster than the Midwest region as a whole, which saw a growth rate of 2.1%. Attracted by bustling neighborhoods, short commutes, excellent schools, and top healthcare, the new residents have helped Columbus become the Midwest’s answer to other regional magnets like Austin, Denver, and Raleigh. So much so that The New York Times ranked Columbus in the top 52 places to visit in 2019, noting the city’s “revitalized riverfront and booming downtown,” along with its position as a potential “model for the future of innovative urban transportation” through its efforts to incorporate smart technology into city life.
“To me, Columbus feels like 100 cities in one,” says Noah Van Sciver, who moved to Columbus in 2016 from Denver. “Each part has its own vibes. There’s a big difference between German Village and Clintonville, for example. It’s an exciting place to live and it feels like something coming to life right now. I’m very lucky to be here for that.”
Columbus may be the best city in the Midwest, but is it the best city for you or your business? Contact us today to learn how we can guide you or your company through the location decision process.