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Local CEOs join forces to improve Columbus

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There is a group in Columbus comprised of the richest and most powerful individuals in town, CEOs of local Fortune 1000 companies fighting for the greater good of the city and its future.

The Columbus Partnership began roughly eight years ago when former Ohio Gov. George Voinovich pitched the idea to Leslie Wexner and John F. Wolfe, two of the most recognizable names in Columbus.

“They were operating businesses here in Columbus, but many of them were also operating around the world, and they realized that they didn’t know each other as well as they might. That was the real simple origins of the group in its earliest stages,” said Alex Fischer, president and CEO of The Columbus Partnership.

The Partnership focuses on economic development, philanthropy, education, arts and cultural activities. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

“We are fortunate to have superb institutions like Battelle and The Ohio State University that help us grow our future economy,” said Wexner, Chairman and CEO of the Limited Brands, in an email to The Lantern. “Through the Partnership, these organizations are working together, alongside our community’s leading companies, for unparalleled economic development collaboration for Central Ohio.”

Wexner also serves as the chairman of the Partnership. Wolfe is the vice chairman and Stephen J.H. Lyons is the vice president.

Admittance into the group is invitation only, meaning business leaders and current members invite other local CEOs to join. The membership fees total $50,000.

Besides an annual retreat and an annual trip to Washington D.C., to visit policymakers, the group has four standing meetings per year.

According to The Columbus Dispatch, one the current items of interest to be discussed in their trip to Washington, D.C., this year is the recent removal of federal Homeland Security funding for Columbus.

“Many of our companies are involved in various arts and cultural activities, (such as) the Scioto Mile or last year’s Third Frontier campaign, or the campaign to move the downtown casino, a number of issues that are facing our city and state,” Fischer said. “The Partnership is a place where we can prioritize things that are most important for us to collectively be involved in.”

The website lists 36 current members of the group, including Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee.

“By advocating on behalf of education and practicing collaboration, by sharing strong ideas and selfless leadership, The Columbus Partnership is an invaluable voice in this community for economic vitality and civic improvement,” Gee said in an email to The Lantern.

One of the group’s goals has been a recent focus on economic development. In 2009, the Partnership commissioned a study that looked at economic development in Columbus, but also in cities like Indianapolis, Nashville and Minneapolis.

Fischer said the study was meant to show “how we do economic development, how other communities do economic development and what we need to be doing better.”

The findings led to the creation of the Columbus 2020! plan.

“Our primary focus right now is a plan called Columbus 2020! that includes a strategy for the region to grow the employment base by 180,000 net new jobs, increase personal income and make Columbus a top 10 city nationally in economic development by 2020,” said Mike Morris, CEO of American Electric Power and another member of the Partnership, in an email to The Lantern.

Fischer added that they intend to raise $8 billion of new capital investment and their target is to see an increase in personal incomes to $50,000 a year.

“It’s a very ambitious plan. Over the last 10 weeks, we’ve raised $28 million in a public-private partnership to fund the implementation of that plan,” Fischer said.

According to the Partnership’s 2009 990-tax filing, Fischer earned $81,538 from September 2009 to December 2009. The Partnership received $1.79 million in gifts, grants, contributions and membership fees.

Fischer declined to provide The Lantern with the Partnership’s 2010 tax filings.

Fischer, who worked for Battelle in Tennessee before moving to Ohio, believes that one of the most unique things about Columbus is the fact that so many CEOs are willing to work together.

“You don’t find that in many communities. You’ll see sometimes, places that have two or three big companies or CEO’s that are engaged. But to have 30 to 40 in the community at any time, that are really pushing hard on behalf of the community, is just phenomenal,” Fischer said.

Fischer first met Gee in Tennessee when Gee was chancellor at Vanderbilt University. He currently serves on Gee’s senior management team at OSU as a special adviser to the president, focusing on economic development.

Jim Lynch, director of media relations at OSU, said in an email to The Lantern that the university pays Gee’s membership dues.

“Members of the Partnership are leaders who know how to get things done and have an abiding passion for progress,” Gee said. “It is my great privilege, both personally and professionally, to be part of the Partnership and stand with these uncommon people bound together by a common concern.”

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