Ten years ago Site Selection assessed the economic development status of the U.S. Southeast by choosing to take a closer look at every community named “Greenville” across the region. The results were illuminating and promising, from the site selection consulting mecca in South Carolina to the home of the East Carolina University Pirates in North Carolina to the lesser-known but dynamic Greenvilles in other Southern states.
We resurrected the idea earlier this year in the first installment of our "What's In a Name?" series, just in time for Independence Day.
There are other place names just as plentiful, beginning with Springfield, so evergreen it’s even survived 24 seasons of “The Simpsons.”
But there’s no Springfield Day (yet) on the calendar, Columbus Day is next week, and it turns out that places whose names are some variation on Columbus are garnering a healthy share of economic development good fortune and global connectedness. It only makes sense, as Columbia (whatever you may think of the behavior of Christopher Columbus himself) is a historical and poetic name for the United States itself, given form in the Statue of Liberty.
Cities and counties with that name origin (hereafter referred to as the “Columbi”) can be found in Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oregon and South Carolina. (The links take you to selected Site Selection stories from some of them.)
According to Site Selection’s New Plant Database, the cities named Columbus have recorded 262 qualifying corporate facility projects within their boundaries since Jan. 2007. Enlarged to encompass their metropolitan statistical areas, the record balloons to 514. Letting in the Columbia, S.C., and Columbia, Mo., MSAs gets us to 585. And counting all the other Columbias, Columbianas, Columbia Rivers and Columbia Cities garners us another few dozen projects.
Then we can add in Columbus County, N.C. (14 projects) and the seven Columbia counties appearing in our records.
But wait! We forgot one other Columbia … as in “District of …”. The District proper doesn’t get a whole lot of new big corporate facilities for obvious reasons, but it has attracted 26 projects over our time period. If we generously allow in all the projects from Virginia that are included in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria CBSA, we take a mighty leap upward by another 383 projects.
So to summarize our progress, we now stand at 1,159 projects. Or over 3.7 percent of the 31,135 private-sector projects we’ve tracked over that time period in the entire United States. That’s a pretty hefty batting average when you consider that the total jurisdictions encompassed above comprise a mere 0.066 percent of the country’s total number of municipalities (36,011), and counties (3,143).
Lest you think we’re giving companies short shrift, let it be noted that there have been some 34 corporate facility investments since January 2007 by “Columbi” companies, including Columbia Sportswear, Columbian Chemicals and Columbia Elevator Co. And yes, we know what you’re thinking: A select handful of those investing companies share their names with their communities: Columbia Block & Brick and Columbus Brick Co. (both in Columbia, Miss.); Columbia Gas of Ohio (Columbus, Ohio); Columbus Components Group (Columbus, Ind.); Columbus Gourmet (Columbus, Ga.) and Columbus Hydraulics Co. (Columbus, Neb.).
The Highlight Reel
Without further ado, below are some snapshots of Columbian projects no doubt taking place near you.
With the possible exception of Les Wexner’s Limited Brands in Columbus, Ohio, there’s likely no company more synonymous with its Columbus than Cummins Inc., headquartered in Columbus, Ind., since its founding in 1919. We’ve tracked 28 different facility investments from Cummins since January 2007. Twenty-eight also happens to be the number of manufacturing facilities the company operates globally.
Five of the company’s investments we’ve tracked have been in its home state (two in Seymour, Ind.). And now we can add a sixth, as the company in August announced that its historic Columbus Engine Plant (CEP) is being readied to build the Cummins 5.0L V8 Turbo Diesel for Nissan's next generation Titan pickup truck.
"The partnership with Nissan on the V8 program benefits not only Cummins employees, but also our community," said Jeff Caldwell, General Manager of Cummins' pickup truck business, who started his 31-year career with Cummins at CEP. The Columbus Engine Plant dates back to the 1920s. It was originally built around a two-story Civil War era house purchased by Cummins co-founders Clessie Cummins and W.G. Irwin.
Caldwell said the announcement was a testament to the Company's determination and commitment to innovation. Cummins first announced it was building a light duty diesel engine at CEP in 2006 but a global economic downturn delayed the project.
Caldwell said the V8 team continued making refinements to the engine during the downturn, then began to incorporate specific customer needs once an agreement was reached with Nissan. In addition to its partnership with Nissan, Cummins is developing a version of the V8 Turbo Diesel for commercial vehicle customers.
The V8 program is planning to add to its 300-person work force over the next several years and at maturity expects to employ approximately 800 workers.
As for that most well known Columbus in Ohio, distribution projects have come forward recently from such companies as Zulily (Obetz), Magnanni (New Albany) and lululemon athletica (Columbus proper) to serve the fashion sector that Les Wexner's brands belong to. Even the new Cargolux air service between Hong Kong and Columbus, announced this summer, is fashion-driven. Cargolux was able to draw on the valuable support of forwarding company Hellmann Worldwide and the Columbus Regional Airport Authority in establishing the flight.
"We are pleased that we are expanding our North American network by adding Rickenbacker International Airport to our global portfolio of destinations," said Richard Forson, interim president and CEO of Cargolux, in announcing the service.
All in all, the Authority noted earlier this summer, The Columbus Region experienced 138-percent growth in the amount of goods admitted to Central Ohio’s Foreign-Trade Zone (FTZ) #138 in 2012. The zone is part of the multimodal Rickenbacker Inland Port, and last year admitted more than $2.75 billion in goods, a number 20 percent higher than the previous record set in 2010.
“The international supply chain is in constant motion and Central Ohio is increasingly a force in this realm,” said Angie Atwood, Foreign-Trade Zone administrator with the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, which is the grantee of FTZ #138. Materials moving through FTZ #138 account for only a limited portion of goods the U.S. Customs and Border Protection oversees going through the Columbus Port of Entry. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than $12.9 billion in goods were cleared through the Columbus Port of Entry in 2012, which is 5 percent of the total goods cleared for the year nationwide.
The Columbus Regional Airport Authority and its three airports — Port Columbus International Airport, Rickenbacker International Airport and Bolton Field Airport, as well as select businesses located at Rickenbacker Inland Port — accounted for US$6.6 billion in total annual economic output in 2012. The airport handled a total of 22,755 metric tons of cargo in the first four months of 2013.
“Because of Columbus’s one-day trucking access to nearly 50 percent of the U.S. population, the Columbus Region continues to grow as an ideal location for bringing goods into the country,” said Atwood.
'I Think I See Land'
Not all is smooth sailing in Columbi communities. The $6-billion synthetic fuel refinery originally announced by Baard Energy in Columbiana County, Ohio, six years ago has not moved forward, though it has moved to new ownership amid financing and permitting difficulties.
Originally conceived to turn coal into synthetic diesel and jet fuel, the project was purchased by Planck Investments in 2011 and the company was renamed Pallas Formed Fuels. Following a hot trend in that region of the Ohio River corridor, now the plan calls for natural gas to be the feedstock. There's no action, and various permits related to the project are beginning to expire.
Meanwhile, the former CEO of Baard is pursuing a new, very similar project with a much smaller price tag: According to regional online newspaper The Review, John Baardson, now CEO of Pinto Energy LLC, last month announced a plan to build a $200-million refinery on 80 acres near Ashtabula.
Google has doubled down on its investment in a data center in the Berkeley County town of Moncks Corner, S.C., now planning on sinking $1.2 billion into the project. But it still hasn’t moved forward with anything on a 466-acre parcel near the state capital of Columbia, in Blythewood, as Richland County officials and others scurry to solve wetlands issues. The land, originally purchased by the City of Columbia for a Lucent plant that never materialized, was purchased by a Google-affiliated LLC in fall 2007.
The town also recently was to have welcomed another behemoth of a project, in the form of AQT Solar's $460-million solar cell manufacturing plant. But AQT, like other solar cell makers using a copper, indium, gallium and selenium (CIGS) compound, has struggled, and last year looked to sell its assets even after successfully raising a new round of venture capital backing that was to have been used to add a second production line at its plant in Sunnyvale, Calif. The South Carolina plant, announced in 2011, was slated to hire as many as 1,000 people over four years.
Oddly enough, another major solar project, "Project Apollo" from Calisolar, was slated to go to Columbus, Miss., and employ nearly 1,000 people with a $600-million investment. But it too ran off the rails earlier this year.
But another Columbi territory is welcoming new Google news: The Dalles, located in Wasco County along the Columbia River in Oregon, has been home to a Google data center since 2006, when the company invested $600 million. Late last month, the company broke ground on a $600-million expansion of that server campus, following the approval of incentives earlier in the month and the earlier establishment of a new enterprise zone by city and county officials. Under the agreement, Google has agreed to invest at least $200M and create 10 jobs. The company will also pay $1.2M in fees up front to the community and $800,000 each following year while the agreement is in effect.
The agreement is in addition to the company's original enterprise zone agreement, under which the company agreed to invest $33 million and create 35 jobs. Over time, Google invested over $600M million and employs over 80 people. Since 2008, Google has awarded more than $777,000 in grants to support Wasco County Schools and nonprofits and has granted $180,000 to fund the infrastructure for a free WiFi network for The Dalles.“We’re excited to expand our presence in The Dalles,” said Dave Karlson, Google Operations Manager. “This represents our ongoing commitment to Wasco County, and the state of Oregon, and we look forward to our continued close work with this community.”
We haven’t even journeyed abroad yet, where we find 179 projects in British Columbia since January 2007.
And we find another 16 projects in the Republic of Colombia, the only nation in the world named for Christopher Columbus (historians remind Americans that the explorer's first steps onto the New World were in Latin America). Colombia emerged from the former Gran Colombia, whose collapse in 1830 also gave birth to Ecuador and Venezuela … but we won’t go there.
Colombia's list includes big projects from Holcim and Unilever, which last year committed to invest the equivalent of US$120 million in a new detergent factory and distribution complex in Palmira, Valle del Cauca, Colombia, to serve that country and the broader region. The projects are creating 650 jobs, and are part of a plan to build 20 or more factories in developing or emerging markets.
In fact, it doesn't take much imagination to hear the words of today's "New World" growth mavens as simply a Christopher Columbus speech dressed up in corporate-speak:
"Our business in Latin America makes up a significant proportion of the 54 percent that Unilever currently generates from emerging markets, a figure that we expect to rise significantly in the future," said Pier Luigi Sigismondi, Unilever’s Chief supply chain officer, last year. "We are excited by the enormous possibilities these markets offer and more investments will undoubtedly follow.”