13:04 PM

Ohio State well-positioned to help boost central Ohio economic development

University leaders discuss the importance of research and innovation to supporting the region

The Ohio State University continues to play a critical role in the future growth of the Columbus region. That was one of the key messages Friday from the 2020 Economic Development 411 event sponsored by the Mid-Ohio Development Exchange and One Columbus.

Ohio State President Kristina M. Johnson and Executive Vice President for Research, Innovation and Knowledge Enterprise Grace Wang addressed a virtual audience of more than 1,500 people as part of a conversation about the challenges and opportunities for the 11 counties in the central Ohio area. Other speakers included Mauro Guillén, author and professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania; Brian Lamb, global head of diversity and inclusion at JPMorgan Chase; and Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture.

Kenny McDonald, president and CEO of One Columbus, acknowledged the challenges of maintaining economic development momentum as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt operations in the public and private sectors in Ohio and the nation. But he said the event offered the opportunity to “lift our chins and look forward to the future.”

The university will continue to play an important part in that future, said College of Engineering Dean David Williams. Before he introduced Johnson and Wang, Williams noted how the college continues to build the workforce of the region’s future – graduating more than 600 engineers each year to work in the counties One Columbus serves.

Johnson said building a pipeline of talent to work and innovate in Ohio is at the core of the university’s mission.

“Obviously, at The Ohio State University, our participation is a given. The 1862 Morrill Act that created Ohio State and the other land-grant colleges made it clear that part of our purpose was ‘to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes,’” she said. “In other words, to educate young people from all backgrounds, who would work in Ohio businesses and come to lead them.”

Johnson said the university is also a force for research, innovation and entrepreneurship. She pointed to the nearly $1 billion in research expenditures in fiscal year 2020, which yielded 367 invention disclosures and 13 startups.

Wang said the university’s 18,000 faculty, staff and students engaged in research and creative expression and 2.5 million square feet dedicated to research activities make Ohio State a research powerhouse. She highlighted Ohio State’s commitment to convergent research to support the growing needs of the state’s job creators.

“Our research and innovation activities cover all sectors identified by JobsOhio as crucial for the state’s growth, from advanced manufacturing and automotive, to health care and financial services,” she said.

Wang said a well-educated workforce with core competencies in data, data analytics and artificial intelligence is also important – as are flexibility and creativity.

“It also calls for a talent pool that is diverse, creative, collaborative and able to learn in real time, and all the time,” she said. “To put it simply, what we teach, how we teach and how we empower our students to learn today will impact our economic growth tomorrow. That is a non-trivial task, and we must work on it together.”

Despite the pandemic and the challenging national economy, McDonald said he believes the Columbus region has more opportunities than obstacles. He said businesses and governments in the region are prepared to take on challenging issues like the future of housing, transportation and education.

“In the short term, we have a pandemic to recover from. In the long term, the future for this region is very, very bright,” he said.

As Johnson finished her part of the discussion, she also struck an optimistic tone.

“My wife Veronica Meinhard and I are thrilled to be new members of the Columbus community,” she said. “And I look forward to working with all of you on making this the best place in the world to launch a career, to start a business or to grow one into a force to be reckoned with.”

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