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Columbus: Should a professional late 20-something couple move to Ohio’s state capital?

Written By | Mar 1, 2018
Columbus, Ohio

Columbus, Ohio, downtown skyline. (Edited version of public domain photo)

WASHINGTON, February 9, 2018: This is the third in a series of articles devoted to the pros and cons of relocating to a Rust Belt city. Today’s entry deals with Ohio’s bustling, growing, but still relatively unknown capital city of Columbus.

Each article in this series is based on a lengthy response this writer made to the following Quora query:

Which city is the best for a professional couple in their late 20s: Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Detroit or Buffalo?

So let’s get to Columbus already.

Columbus: Where it is

Plopped down at the confluence of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers, Columbus, like several other U.S. state capitals, is a city that’s more or less in the center of Ohio. It was eventually chosen as a compromise after several other Ohio cities battled for the title.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Like Washington, D.C., the place that eventually became Columbus was chosen as the new Ohio state capital. It was named after Christopher Columbus, as were many other U.S. towns at the time.

Adjacent to the existing village of Franklinton, the city was officially founded in 1816 and was gradually built out. It was first designated a “borough.” It was chartered as a city in 1834. Oddly, Ohio’s state house was not completed until 1857.

Though Columbus was and is the home of the huge Ohio State University, many Ohioans long regarded the capital as something of a backwater, just like Washington, D.C. long after its founding. This writer, formerly a resident of Cleveland, Ohio, recalls traveling to Columbus circa 1966 to participate in a state speech and drama tournament held at Ohio State. The city seemed rather small and unimpressive, dwarfed as it was by the large and sprawling campus of the University.

How things have changed.

Columbus today: The major American city that coastal elites never heard of

Here’s Columbus today, according to a detailed blurb gleaned from Wikipedia:

“The city has a diverse economy based on education, government, insurance, banking, defense, aviation, food, clothes, logistics, steel, energy, medical research, health care, hospitality, retail, and technology. Columbus is home to the Battelle Memorial Institute, the world’s largest private research and development foundation; Chemical Abstracts Service, the world’s largest clearinghouse of chemical information; NetJets, the world’s largest fractional ownership jet aircraft fleet; and The Ohio State University, one of the largest universities in the United States. As of 2013, the city has the headquarters of five corporations in the U.S. Fortune 500: Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, American Electric Power, L Brands, Big Lots, and Cardinal Health. The food service corporations Wendy’s, Donatos Pizza, Bob Evans, Max & Erma’s and White Castle and the nationally known companies Red Roof Inn, Rogue Fitness, and Safelite are also based in the metropolitan area.

“In 2016, Money Magazine ranked Columbus as one of “The 6 Best Big Cities”, calling it the best in the Midwest, citing a highly educated workforce and excellent wage growth. In 2012, Columbus was ranked in BusinessWeek‘s 50 best cities in America. In 2013, Forbes gave Columbus an “A” rating as one of the top cities for business in the U.S., and later that year included the city on its list of Best Places for Business and Careers. Columbus was also ranked as the No. 1 up-and-coming tech city in the nation by Forbes in 2008, and the city was ranked a top-ten city by Relocate America in 2010. In 2007, fDi Magazine ranked the city no. 3 in the U.S. for cities of the future, and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium was rated no. 1 in 2009 by USA Travel Guide.”

What makes Columbus cool?

The once relatively bucolic Columbus of the 1950s and 1960s has vastly eclipsed Ohio’s still better known cities of Cincinnati and Cleveland. Columbus is now the hottest American city that absolutely no one knows about.

The surprising ascendency of Columbus today was initially due to three huge advantages:

  • Its growth spurt started late. While Columbus does have the kinds of rundown neighborhoods that other American cities have, they are fewer in number due to that late growth spurt.
  • As Ohio State University (OSU) grew to huge proportions late in the 20th century, it became, in and of itself, a major economic driver. At last count, roughly 60,000 students were enrolled in OSU’s main campus alone. Along with some 29,000 academic and administrative staffers, the university’s population has naturally spawned a huge service industry support network ranging from restaurants to sports to the arts.
  • As government bureaucracies continue to spiral in Washington as well as in most state capitals, government itself provides a huge employment advantage. That gives Columbus a distinct edge over its older, genuinely Rust Belt counterparts, Cincinnati and Cleveland. Thus, while it’s located in the Rust Belt, it’s actually the second most populous city in the region, behind only Chicago. Given its size and economic diversity, the city has been better able to capture the kind of newer, knowledge-based businesses that other Rust Belt cities still find difficult to attract.

While Columbus is not much of a professional sports town, it doesn’t need to be. The city does boast an NHL hockey team, the Columbus Blue Jackets. And as for football, baseball and basketball – OSU’s teams are perennial national contenders. So who needs the pros (and their costly nosebleed seats) when the OSU Buckeyes already hog local and national headlines on a regular basis.

Does Columbus have any negatives? Maybe.

Columbus does have its downsides. There are bad neighborhoods. Yet this isn’t exceptional in a large and growing city whose estimated 2016 population exceeded 860,000. Its combined statistical area (CSA) population now 2,424,831 and growing, making the city 25th in size overall in the U.S.

Also, one has to contend with the unusually weird politics in the city and the surrounding area. Ohio has long been like two separate states. Cincinnati and the industrialized northern part of the state remain fiercely pro-union and machine Democrat. That’s despite the fact that this combination helped destroy Ohio’s once impressive manufacturing base.

Read also: Cincinnati: Cincinnati: Should professional millennial couples move there? (Part 2 in a series)

On the other hand, once you travel roughly 50-80 miles south of Lake Erie, you’ll find yourself in farm country. This is where most voters are fiercely and reliably Republican and conservative. Some have found central and southern Ohio more like the Deep South than the North. Hence, Ohio’s regular inclusion as a crucial “swing state” in national elections. The state is a microcosm of America’s current bi-polar political climate.

Which brings us back to Columbus. Situated well within Ohio’s conservative belt, both OSU and the Ohio state bureaucracy still give this city a decidedly left-liberal tilt. Yet its location on the map, in the midst of “hostile territory” (for Democrats) gives the place an interesting vibe. No matter where you are in the political spectrum, you’ll find friends somewhere in the metropolitan area of this city.

Jobs, low cost of living, and other good stuff, unencumbered by coastal elites

Today, Columbus is an outlier in any list of Rust Belt cities. Deeply influenced by “deplorable” Flyover Country culture, its strong cultural and educational ties tend to make this city a bit more like America used to be.

Millennials desiring to relocate without giving up all the good stuff they love in grossly overpriced coastal American cities will find a lot to love in Columbus.

Better yet, as noted above, there are a lot of jobs here across the board. These include a growing number of highly paid high tech jobs.

Columbus is relatively new as major cities go. But with government and OSU providing firm and permanent anchors, this Rust Belt capital city has become surprisingly attractive to many. That’s why it continues to grow. Jobs, nightlife, the arts, and plenty of educational opportunities continue to make this city a growth industry in and of itself.

Add to this an incredibly low cost of living and housing compared to coastal America, and voilà! You have an attractive, amazingly diverse Rust Belt city that remains relatively unknown to the elite masses.

Check it out before those coastal idiotarians find out.


Terry Ponick

Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Senior Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17