Central Ohio Business Making Inroads In Global Markets


Did you know that 109 different languages are spoken by students in grades K-12 across central Ohio?
Or, did you know that 644 foreign-owned companies from 37 countries employ more than 39,000 people locally?

These are just some of the eye-opening statistics published in the region's "Global report" released last year.

They show how the greater Columbus community is turning into a more international place to live and work.

But now, there is an even bigger push to reach beyond our borders and become a more prominent player on the global stage.

In a welding shop in nearby Delaware, that spark of change is already taking place.

"With the economy coming back and construction picking up, we've seen business pick up quite a bit in the last 12 months," says Todd King.

He’s the General Manager of Sky Climber, a company which touts itself as the world's leading manufacturer of suspended access equipment

“So, if an individual has to work on the side of a building or on the side of a power plant or on the side of a bridge, we make the equipment that allows that individual to get to that point and do work from that spot," King says.

And after years of research in developing cutting edge technology, the Delaware company is getting ready to release the 'f-n-x' -- an international-friendly hoist.  It’s basically a universal motor and gearbox for its many products.

“We can connect to any power source in the world," said King. “We do business in about 70 countries worldwide. It's very significant.  Our sales are about 70 percent international. We're looking to expand into Panama, into Brazil.  China is another country that has tremendous potential, so we're constantly doing market evaluations and seeing where we can expand."

Local economic leaders say the sky is the limit for central Ohio.  

In fact, statistics show that:

- $9.3 billion worth of goods and services are now exported out of central Ohio
- 1 in 14 jobs are tied to exports and
- job growth from exports has increased 17 percent over the past seven years

But economic leaders admit there's a long way to go.

"We're competing, and we’re winning in a lot of cases, but the competition is really stiff," says Kenny McDonald, the CEO of Columbus 2020, an economic development organization representing the 11-county Columbus region.

"We've actually uncovered small, middle-sized and even large companies that we had no idea they had these international connections, and in some cases they are doing 20-30 percent growth internationally," he says.

Among Columbus 2020's missions is to combine the strengths of government, educational institutions and private industry to help businesses grow here and abroad.

And the organization has now joined a national partnership with the non-profit, Brookings Institution to develop its own “MEI” or Metropolitan Export Initiative.

"We're working with Brookings as one of the first twelve metropolitan areas in the country to have a formal business plan about how to achieve our export goals as a city and as a region," McDonald adds. "We need to leverage all those assets and tell the world about how to connect with us, and that's what we're working on every day."

McDonald says the biggest challenge is developing an export “culture” to help more companies understand how to enter global markets and be successful. Economic leaders also are drawing on the insight from those who have proven success.

Businesses like Rolls-Royce, 50 miles north of Columbus.

When you mention Rolls-Royce, one may think of the luxury automobile, where the roots of the original company began.

But since World War II, the focus shifted to airplane engines and eventually into additional markets.

The British-based company is now a major player in the aerospace, marine and energy industries, taking up 44 acres of land right in the heart of the city of Mount Vernon in Knox County.

"This is our home," says Vice President Glenn Richardson.

He says his company is continually reevaluating its focus to meet the needs of its customers, most of them outside U.S. borders.

"We're all about clean, reliable energy and we service that market," he says. "It varies from year-to-year, but typically, I'd say 90 percent of what we produce at this plant is exported."

Rolls-Royce is building a dozen units now in its factory that will be shipped out to Kazakhstan in central Asia in the coming months.

The core of each unit is an aircraft engine derivative.

"We package this up and it becomes a stand-alone power plant that is going to be used to drive a very large compressor to move gas in a pipeline," Richardson says.

The factory space is in the process of becoming its own free trade zone - to shave costs and red tape in exporting its industry-branded products.

All the complex wiring is done on site.  Each metal pipe is manufactured on site to exact specifications and fastened, right down to the last bolt.

"These units take about three to four months to go from start to finish testing, and then they're shipped out," Richardson adds.

But it will take another two to three years before everything is up and running in Kazakhstan, with other units heading to Africa, China, the South Pacific and South America.

"It is a global stage for us, one that we play on," Richardson says.

"We have data centers, and we have information all over the world," says Skip Prichard, the President and CEO of OCLC, The Online Computer Library Center, Inc.

And if anybody is more 'connected' to that global stage - it is this Dublin-based company, one of the pioneers in cloud-based computing since 1967.

"OCLC is a membership-driven, cooperative organization, and so, we have libraries around the world who are adding their records all the time," Prichard says.

More than 74,000 libraries in 170 countries have used OCLC’s services to manage library materials over the years.

One just has to take a look at its headquarters' main lobby where dozens of flags from foreign countries adorn the walls in every direction.

"It's who we are,” Prichard says.  “We don't represent one country's library, we represent everyone's."

You will find catalogers hard at work every day inputting data.

Many of them are multi-lingual, working with books and any kind of information source in foreign languages - even music.

But this is just a small part of the operation.

"On a daily basis, I have people coming in from all over the world talking about partnerships, alliances, new technologies - things that we could offer in libraries, ultimately for researchers," Prichard says.

And the core of its mission is to share that information in the now well-known super computer, called World Cat.

“World Cat is the super catalogue for libraries of all kinds of information - everything that you'd find in a library," he says. "When OCLC moved to its current location in 1981, the World Cat database encompassed an entire room."

But with advancing technology over the years, World Cat now occupies a small footprint in that big room.

"Though the future is now, the bar is continually moving each and every year, and we're looking to meet that and exceed that and help to point the way," Prichard says.

Even the most successful companies admit there are challenges that businesses across central Ohio must embrace - to find new opportunities to grow.

"We're living in a world that increasingly, the borders are in our own mind," Prichard adds. "We're living in a global world, and it's time to recognize that."

"I think it's absolutely critical that businesses in the region take that approach, take that initiative and develop that focus," Rolls-Royce’s Richardson says.

"I think as central Ohio, we have a lot of resources, we have a great education system - so we can take that knowledge and develop new products and new technologies and export them internationally," adds Sky Climber’s King.

Economic leaders say maybe the biggest challenge is convincing companies to be thinkers, movers and especially leaders in the world marketplace, so they don't get lost in the global current of change.

"We've got a lot of hard work ahead of us to actually achieve what we're going to set out to do," 2020’s McDonald says.

Columbus' Metropolitan Export Initiative is the first of its kind for the region and will develop targeted, integrated, export-related services and strategies to help local companies better connect with global customers.

The formal plan is expected to be released by November 1.