The future for Columbus is so bright, the capital might have to wear shades.
That was the assessment offered up by City Council President Andrew J. Ginther at a business luncheon last week. While it's unlikely he would have said anything less than upbeat before members of the Clintonville Area Chamber of Commerce, which serves the neighborhood where Ginther grew up and still resides, he did provide some examples of why feels the outlook for 2013 is a rosy one.
Ginther said the rate of employment is rising steadily while the crime rate is dropping. Columbus is one of the safest cities in the United States, he said, and the number of homicides has dipped for two straight years. The city has the fourth-strongest economy in the country, he said.
"We're a job center," Ginther said.
That statement represents a significant comeback from the dark days of 2008, when local residents and officials discovered Columbus was as vulnerable as the rest of the nation when deep recession set in. What was a $91 million rainy-day fund up until 2009 was completely exhausted, Ginther said.
That prompted a request to voters to approve increasing the income-tax rate from 2 percent to 2.5 percent, which they did in a special election in August 2009.
City Council members vowed to build the rainy-day fund back up to $50 million by the end of 2014, but Ginther told chamber members last week the savings account will top $51 million by the end of this year.
"We have a good, diverse segment of employers in a lot of areas, which has really helped us," he said.
He pointed to expansion projects under way at Nationwide Children's Hospital and the Ohio State University Medical Center, along with growth in the technological and logistics fields as well as a burgeoning food and restaurant scene. Ginther said anyone telling him five years ago that the city code would need to be updated to deal with food trucks would not have been believed.
Columbus also is "blessed" with an educated workforce, the City Council president said, coming in second only to Boston in terms of the number of college students. This will be critical to Columbus succeeding as a city, Ginther said.
In the past, corporations recruited employees to come work where they were located, he said. Now, corporations look to locate where educated employees live, Ginther said.
"Obviously, we've got a leg up there," he said.
While more than 70 percent of the city's budget is expended on the divisions of police and fire, Ginther said Columbus has never laid off a police officer or firefighter, and by the end of 2013 will have the highest number of officers ever. He also said a bright spot on the law-enforcement fund was the restoration of funding to the Community Crime Patrol, which enabled expansion of the program to the Linden neighborhood and part of the Northland area.
Resurfacing and rebuilding roads, maintaining pools and recreation centers, expanding the bikeways, graffiti abatement and the addition of curbside recycling also are good signs for the city's future, Ginther told his audience. Recycling will help to extend the life of the landfill while reducing the cost to the city of dumping refuse there, he said.
That, he said, "is the right thing to do for the environment, but also the city's finances."