With all of the focus on a recovering economy nationwide, it's important to take a step back and reflect on the reality in the Columbus region.

With all of the focus on a recovering economy nationwide, it's important to take a step back and reflect on the reality in the Columbus region. Fortunately, central Ohio has fared well compared to the state and the nation, in terms of employment growth and new capital investment. We are moving in the right direction, but our work is not done.

With the help of Regionomics LLC, we recently unveiled Columbus2020's fourth-quarter 2011 economic update. Overall, the news was positive: Payroll employment recovered from its third-quarter decline, with a net gain of 1,800 jobs (0.2 percent). These figures were stronger than Ohio's marginal loss but slightly weaker than the national average gain of 0.3 percent.

Performance of some of the region's driver industries, like distribution, manufacturing and health care, was promising. Employment in such distribution industries as transportation, warehousing and wholesale grew 2.6 percent (2,000 jobs) versus gains of 1.5 percent and 0.8 percent at the state and national levels. Manufacturing gained 0.5 percent (300 jobs) - less than Ohio's 0.9-percent growth but more than the U.S. gain of 0.3 percent. Health care continued its recovery, growing 1.1 percent (1,200 jobs) - nearly triple the state and national growth.

Although the unemployment rate in the 11-county central Ohio region fell to 6.8 percent versus the state and national averages of 8.1 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively, much of this drop was driven by a decline in the number of active job seekers rather than growth in the number of employed residents. This means we need to continue to increase capital investment, thus increasing the number of viable employment opportunities for those seeking jobs.

At Columbus2020, we're actively working to do just that. Our efforts have included both domestic and international visits to position the Columbus region as a competitive location for new business attraction, as well as meetings with more than 500 existing companies in the area to identify growth opportunities. In 2011, 143 total economic development projects were announced in the region, 43 percent of which were in the manufacturing sector and 26 percent in headquarters/office functions. These projects represent a combined total of nearly 20,000 jobs anticipated to be created or retained.

Recently, we started to see tangible results from these efforts. Seattle-based online retailer Zulily just announced the opening of its new fulfillment center in Obetz, eventually resulting in hundreds of job opportunities in the Columbus region over the next five years. This is a growing company that evaluated other Mid-Atlantic and Midwest locations prior to choosing central Ohio, mainly because of its assets for a fulfillment operation, including ease of access to customers, cost and quality of labor, favorable tax climate and logistics infrastructure.

It's clear that Columbus2020's efforts are starting to pay dividends. We are moving the needle in the right direction, but we have to continue to be aggressive in our efforts to retain, attract and create business opportunities. I have no doubt that central Ohio is up to the challenge.

Kenny McDonald is chief economic officer for Columbus2020. Email McDonald at km@columbusregion.com or visit ColumbusRegion.com for more information.