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Understanding the Well-being and Prosperity of Our Community

Tracking the Growth and Progress of Central Ohio

As the fastest growing metro in the Midwest, and as a city that has only ever increased in population over time, Columbus has developed somewhat of an obsession with tracking progress and comparing itself to other communities. The amount of information now available makes that easier than ever, but the result is often that we tend to look for one shining statistic that stands out from the data milieu, forgetting the importance of geographic context and broader trends. With that said, tracking community trends offers a host of benefits, and can help us to break through stereotypes and distinguish between fact and fable.

Why The Columbus Foundation Promotes Community Research

Releasing the Benchmarking Central Ohio report every few years is similar in purpose to The Big Table, because it has the effect of sparking dialogue across the community about important issues here in central Ohio. Our hope is that reports like this catalyze points of connection and points of civic pride as we work together on our most pressing challenges, and as we celebrate our community strengths and achievements.

What We Learn From the Report

The Benchmarking Central Ohio report uses 56 different indicators to compare the ten-county Columbus region to a group of 22 other regions. This is the seventh edition since the first one was released in 2007.

The general conclusions from this research show that Columbus has maintained a relatively high quality of living and low cost of living over the past decade of growth. The report places Columbus among the top five metros on several key indicators, such as affordability, safety, low commute times, and air quality.

The research also raises a few concerns, as the region once again fell toward the bottom among peers on key economic indicators such as small business growth and development, as well as on alternative transportation metrics. It also shows that, in large part because population growth has outpaced housing construction, our still relatively low housing costs may be at risk of slipping away as a strategic regional advantage.

How We Can Use Data and Insight to Improve Columbus for All

As the population of central Ohio continues to grow, and especially as the secret about Columbus’ high quality of life and relatively low cost of living continues to make its way beyond the Midwest, we need to be mindful of the challenges our growth presents to our most vulnerable neighbors, and to the sustainability of our way of life. We must ask ourselves what continued growth will mean for our housing market, for traffic and the use of our roads and utility infrastructure, and for our schools and public service provision.

As we continue to learn how changes and growth are impacting the community in different ways, we must resist the temptation to retreat to our own corners and special interests by coming together and acknowledging that only by working together can we promote a shared prosperity for future generations of central Ohioans.

In fact, there are several initiatives that research like this reminds us to support and invest in collectively. We have the opportunity to address multiple issues simultaneously through things like the Forward Cities partnership, which aims to boost business startups and expansion among under-capitalized neighborhoods and entrepreneurs. As Smart Columbus projects continue to launch, we have the opportunity to solve pressing mobility challenges that affect thousands of people throughout the region. As COTA continues to upgrade the transit system through technology and innovative partnerships, this increased capacity for sustainable growth in our transportation network will play a critical role in maintaining inclusive community well-being. Lastly, as local partners like those featured in the latest Critical Need Alert continue to invest in our community’s early childhood education structure, we need to remain focused on working together to ensure all future generations have the opportunity to flourish and contribute to the success of the Columbus region.

Mar 22, 2019


Matthew Martin is a Community Research and Grants Management Officer at The Columbus Foundation.