The first LEGO kit Maxx Davidson remembers building was the Millennium Falcon. He was four years old, swooshing down his hallway Kessel Run. Never could he have guessed then that the answer to the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question could be answered the same today as it was all [...]
The first LEGO kit Maxx Davidson remembers building was the Millennium Falcon. He was four years old, swooshing down his hallway Kessel Run. Never could he have guessed then that the answer to the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question could be answered the same today as it was all those years ago.
Short of hanging out with a Wookie all day, he couldn’t have imagined a more far-fetched notion than getting paid to play with Legos for a living. Now, he’s one of 23 people in the world who aren’t just tossing cliches when they say they’re “living the dream.”
Davidson, who has spent his fourth year at Akron University studying science education (as well as working in a Marion coffee shop), recently won a high-stakes, two day LEGO building competition called Brick Factor, which won him a full-time job as the Master Model Builder for the soon-to-open LEGOLAND Discovery Center Columbus. Seventy people entered into the competition, and the best builders from each challenge moved into the next round.
Between his job as a barista, spending his down time building homes for Habitat for Humanity, and counseling at summer camps for kids, Davidson has developed the teaching and construction savvy that make him perfect for the job of building up the skills and confidence of kids while helping them create whatever their imaginations desire.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever built from LEGOs? Do you remember the first thing?
The coolest thing I have ever built would have to be the scale model of my childhood home. It took about 50 hours and was a therapeutic way to reflect on the little details that were important to me growing up. The first set I remember building was the original Millennium Falcon when I was about four years old.
Was this the highest pressure job interview you’ve had?
Absolutely. Believe it or not, there weren’t thousands of people from around the country applying for a barista position in a Marion coffee house. Honestly though, my passion for LEGO really added to the pressure. I knew that this was my lifelong dream job and I didn’t want that opportunity to pass me by.
How did you prepare for the competition?
I knew that the competition would consist of basic LEGO bricks so I practiced some different ways to assemble smooth forms from the chunky pieces. To practice for the time constraint, I pulled cards from a game of Pictionary at my house and gave myself ten minutes to make whatever came up. This helped me improvise and think on the fly.
Why do you think LEGO has persisted in popularity for this long?
LEGO really has something for everyone. For those who want to use instructions, there are thousands of sets. For those who want to create something unique, there are infinite possibilities. And for everyone, there are incredible family-centered LEGOLAND amusement parks and LEGOLAND Discovery Centers around the world. LEGO connects families in a way few other toys can.
Be honest: how many times have you stepped on a LEGO, and how many times do you think it’s gonna happen at work?
Oh boy, if I had a nickel for every time, I’d probably have at least $4.35. It’s an occupational hazard, but I’m more than willing to take that risk.
LEGOLAND will open at Easton Town Center this fall. For more, visit columbus.legolanddiscoverycenter.com.
Each January, we feature the movers and shakers of the city in in-depth, in-person interviews that dig into their backgrounds, their plans, and what ties them to the capital city. While our interview issue subjects are all Columbus-based, their stories are universal. So settle in, cozy up, and give yourself some you-time. You’ll want to read every word.
Alex Fischer looks towards the future of Columbus.
Alex Fischer is the most connected person in Columbus you’re unlikely to have heard of. Unless, that is, you dig beyond headlines and comb through the fine print of nearly any article discussing Columbus’ economic future, its business community, or even the recent campaign to keep the Columbus Crew in Ohio’s capital city.
To the engaged eye, Fischer—President and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, an organization of 75 CEOs in Central Ohio—is everywhere, a ubiquitous presence at the intersection of city and state politics, economic development, and civic life. For the Tennessee-born-and- raised Fischer—whose versatile career includes stints in city planning, business, public policy, and the nonprofit sector— leadership means possessing the skill set to anticipate what is necessary for success, prompt action from others, or if needed, deliver it himself.
Such versatility and incisiveness is perhaps the trademark
quality of an urban planner, and it’s no surprise that Fischer
sought this interdisciplinary training from a young age.
Fischer came to appreciate the urban planning space as a
high school student in Hendersonville, Tennessee, leading his
peers in an effort to prevent the demolition of Hazel Path, an old
Antebellum home in town. Through that fight, Fischer quickly
learned the power of public protest and collective action.
“One individual didn’t change that development, but I think I
participated in the dialogue that went from tearing down [Hazel
Path] to preserving it and allowing development to occur,” he
said. “In my hometown it’s still held up as a really good example
of quality development that also had a historic preservation bent
to it. And I can point to that and say, ‘Hey, I think I made a little
bit of a difference.’”
After graduating from the University of Tennessee, Fischer spent his early career involved in a variety of business and charitable endeavors in Knoxville. The principals with whom he came into contact in those years shaped his understanding of cross-sector leadership.
“Tennessee has a tradition
of public servants coming out of
the business world, so I saw a lot
of examples of business leaders
interrupting their careers for public
service,” Fischer explains. “At a
young age, I got to know multi-
billionaires on the community side
of their passions, not the business
side, and so those all influenced
me to realize that now in this
organization of 75 CEOs, that there’s
a real opportunity for business
leaders to use the strength of their
businesses and their leadership for
the betterment of their community.”
After several years in private industry, Fischer transitioned into the public sector, serving as the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development before rising to the role of Deputy Governor and Chief of Staff to Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist in the early 2000s.
It was, perhaps, a bit of a surprise that the man with deep
Tennessee roots, business connections, and a role at the pinnacle
of local policymaking would transition to a similar position in
Ohio. But that’s exactly what happened in 2002, when Fischer
moved to Columbus to begin a position as the Senior Vice
President for Business and Economic Development at Battelle,
the Columbus-based scientific research and development firm.
Fischer acknowledges the transition to Ohio was a little
odd—“because I was so deeply rooted in the ideals of what we’re
doing in Columbus in a different state and different cities.”
He soon found his way to the epicenter of Columbus’ civic and business life—he now serves as a Trustee of The Ohio State University, and the Chairman of Nationwide Children’s Hospital—and developed an appreciation for the city’s unique professional culture.
“In the process [of moving], I found things in Columbus that
I realized I had never experienced before. I’d never experienced
the level of collaboration. The level of tolerance and acceptance
in this city is pretty phenomenal in contrast to some other places
that I’ve lived,” Fischer explains. “What’s so motivating [about
working in Columbus] is this being such a perfect place to do
the work. By that I mean this culture: the scale of the city, the
collaborative nature, the Midwestern values, the fact that we
have four seasons. All the ingredients exist here.”
At the helm of the Partnership, Fischer has vast capacity
and bandwidth to influence the Columbus economy in the
near-term while rallying leaders across multiple sectors behind
an aspirational vision for the future. Columbus 2020, the city’s
economic development plan for this decade, launched roughly
10 years ago and allowed Fischer a
vehicle with which to implement
his vision. He decided early on that
the project would shoot for the
”[Columbus 2020] was a very
ambitious set of goals. All the
analysis said we couldn’t meet the
goals but it’s like, “OK, so what?
Let’s go for it,” Fischer laughs. “And
if we happen to miss the goals but
in the process do some really great
things, I don’t think anybody will
complain. Well, we surpassed all
the goals and it’s really interesting
to have been accountable for it from
the start until now.”
In addition to the obvious economic development successes in Columbus—the ongoing redevelopment of Downtown, recruitment of healthy corporations, and expansion across the 11-county Central Ohio metropolitan area— the region has benefitted from unexpected windfalls, such as the economic growth driven by data centers for big tech companies such as Amazon and Facebook. Fischer attributes Columbus’ successful branding efforts and continued growth to multiple factors, most specifically a uniquely collaborative culture among Partnership members and public officials, and an explicit focus on the recruitment of civic- minded companies and workers.
“I think it’s all about culture. I was not thinking this way 10 or 20 years ago. I think the future of the Partnership, the future of Columbus, is you keep preserving and teaching culture. That doesn’t mean that it has to be done exactly the same way— inevitably, it won’t because things are changing so fast. One of our cultural aspects that I’m proud of is that we’re comfortable in that very fast-changing environment [...] Continuing to evolve that culture by not just taking it for granted is really important. I think it could slip away if it’s not being
Columbus also stands out nationally in
what Fischer calls “the talent war” as the home
to approximately 150,000 college students,
many of whom will be relied upon to remain in
Central Ohio and continue the city’s economic
“The fierce competition for workforce is
where we’re going to be leading the country
[...] There’s less of a hierarchy in Columbus for
people who want to get involved and make an
To be sure, Columbus’ traditional selling
points remain part of the equation as the
Partnership sells Central Ohio to potential
“It still really does matter that we’re in
the center of the U.S. population, we’re a day’s
drive from anywhere, a great quality of life,
a great cost of living. We’re not congested,
despite challenges with the commute. All of
that adds up. Increasingly, though, it’s about
talent. Companies are moving where they can
get the talent. And Columbus is a city that is
recruiting the talent.”
The rebrand of Columbus’ economic
development organization from Columbus
2020 to One Columbus coincides with the
birth of a much greater ambition, of a future
in which Columbus will be able to stand
alone as a city, when the suffix ‘Ohio’ will be
redundant and obsolete. Fischer is well aware
that sustained growth will require more of the
discipline and urgency that permitted success
Specifically, he stresses the importance
the Partnership places on regional master
planning throughout Central Ohio, coupled
with what he calls “a relentless drive to the
“No one should assume we’re going to
continue to grow. That was the attitude 20 years
ago. The last 10-15 years we have consciously
built an infrastructure—of Columbus 2020,
now One Columbus—of enabling that growth.
There’s a science to it and we can never forget
that,” he said.
“Our role is to make sure that we are continuing to grow, at the same time, can we do the best possible job of anywhere in the country at ensuring that the rising tide raises every single boat in a harbor? And can we defy the national trend of a growing economic divide?”
Learn more about the Columbus
Partnership at columbuspartnership.com
At a glance, "The Journey AR Mural" adorning the Graduate Columbus hotel in Short North is stunning. Look a little harder, and it actually comes to life.
Standing at over 107 feet tall and over 11,000 square feet of augmented reality, "The Journey AR Mural," is the world's largest AR mural, offering technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.
The gaily-painted snapdragons, hibiscus, Easter lilies, and hummingbirds bloom and fly when viewed through the Journey AR Mural app (free for iPhone and Android). Watch the murals come to life in the video below.
Los Angeles-based artists Ryan Sarfati and Eric Skotnes (going by “Yanoe” and “Zoueh," respectively) are the creatives behind the project.
In an interview with Short North Arts District, Skotnes revealed he was inspired to take on the project after learning that Columbus is home to the second largest population of Somali immigrants in the country—he hopes the murals symbolize strength and prosperity for its viewers.
Since beginning in 2018, Columbus Covers Columbus (CCC) has grown into a signature event in the thriving local music scene. Now in its third year, this unique festival is centered on the concept of local musicians playing sets comprised entirely of music from other local acts.
CCC is the brainchild of Columbus music promoter Tony Casa, who wanted to create a showcase for a supportive community of local artists to share their mutual admiration for each other's music.
As entertaining as the event is for spectators, CCC doubles as a valuable networking opportunity for local entertainers and creatives.
"There are great local merchants, games, and tons of networking opportunities for everyone in the community," says Casa. "This isn’t just a great show, it’s like a proper festival—but in the winter."
Since its inception, the event has expanded to include stand-up comedy, poetry readings, burlesque performances, live podcast recordings, and more, all in the spirit of promoting and celebrating the Columbus creative community.
CCC will take place from January 17-19 at Classics Victory Live at 543 S High St. The event is 18+, with tickets available at the door for $10. For more info including a full list of artists and vendors, visit Columbus Covers Columbus on Facebook.