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The Interview: Hanif Abdurraqib

What the world needs now ... is more Hanif Abdurraqib. And more Carly Rae Jepsen and more Gerard Way and more Ric Flair and more Allen Iverson, and all the other spirits and cult figures the Columbus author conjures in his new book, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us. Hanif’s essays pivot from [...]
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What the world needs now … is more Hanif Abdurraqib.

And more Carly Rae Jepsen and more Gerard Way and more Ric Flair and more Allen Iverson, and all the other spirits and cult figures the Columbus author conjures in his new book, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us.

Hanif’s essays pivot from pop culture to cultural politics naturally, but suddenly—like a Barry Sanders spin move—deftly weaving the experience of today’s black man and how his experiences separate from the shared nostalgia of the white world around him. He goes from Ferguson to Jersey, a Springsteen concert overlapping with Mike Brown’s murder. The NBA All-Star game or the Super Bowl halftime show, in his words, are given entirely new value and meaning. There’s few people that can talk about pro wrestling and emo and race and inequality with equivalent credibility. He’s Lester Bangs and Kevin Powell and Stephen A. Smith and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

He’s a new narrator in a world that is always threatening to lose the plot.

And best of all, he’s ours.

Now, much more of the world gets to share the little black nerd in the Ohio hoodie with us, but when he shows up on MTV.com, or Pitchfork,  or when They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us gets dap in Oprah Magazine and on NPR, we’re not just celebrating him, but Two Dollar Radio for publishing it, and for every little local mention in it to get a little more light.

I love the chapter about Iverson and the night he crossed up Jordan. He seems a touchstone for the shared, but very different experience between white and black folks in America. Why is he so compelling to you?

I never had NBA aspirations, but I remember trying to model my subpar game after his. Practicing crossovers on leaves that had drifted to the ground on the basketball court near my house. He also refused conformity at a time when the NBA was trying to force players into a box. It’s hard to imagine now in the post-David Stern era. Players have more freedom over how they express themselves. LeBron James called the president a bum on Twitter and the NBA didn’t even blink in his direction. I love that, in part because I imagine Allen Iverson would have thrived in this era of expression. When the NBA enforced its dress code and told him to wear a suit, he stood up for himself. He said “No. Where I’m from, we wear jewelry and baggy jeans and you aren’t going to make me forget where I come from.” He paid literal thousands in fines, just to keep his hood close.

You’re dressed more like Iverson. So are CEOs. So was Mike Brown. How has fashion and its place in the language of race changed?

I don’t know if it has, really. I mean, I still walk into most rooms and I’m black first—no matter what I have on. For the first time in my life, I don’t own a tie. I have some blazers and a few nice shirts, but I don’t own a tie. If I’m home, I spend at least 40 percent of my week in sweatpants. I’m saying all of this to say that it’s the things we cannot take off that most define us when the stakes are at their highest, or most violent.

Much of your work strikes at the duality of a place like Columbus, like Bexley. When did that start to crystallize in your head, in ways you now express in your work?

I think maybe around my mid-late 20s, I became interested in what it is to love a place that doesn’t always love you back. And then, of course, what it is to love a place as a type of replacement for loving the people inside of that place. I’m still figuring that out, and I think a lot of my work is always reaching towards an unraveling of that. If there is to be injustice on every land—if the very obtaining of this land we’re all on was an injustice from the start (Christopher Columbus statue still looming downtown as we speak,) then how do we reconcile our places here? How can we best honor where we live and how we live and the people we’re sharing all of this living with? I don’t have an answer to any of that, which is great. Which is what keeps me writing and eager. Not to find answers to how to best live in a place I still work to love, but to find new ways to complicate this place that I love, and see if I can still find it within myself to love it as all of its complications are laid bare.

What’s the place in this town that still feels like “old” Columbus?

I think I have lots of old Columbuses, really. I love to pop over to the Junior’s Tacos food truck, even when I’m not that hungry. I’ll purchase a taco, sure. But I mostly just appreciate the lively conversation. The way laughter can shake the trees there. Everything at Resch’s Bakery on the eastside is still so inexpensive, almost as it was when I would go there in my younger years. If you are lucky, you can find some change in your car and walk out with a donut. I also love that you still have to take a number upon walking in. There’s something about that anticipation that I love—looking at your number and watching the screen slowly tick in the direction of your coming blessings. On the right day, I see Goodale Park as I saw it in my late teens and early 20s. Those days have become few and far between, but sometimes if the sun leaks through the trees in the right spot, it feels like I’m there, back on a blanket with my pals. I will call it Crew Stadium for as long as I can, and I believe that is a vital part of Old Columbus. I don’t know what will become of our beloved Crew, and I don’t know what will become of the stadium. But I have felt alive there more times than I have almost anywhere else. I still like to slip into a booth at Tommy’s Diner when I can. The Book Loft makes me unbearably anxious, but for some reason, my phone doesn’t get service inside of it. And so I enjoy walking into that anxious invisibility for a spell. On the blacktop of what used to be Fifth Avenue Elementary School, there’s a haphazardly drawn and colored map of the United States. My class drew it when I was in fourth or fifth grade. It’s maybe the only thing on the school grounds that has endured, save for the rusting playground accoutrements. That is my favorite bit of Old Columbus. A thing tattooed on a corner of the city’s ground from when I was small.

Of the new bits, what are the places you feel are an organically good addition to the city?

I’m obviously biased, but I love the new Two Dollar Radio store. I’m starting a monthly series there in February called “Ships At A Distance” where I pair two black artists of different disciplines and have them perform brief sets before being in conversation with each other. I think that’ll be really fun, and I love that the space is open to doing that. It has to be remembered that I just moved back home in April, and so I’m readjusting to the city as we speak. Still—it’s not brand new, but I love Si Senor. Best sandwich spot in town, for my money. The one in Grandview is not only great, but also very forgiving of the fact that I often burst in 30 minutes before they close, because I’ve lost track of (or poorly managed) my time. Since I’ve been here 95 percent of my life, “new” is kinda relative. Sole Classics isn’t brand new, but it’s newer than what I consider Old Columbus to be. And as a committed sneakerhead, I really value having one of my favorite sneaker spots walking distance from my apartment. I do think there are a lot of good organic additions, and I’d like to see more places and people holding hands with existing communities they move into, and not just trying to rush ahead in the name of some vague idea of “improvement.” I like places like Sole Classics and Spoonful Records because it feels still very community-based. I can go in these shops and have conversations with the people working there. It can feel like a city inside of a city.

Who inspires you in this town?

There’s a long list. I’m inspired by the Black Pride 4, and by young black activists. I hope to see the work of activism continue to be pushed here, and I hope to see it led by young black folks, queer black folks, black women, and intersections of all those identities. I’m really heartened by the idea of looking to people younger than me to light the way. I’m not all that old, but I am old enough to know that there is something exciting happening inside of the way young activists are looking at the world, and it serves me to get out of the way and support them how I can. I’m inspired by Scott Woods and the work he’s done (and continues to do) to bridge gaps in the black artistic community here. I’m inspired by Will Evans, who built Black Nerd Problems out the city and took it worldwide. I’m inspired by all of the Two Dollar Radio folks, and how they created and sustained a vision. But, beyond that, I’m inspired by my friends here. My dear friends who live in this city, and have lived in this city, and who have found a way to make the most out of living and loving here. Who will come over to my house for a movie night and make a late night UDF run with me and sit with me in a diner booth. I’m really inspired by the folks who have lived here for a long time and still decide to make the most of it, even through their sighing on some days. On my walk to the gym every day I’m in town, I walk by the old Union Station arch in the Arena District. And when you see something magnificent every day, it’s easy to forget its magnificence. One Saturday, I was walking by it and a guy was just standing in front of it, marveling at it and taking pictures, smiling as wide as he could. Because this is generally what tourists do upon seeing it, another passerby approached him and asked the guy if it was his first time in the city. The guy replied, “No, I live here. I can just never get over how cool this thing is.” I think that guy inspires me the most.

I feel like you’re the kind of person who has a personal timestamp for all these moving moments in pop culture. Can you think of a few that you haven’t written about?

Oh, absolutely. I will now always remember climbing the steps to an arena to watch what would be one of Tom Petty’s last shows. I remember being very young when Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson. But more importantly, I remember the bus ride to school the next day. Back when buses played the radio on the ride to school, and WVKO had KC Jones on the morning show, and he was just so stunned that Tyson was knocked out. I remember not really understanding the weight of it all until hearing KC Jones on WVKO the morning after. I think all of the time about KC Jones, and how Columbus morning radio shaped me when I was younger, because it was all that got played on the bus to school. Shoutout to KC Jones, a legend.

Do you remember where you were when you found out about Trayvon? Tyre? Eric Garner? Mike Brown? Marshawn McCarrel?

I do, and there’s a series of pieces in my book about the murders of Trayvon, Mike Brown, and Tamir Rice. Marshawn was really difficult for me. I lived in Connecticut at the time of his death, and my then-partner came upstairs to my office to tell me that she saw news floating around that Marshawn had killed himself. Finding out about death in the moment is always difficult, for me. I have had to endure that so much that I’ve kind of made an accelerated processing mechanism—going from disbelief to acceptance in mere minutes. I remember that on my desk in my office, I had some kind of red candy. I used to always eat candy when I wrote—a habit that I just broke this year. I stared at the candy for a long time, I think because when I saw Marshawn alive last, he had on a long red shirt. We hadn’t seen each other for a while and we hugged. It was an awkward hug, balancing both love and the tension that exists when you haven’t spoken to someone you love in a long time. I want to remember him like I knew him best, always. He was so immensely gifted. He was a better and more eager writer than poets twice his age. He’d come into the Method Gallery for the Writing Wrongs open mic and kick some shit that would make me not want to follow him. He was flawed, but singular. Like all the best of us are.

Purchase They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us at twodollarradio.com. For more of his work, visit abdurraqib.com.

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People

The Interview Issue: Paralympic Rower Blake Haxton

Linda Lee Baird

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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.

As a senior and the captain of the crew team at Upper Arlington High School in 2009, Blake Haxton was making plans for the future. Then came a moment he couldn’t have planned for. In March, he developed a cramp in his leg that quickly turned far more severe; Haxton had contracted the flesh-eating disease necrotizing fasciitis. Within days, the illness led to organ failure, and Haxton was in danger of losing his life. To save him, doctors made the decision to amputate both of his legs. Ultimately, it took more than 20 surgeries and three months in the hospital before Haxton returned home.

Haxton shared his worries during his long recovery. “I remember being in the ICU still. [...] I was starting to project forward, ‘well, what’s life going to be like now?’” He worried about what he would be able to do, and what he would miss.

Although many of his hospital visitors encouraged him to try para-rowing, he was reluctant. “I knew what the process would be; I just had no desire to do it,” he said. His resistance to rowing stayed with him when he was discharged, and throughout his undergraduate years as a Finance major at Ohio State.

His attitude began to change as he prepared to start law school. “I really haven’t been that active for four years. I need to be an adult and figure out, you know, just a way to work out and train and be healthy,” he said. So he returned to the ergometer—known as “the erg”—an indoor rowing machine. Still, it wasn’t what he was used to, and he didn’t enjoy it at first. “It felt so abbreviated and cramped,” he said.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

It took a shift in his mindset to change his relationship with the erg. Haxton began thinking of para-rowing as “an entirely different sport” from what he’d done at Upper Arlington.

When he let go of those expectations, Haxton discovered that he was good. Really good.

“They publish time standards on the ergs... and if you’re under this time, you can try out for the national team; if you’re under this time, you can probably make it. [...] Well I got under those times for my event.”

Haxton signed up for a competition called the Indoor World Championships, where rowers competed on ergs in the same room, pulling as fast as they could.

He won.

Then the U.S. National Team approached him about trying out. “That’s what got me back in the boat,” Haxton said. He calls returning to the water “one of the best decisions I ever made.”

In 2016, Haxton qualified for the Paralympic Games in Rio. He said that life in the Olympic Village isn’t as glamorous as it might look from the outside. “You’re pretty isolated,” he explained. Getting sick would be detrimental in races where tenths-of-seconds matter, so athletes keep to themselves and try to stay focused. “You don’t really get out of that loop of just training, sleep, compete. And you don’t really want to,” Haxton said. He ultimately placed fourth, “which was about as good as I could have done.”

Now 28 years old, Haxton is in his prime

years by rowing standards (male rowers are generally considered to peak between ages 28-32). He finished seventh in the 2019 World Championships, qualifying the U.S. Men’s team for a spot in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. Under the rules of U.S. Men’s Rowing, however, there’s still an individual qualifying race to determine who will compete. Haxton is spending his winter training for the race—and what he hopes will be his second Paralympics— with weights and on the erg. When the weather warms, he’ll return to practicing in the boat.

In addition to rowing, Haxton works full- time as an Investment Research Associate at Diamond Hill Capital Management. “We divide up the market of publicly traded stocks by industry,” he explained, investing in opportunities that may have been overlooked or undervalued elsewhere. Haxton specializes in airlines and oil and gas, and calls the work “a ton of fun.”

Unsurprisingly, Haxton is a busy man. With a twice-a-day, six-day-per-week training regime on top of his job, his schedule doesn’t leave him with much wiggle room or social time. “There’s some wedding invitations you have to turn down,” he said.

On the other hand, Haxton is thrilled with how he gets to spend his days. “A lot of people don’t get to say they like any job they have. I have two jobs I really like—rowing and investing—and I get to do both of them every day. What could be better than that?”

Even so, he becomes introspective when asked about the moment he knew that his path, as an athlete and businessman, was the right one for him to follow. “I’m not really sure it is,” he said. “I couldn’t answer honestly saying, like, I think that ‘Blake Haxton’s purpose on this planet is rowing or investing.’ I don’t know the answer to that question. And I do think we all have a purpose... and I think that the talents we all have are hints about what that purpose is.”

Haxton, someone who has been through— and accomplished—so much in his 28 years, expresses tremendous gratitude for the way he gets to spend his life. He’s grateful for his friends who have made his path as an athlete

possible. “I can’t carry my boat on my own, can’t do a lot of travel on my own,” he said. “There’s a really core group that’s around that enables me to do all these things.”

Haxton has a true village of friends in Columbus and across the country who are intrinsic pieces in the puzzle of his athletic success. Members of his village will wake at 5 a.m. to join him on the water and help him practice. They will use their vacation time to drive him to competitions in other states. And not only will they do so without complaint, they share his excitement. “There’s not one trip [...] where we don’t look at each other and be like, “‘man, how cool is this!’” Haxton said.

His positive attitude and his self- described “stubborn” dedication as an athlete were undoubtedly behind his U.S. Rowing teammates voting him the 2016 Male Athlete of the Year. Haxton is the first para-athlete to receive the award, and he’s humbled by it. “It’s the greatest honor I’ve ever gotten by a long measure,” he said.

Even in the hardest times, Haxton has learned to be “willfully grateful.” He points to that moment when he was still in the ICU, as he wondered what the future would hold for him as a double amputee. His fears and worries began to snowball as it sunk in that his life was forever changed.

And then he looked up and saw his mom sitting in the corner of the room. The moment was a revelation.

“I realized how true it was, that as bad as this is, it would be so much worse if my mom wasn’t here,” he said. “In that moment, it was like the snowball stopped rolling.” He began to think of the other visitors coming that day—his dad, grandpa, and brother. “I sort of found that it can snowball the other way,” he said. “I was surprised by how powerful that was.”

Haxton knows firsthand that life comes with real difficulties. He says the hard moments need to be confronted, not “swept under the rug.” Still, he focuses on the people around him and the support they provide him as an athlete, colleague, and friend. “When you get to go through life with teammates like that,” he says with a smile, “it’s pretty good.”

Visit blakehaxton.com to learn more.

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Food & Drink

The Interview Issue: Columbus Brewing Company owners Beth & Eric Bean

Mitch Hooper

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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.

Columbus Brewing Company was at the forefront of the craft beer movement. Beth and Eric Bean are making sure it stays that way.

The next time you crack open a bottle of Columbus Brewing Company’s Bodhi, turn the bottle around until you see a seal of approval label. On every single bottle of CBC’s brews, there’s a quality assurance mark, signaling to the drinker that the brewer is proud enough of this beer to put their name on it. The name you’ll find on all bottles of CBC is Eric Bean, co-owner and brewmaster. And while he and his wife—CBC co-owner Beth Bean—have become more focused on working on their business rather than working for their business since taking over this legacy company in 2014, beer is always on their minds.

In 2019, CBC celebrated its 31st birthday, marking it as one of the longest-standing local breweries in Columbus. The special year also welcomed in a first for the company: a brewery and taproom on the city’s west side. It might sound crazy that one of the oldest breweries in Columbus is also one of the last to open a taproom, but the Beans both echoed this sentiment: it was the next proverbial step. While stocking bars with kegs and grocery stores with bottles is a way to monitor how brews are doing in terms of popularity, the immediate feedback from customers in the taproom can help influence future brews, which are being created daily in the back. It’s the new age, and even local breweries want analytics.

The opening of the taproom also represents the work the Beans have put in since taking over CBC, a journey that can be split into many silos. The brewery they took over holds a legacy in the Columbus community— both as an institution that is local, and one that serves some damn good beers. It’s up to Eric and Beth to not just maintain that status, but better yet, propel it to the next level. Outside some financial help from a bank, the brewery is essentially independent of investors, meaning there is creative freedom, but also plenty of risk. It’s also up to the Beans to craft the voice behind the brand of the beer. With a few iterations under its belt, the current CBC logo represents the traditions built by brewers past thanks to the old style font, and the brewers of the future thanks to modern illustrations, clever names, and interesting designs on the bottle.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

The Beans are dedicated owners. While Eric starts his mornings bright and early for sensory tests and meetings, Beth is no stranger to working late into the evening, solving errors on the website and preparing for future projects.

In talking with the Beans, you can tell the two love every aspect of the brewing process. While showing (614) around the brewery, Eric’s eyes lit up as he talked about CBC’s sour program, or the new bottling system which helps monitor the amount of oxygen getting into the bottle once it’s sealed. (It turns out oxygen can be detrimental to beer over time after the bottling process, and the new device allows the Beans to discover where there might be kinks in the distribution line.) It’s subtle moves like this that ensure a quality product finds its way into pint glasses across the city.

“We’ve always said we don’t want people to buy our beer just because it’s local—we want that to be a bonus,” Eric explained. “We want to be the best beer on the shelf [...] And it’s difficult. Making high quality beer is not as simple as many small brewers have found. It’s a lot easier when people are coming over and drinking your beer for free.”

This love for beer has roots that run deep for Eric. Prior to CBC, Eric was the brewmaster at Gordon Biersch, a well-loved national restaurant and brewery chain that began in 1988. Before that, Eric took his time to master his craft—literally. He attended U.C. Davis, where he studied brewing science in the master brew program under the guidance of a German-trained brewmaster.

“Henrick was the brewmaster and he was like, ‘Look, craft beer is going to stay. What I see as a problem is there aren’t trained brewers in the U.S. There are a bunch of talented brewers that don’t have the technical skills,’ ” Eric recalled. “He was the one who really convinced me that if I wanted to make a niche in this industry, I had to go to brewing school.”

The goal for Eric since the beginning has been the same: make high-quality beer he can be proud of while also pushing the envelope.

Originally, CBC approached Eric about coming on as the head brewmaster. He had other ideas in mind, kindly declining the offer and following up with a bigger ask: could he just outright buy the company?

“It was a Friday afternoon meeting that wasn’t really planned, and within a couple of weeks we were negotiating it and putting it all together,” Eric recalled.

It didn’t take long for CBC to need more space for all the projects they were working on at the time.

“In the end at the old place, we’d have to drive the forklift into the parking lot to turn it around and get it back in,” Beth said. “We never thought we’d fill the new place, but if you look in the back, that’s not the case.”

The face and voice of the company comes from Beth, who manages the social channels with her own photography. It’s not often considered when it comes to drinking, but branding is a large part of what helps to sell your beers. While the true “King of Beers” might be up for debate, the trademarked King of Beers is something we are all too aware of. The same can be said for local brewers. Finding a way to stand out on the shelves is a challenge, and something as simple as a nice looking bottle design can be the difference between sipping a six pack of CBC IPA, or a case of Bud Light. The Beans entrust graphic designer Greg Davis to create the label designs, and his art work can be found on the murals inside the brewery and taproom.

The pinnacle of their hard work comes in the form of a bottle, the Columbus IPA. Prior to the Beans taking over, CBC was stocked with pale ales and lagers, but it was Eric who introduced a West Coast IPA to the line up. It was an instant success, and it led to the birth of other popular IPAs such as the aforementioned Bohdi and Creeper, both of which have been award recipients at the Great American Beer Festival.

“I think that’s why people know us, you know? Mostly IPAs,” Beth said. “That’s what really is the backbone.”

The Beans said 2014 is when they noticed the craft beer boom start to pick up steam. Couple a community’s interest in where their goods are coming from with a growing need for elevated options and you have the perfect storm for CBC. This is also when other local breweries started to find popularity, and the Beans tip their caps to places like Wolf’s Ridge for combining high quality beers with thoughtful dishes. While the CBC brewery and taproom currently doesn’t feature food, the Beans are working on a food adventure near Old Towne East called the Trolley Barn which will host CBC taps in the future.

Though the love of the brand and the beer is apparent, the care the two show towards its staff further proves the Beans’ dedication to quality. When the two took over CBC, the staff was much smaller than the more than 40 employees they have today.

“We always try to remember it’s not just Eric and I. It’s not just our house on the line,” Beth explained. “We have a bunch of employees and families that count on us and we are trying to make sure they have jobs in the future. We’re responsible for a lot of people—and not just us. Also the people we buy from. It’s like a whole community.”

As always for the Beans, its quality over quantity. This mantra is what has made this brewery into what it is today. And if Eric and Beth’s time at CBC has proven anything, it’s that all great things take a little time and a lot of beer.

The Columbus Brewing Company Taproom is located at 2555 Harrison Road. Visit columbusbrewing.com to learn more.

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Community

The Interview Issue: Columbus Partnership President/CEO Alex Fischer

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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.’”

Photos: Brian Kaiser

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 moon.

”[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 cultivated.”

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 momentum.

“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 impact.”

To be sure, Columbus’ traditional selling points remain part of the equation as the Partnership sells Central Ohio to potential clients.

“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 this decade.

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 growth agenda.”

“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

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