Columbus, the capital of the Buckeye State, is Ohio's largest city and the 15thlargest municipality in the country. It was founded in 1812 by the General Assembly of the state as its third capital (Chillicothe was the first), but, as noted by Charles C. Cole in 2001, it has remained one of the least chronicled of the country's major metropolitan areas. This is remarkable since Columbus is the large and dynamic capital of one of the country's most important industrial states. It is readily accessible, and the presence of major eastwest and northsouth interstate highways and the I-270 beltway around the city have spurred the development of an expanding warehouse and distribution industry. Moreover, the geography of its location has changed through time because of technological changes, first in transportation and more recently in communications. One consequence of the communication revolution has been the reorganization of the urban economy into a dynamic service economy with international dimensions, not simply one dependent on Ohio and the Midwest.
In recent years, the city government's annexation policy has led to the growth and expansion of the city, and this has made Columbus a more powerful political force within the state at the expense of Cleveland and Cincinnati. This policy has its roots in the outward movement to the lower density suburban areas of the region by manufacturing; commercial business, especially retail trade; and the residential population following World War II. In the 1950s, Columbus was less than 50 square miles in land area and still had room to grow in all directions. It had a relatively few small suburbs. Much of the county (Franklin) was made up of unincorporated agricultural lands in several townships.
During the administration of Mayor Maynard D. “Jack” Sensenbrenner in the 1950s, however, Columbus embarked on an ambitious program of territorial annexation. At the heart of the program was the issue of how to capture for the city some of the growth in industry, business, and residential population that was taking place, especially in the unincorporated areas beyond the city's political jurisdiction. Sensenbrenner sought through the annexation process to avoid many of the problems confronting America's cities, such as the loss of urban residents, businesses, industries, and their tax bases as a result of frozen political boundaries that were the reflection of the existing annexation law. The experiences of Cleveland and Cincinnati, cities that in the 1950s were already hemmed in by smaller political units and had no opportunities for expansion, were familiar to the mayor, encouraging the aggressive annexation movement in Columbus.
As a result, the annexation policy not only served to expand the area base of political Columbus (now more than 200 square miles) but resulted in a dynamic city, no longer dominated by a single large urban core but one with a series of nuclei, each providing most of the services and functions of the core at accessible points on and within the regional transportation system. It was in many ways a visionary policy that has reaped tremendous benefits for the city.
Moreover, as Henry Hunker noted in 2000, of the 25 largest cities in the country in 1990, only 7 increased their populations in the next decade at a higher rate than Columbus, and all of those were Sun Belt cities. This is in contrast to all other major cities in the state (i.e., Cleveland, Akron, Toledo, Dayton, and Cincinnati), which lost population during the same period and continue to do so. In addition, the ethnic mix of the city is changing as it is nationally with migration from Latin America and Asia, although not as fast as elsewhere. In 1990, the white population of the city was nearly 75 percent, while the black population composed about 22.6 percent. African Americans have lived in the city since its founding and have long played an important role in the community. Black Entertainment Television has ranked it the best city in America for African American families in a national study of homeownership, income, employment, education, and crime. Columbus has, however, become a more cosmopolitan community in the 1990s, and it has evolved a culture that embraces a wide range of the arts, from a symphony orchestra, ballet, art museums, and science center to a more diversified sports culture, both amateur and professional. It has also become a major center for the “Information Age” and for the activities associated with it.
With its creation as a state capital, the city's economy has always revolved around this function. It wasn't until World War II that a new focus—manufacturing—really developed. Even in the 1960s, when more than 35 percent of the labor force in most of Ohio's large industrial centers was engaged in manufacturing—and this figure rose to more than 50 percent in some of the smaller industrial towns—it was just under 30 percent for the Columbus region. By 2000, this had declined to only 11 percent, as noted by Hunker. Thus, while the loss of manufacturing during this period devastated the economies of many of Ohio's cities, in Columbus, while the loss was pronounced, it was buffered by the continuing growth of employment in the service sector of the city's increasingly diversified economy. By 2000, the five largest employers were the state of Ohio; the federal government; The Ohio State University, which has developed into the nation's second largest research university; Honda; and Bank One Corporation. Moreover, Honda was the only manufacturing firm in the top 10 employers, and there is only one other, Lucent Technologies, in the top 25. Few other state capitals in the United States have grown to the size of Columbus or have evolved its complex and stable economy, and in March 2002, Smart Money named Columbus the nation's second hottest job market, while Employment Review placed it in the top 10 list of places to live and work.
Columbus is now the home to five Fortune 500 company headquarters and one Fortune 1000 company headquarters; numerous Fortune 500 companies also have operations in the region. In addition, Columbus has become a launching pad for corporations and inventions known worldwide. Among the flagship enterprises born in the city are The Limited, Wendy's International, Nationwide, Bank One, Worthington Industries, Longaberger Baskets, Cardinal Health, Intimate Brands, and the Scotts Company. Part of this success is due to the educational and research endowment of the area. Home to 17 colleges and universities, including The Ohio State University, the flagship of the Ohio State system, and 102,000 college students (one of the largest college populations in the country), Columbus also boasts several internationally known research institutions in addition to Ohio State. These include Battelle, the OCLC Online Computer Library Center, and the Chemical Abstracts Service.