Columbus has had a lot going for it in recent years. Major companies such as Intel and Amazon have a significant presence in the city, home-grown companies are raising capital and drawing outside investor attention, early-stage investment has grown to more than $1 billion and its population is on the rise.
There are, however, some tradeoffs, says Ice Miller LLP Partner Chris Michael, who moderated the Columbus Smart Business Dealmakers kickoff panel titled How did we get here? Evaluating the current deal market and looking ahead. Those include higher asset prices, increased competition, and trouble meeting housing demand.
Stonehenge Partners Director Sean Dunn says some of the underlying components that have laid this foundation in Columbus include the state's capital, a growing The Ohio State University, especially the increased focus and investment in the Fisher College of Business, which has driven enrollment. Also, the diverse nature of the businesses in town, and more incoming capital with the rise of more local investment firms here in town are significant contributors.
"It's kind of a confluence of events that we see in terms of driving overall interest and just an increase in deal activity in the Greater Columbus area," Dunn says.
While he acknowledges that there is a lot of VC-focused activity in the Columbus area, especially in the in the city, there's a broader focus than just on early-stage businesses.
"But that's not to say, given the diversity of the businesses that we have here in town, there's certainly a broad range of more mature Industries, too, that I think we'll continue to see inflows of capital, people focused on those businesses as well," he says.
Kaufman Development Director of Business Development & Strategy Ian Labitue, says from a developer perspective, some of the underlying components that make Columbus attractive include the strong public-private partnership the city fosters.
"The public-private partnership structure is crucial for real estate developers to get projects done," Labitue says. "Our capital stack obviously has debt, it has equity, but there are often gaps. And we fill those gaps with tax abatements or grants from city, state and county government. Organizations like JobsOhio and One Columbus are doing an excellent job in bringing attention to the city."
The evolving market landscape, says Worthington Industries General Counsel Patrick Kennedy, is currently creating more opportunities than challenges.
"If you look at Columbus in general, I think it's a very collaborative market. All the big businesses seem to look out for each other and for the smaller businesses."
That, he says, creates a friendly atmosphere for business and one that offers a lot of support for companies.
MEMM Capital LTD Founder Mark Fleming Jr. sees both challenges and opportunities. He says in some of the startups, valuations have adjusted accordingly to the market. So, whereas some startups were looking for an initial $10 million to $12 million valuation in their seed round, maybe it's $6 million to $8 million now. That could be seen as a challenge by some. However, he says, it can also create opportunity.
"When the world is changing like it has been the last couple of years there are inevitably opportunities if you're looking for them," Fleming says. "So, finding problems that people have and solving for those problems, I see a lot of creativity, innovation in this market, especially in Central Ohio."
Multiples in Central, Ohio, according to Dunn, aren't much different than across the rest of the country.
"A core consideration, when you think about a company's location in terms of what we're investing in, would be the ability to attract talent up and down — from lower levels all the way up to executives — in areas that people want to live," Dunn says. "So, with all the development that's gone on in Columbus, I think people view Columbus as more of a tier-2 city now as opposed to maybe a tier-3 city 10-15 years ago. And this is somewhere that I think you are attracting more executive-level talent. People view this as a great place for quality of living, lower cost of living, too. So, I think that probably pushes things in Columbus' favor in terms of valuation, as opposed to maybe some other areas in the Midwest that aren't growing as fast or aren't growing at all and maybe aren't as attractive from the ability to attract talent to grow your business."