The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
In Austin, New York, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, L.A. and San Francisco, economic developer JobsOhio has embarked on a $50 million advertising campaign to spread a message: Ohio is also a great place to live and operate a business, only it’s a lot cheaper than where you are.
“Keep Austin Weird,” says a billboard in that city, according to Fox 7, the local affiliate. “Like very high cost of living weird.”
The ad is a play on the now-threadbare Austin slogan, “Keep Austin Weird.” But it makes a valid point.
The Texas capital city has been rapidly growing for some time, but with the rise of its tech sector, housing costs have soared. Median home prices are 62% less in Columbus than they are in Austin, according to BestPlaces, and you’d need to make only about $70,000 a year to maintain the same lifestyle in Columbus that would cost $100,000 a year in Austin.
On a gut level, the advertising campaign seems to make sense. Both cities are state capitals with huge, flagship state universities offering the intellectual firepower needed to staff cutting-edge businesses.
Aside from weather, the biggest difference might be perception. Austin is widely seen as an “it” city. Columbus, not as much.
So it might make sense to try to shake people — especially those in a position to open a business — out of those perceptions by confronting them with the fact that Columbus and the rest of Ohio are a lot cheaper.
“The fallout from Covid is that many businesses realize they don’t need as much space and may be more reliant on employees working from home,” JobOhio spokesman Matt Englehart said in an email. “More and more businesses are looking to flee the costly coasts or expand in other locations, and we want to be sure Ohio is in the consideration set when these decisions are made.”
But whether we’ll ever objectively know how well the ad campaign worked is another matter.
JobsOhio bills itself as “a private nonprofit corporation wholly funded by an independent private source — the profits from the JobsOhio Beverage System (JOBS) liquor enterprise — that JobsOhio purchased in 2013 and manages today,” and it stresses that “no public or taxpayer dollars are used.”
But the passage doesn’t mention that the entity was created by the state legislature and signed into law in 2011 by then-Gov. John Kasich. And the beverage system operates in partnership with the Ohio Department of Commerce to manage the state’s liquor monopoly. Even so, JobsOhio is not subject to the same public-disclosure laws that government agencies are.
JobsOhio spokesman Englehart said the campaign goes beyond billboards.
“It’s also a national digital effort intended for business leaders, decision makers and those who influence those decisions,” he said.
And so far, the results of the campaign have been encouraging, Englehart said.
“We are seeing two main things, one is that Ohio is now in the conversation,” he said. “Engagements and mentions of Ohio on social media, and impressions are all up. We are also changing (the) narrative where public discussion may have a misunderstanding of Ohio as a ‘flyover’ state to considering taking a serious look at investing in Ohio now.”
But when elected officials praise running an enterprise “like a business,” they imply a hard-headed evaluation of results that can be measured with numbers.
Englehart was asked what metrics JobsOhio would use to determine the success of the ad campaign, for which it allotted $50 million.
“Our metrics are trending above benchmarks and our target expectations,” he said. “We measure in real-time and are flexible on how we move the campaign based on results.”