Our Journey


Why ‘The Columbus Way’ is the Smart Way

April 13th, 2023

Post by Donna Marbury, Smart Columbus Storyteller

The Smart Columbus Experience Center, located on the Scioto Mile in downtown Columbus, is abuzz with developers scribing across whiteboards, continuously scaling up the Smart Columbus Operating System. City engineers gather with real estate developers discussing options in installing electric vehicle chargers in parking garages. A group of people biking across the downtown promenade stop in to check out the electric vehicles in the showroom and take and impromptu test drive through the city. Program managers huddle in meeting rooms planning Ride and Drive events with strategic business partners. 

Development of the Smart Columbus Experience Center itself was made possible through public and private sector collaboration. Construction and equipment cost approximately $1 million, of which, $500,000 came from the State of Ohio Capital Bill; $300,000 came from the Columbus Partnership and its members: Cardinal Health, The Columbus Foundation, L Brands, Nationwide and The Ohio State University; and $200,000 was funded by the $10 million grant awarded to Columbus by the Paul G. Allen Philanthropies. More than 20 technology providers including AEP Ohio, AT&T, Bosch, Electrify America, NXP and Pillar Technologies donated technology, design services, equipment and furniture to outfit the educational and office spaces.

In the Smart Columbus Experience Center, which includes 3,000 square feet of co-working space and a 3,000 square foot showroom, The Columbus Way is actualized: professionals across sectors, industries, corporations and agencies working alongside one another, tackling a common goal.  

Smart Columbus is led jointly by the City of Columbus and the Columbus Partnership, a non-profit membership organization of 75 local CEOs committed to ensuring the economic vitality of our region. 

“This partnership is emblematic of ‘The Columbus Way’: Columbus’ uncommon ability to partner across the public, private, academic and non-profit sectors to make big things possible,” says Mark Patton, Vice President, Smart Cities for The Columbus Partnership. 

“It’s in this spirit that we’re pursing our smart city transformation and turning the Smart City Challenge win into a long-term initiative that will improve quality of life, enhance safety, foster sustainability and drive economic development in our region,” says Michael Stevens, chief innovation officer for the City of Columbus.

In the Smart City Challenge application, Columbus put The Columbus Way
to work by committing to matching the $50 million in grant funding provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Paul G. Allen Philanthropies with $90 million in aligned public and private sector investments intended to scale and sustain our city’s smart city growth. 

“There were other communities that talked about collaboration and talked about partnership, but no other community, no other finalist city, was able to turn a $50 million award to a $140-million-and-growing award because of the $90 million-plus of local match that was brought to the table by the private sector,” said Mayor Andrew J. Ginther at the time. 

Today, the total value of leveraged investment has grown to $522 million that will transform
our community and our country’s understanding of mobility. 

The Columbus Way defined
Though Smart Columbus is a newer initiative in the city, the idea that Columbus gets things done The Columbus Way is hardly new.

The concept of “The Columbus Way” describes the unique community collaborations between the city, the businesses headquartered and located in the region, and nonprofit and academic institutions that make up the Columbus community. A 2015 Harvard Business School case study coined the phrase, capturing a decades-long spirit of collaboration that has been repeatedly tapped to tackle big challenges in central Ohio and transform the region into a world-class destination.

“The Columbus Way was exemplified by the revitalization of downtown, recent developments at Columbus State Community College and collective efforts related to data analysis and cybersecurity,” said Jan W. Rivkin, senior associate dean and chair of the MBA Program and a professor in the strategy unit at Harvard Business School.
“City leaders considered Columbus far from typical, however, in the manner that citizens worked together. In interviews and conversations, business leaders who had moved to Columbus from other cities said that they were more collaborative and civically engaged in Columbus than they had been in their prior homes,” Rivkin said.

The Columbus Way in action through Smart Columbus
Columbus is a microcosm of the United States, and as a result, has long been a haven for testing products and gauging public opinion. If it works in Columbus, it can work anywhere. Smart Columbus is embracing the city’s natural test market attributes to demonstrate how new technologies work in a real city, with real people, solving real problems. 

Through the Smart Cities Challenge grants, Smart Columbus will deploy a variety of technology demonstrations to see how new mobility technologies can solve urban challenges. But beyond the grants, partners from a variety of sectors are working together to prepare Columbus and its citizens for the future. A few of these collaborative projects include:

  • The Acceleration Partners Program is a forum for engaging the local private sector to help Smart Columbus achieve its goals of increasing electric vehicle adoption and decreasing single occupant vehicle commutes. It also serves as a platform for the private sector to support grant-funded projects where they have expertise or particular relevance. To date, 48 organizations have committed to the goals of the program, including Cardinal Health, Chase, Huntington Bank, Scotts Miracle-Gro, L Brands, IGS Energy and more. Smart Columbus is working to bring the number of participants to 100. 

Eight employers—Alliance Data, Battelle, The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, CoverMyMeds, OhioHealth, Steiner, White Castle and State Auto are participating in the program’s first round of mobility incentive pilot programs. Investment in these pilots by the participating employers exceeds $1.8 million aimed at promoting employee adoption of electric vehicles and alternative commuting behaviors. 


  • Smart Columbus is working in collaboration and support of the Route 33 Smart Mobility Corridor initiative, funded through a separate grant by the USDOT and executed by the City of Dublin, City of Marysville, Union County, State of Ohio and Honda. This deployment will enable Smart Columbus and its partners to capture insight across demonstrations by testing system interoperability, incorporating data sharing through the Smart Columbus Operating System, coordinating workforce training efforts across the region and supporting diverse partnership opportunities with industry.
  • In 2018, Smart Columbus and DriveOhio funded a deployment of self-driving shuttles operated by May Mobility, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based startup. The project is designed to provide education and a first-hand experience with intelligent transportation for residents and visitors. The shuttles will service destinations along Columbus’ Scioto Mile, which include the Center Of Science and Industry (COSI), the Smart Columbus Experience Center, Bicentennial Park and the new National Veterans Memorial and Museum. The deployment will help inform future applications of self-driving vehicles in the region and throughout the state.
  • The Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, in partnership with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, Central Ohio Transit Authority, and Smart Columbus launched the C-Pass program in May 2018, providing 45,000 downtown Columbus employees with free bus passes. The program seeks to offer a creative solution to parking challenges experienced downtown and is the first of its kind in the country where property owners fund free, unlimited access to transit for employees. The data generated from this program will be ingested into the Smart Columbus Operating System and the C-Pass users will be an early adopter population for the Multi-Modal Trip Planning Application/Common Payment System.

Learn more about the Columbus Way in the Harvard Business School report, and get a full look at the Smart Columbus public/private partnerships through the U.S. Department of Transportation report ready to download below. 


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