Columbus Businesses Prepare For “Rough Months” Ahead.

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Against the backdrop of a contracting regional economy an estimated 1,100 Central Ohio business women and men turned out for an economic pep talk courtesy of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce.

Earlier this month, the chamber reported that the economic recession had arrived late to Central Ohio. The region suffered a net loss of jobs during the final three months of 2008 and the chamber forecast that private and public employers in the region are expected to shed 35-hundred more jobs this year. With heightened interest in the economy and what the future holds, Chamber President Ty Marsh expressed little surprise at the large turn-out at the chamber’s annual meeting.

“Today’s annual meeting is the largest networking event in Central Ohio with over eleven hundred here. So our focus is on helping our companies sustain themselves during this period.” Says Marsh.

Chamber research shows retail trade, manufacturing, construction and finance sectors of the local economy all began to contract in late 2008. But, Marsh says one sector has defied the downward trend.

“For all the bad news, our transportation sector has seen a 30 percent increase in new jobs created over the past five years.” Says Marsh.

Banker Parker McDonald, the regional president for C-F Bank in Columbus credited Marsh for taking a measured tone in telling Columbus’ economic story.

“Being positive without being bombastic or being a meaningless cheerleader.”

McDonald says his bank generates about 20 million dollars annually and mostly makes loans for small and medium-sized businesses. He says the bank took some federal government money to boost its capital during what he called the rough months ahead.

“We know that a tsunami wave is coming at us. We just don’t know exactly when its going to hit or how high the water is going to be. We’re all going to be touched by it in some way. The key is to have a plan and to be ready to adopt your business to the new reality.” Says McDonald.

McDonald says the chamber’s promotion of Columbus is critical to new job creation from outside the area. Terri James of American Solutions for Business, a commercial printing and specialty ads firm that recently opened a Columbus office says too many people are panicking about the economy.

“They read, listen to the news, no offense, a little bit too much in that they get a little sensationalized. Since the news became a profit center I don’t think the news has been as fair and balanced and so they tend to sensationalize.”

James says area employers are insecure about the economy’s future and they’re closely watching consumer behaviour before making important decisions.

“I think you have to determine when the stampede is over. The cows all get restless. They all get scared. They’ve had a good feeding. They’re all pumped up and full of energy and now they’re stampeding. You’ve gotta figure out when they’re going to stop. And I think they’re going to stop this year and things are going to start to improve. But, we’ll have to see. (q) Are you out of the way of the stampede then? Well I’m standing as far off to the side as I can.” Says James.

But, while James and McDonald work to avoid an economic stampede or a coming tsunami, Rochelle Pitts of Palmetto G-B-A at Easton sees an upside effect on her 1-thousand member workforce. Palmetto is a subsidiary of Blue Cross, Blue Shield. Pitts says workers fear of losing their job during a recession has boosted productivity among her workers.

“Although we know that there’s a possibility of job loss. We find that our associates are more productive. They’re more creative. And they’re more innovative in their ideas that they’re bringing forth. All of it tied to cost containment.” Says Pitts.

Pitts says cost containment is critical for her firm if it plans on more growth in Central Ohio.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News.