Monday, October 31, 2011

Business First: Volcanos, waterfalls, tiki torches – Lessner’s latest downtown eatery boasts Polynesian flair

Elizabeth Lessner's restaurant group is ready to launch its sixth venture downtown.

Elizabeth Lessner's restaurant group is ready to launch its sixth venture downtown.

Elizabeth Lessner hopes her newest restaurant venture is a blast. The co-founder of the five-restaurant Columbus Food League is adding a sixth eatery to the portfolio.

The Grass Skirt seeks to revive the fire-and-tiki kitsch of tiki bars of yore with Polynesian fare and flair at 105 N. Grant Street in spring 2012. “We’re working on a volcano,” Lessner said. “We can’t promise it yet because it may not work.”

Also part of the South Pacific plans — steaming drinks, a waterfall, Spam, pineapples and maraschino cherries. “We all grew up loving the Kahiki,” she said of the once-popular Columbus restaurant that lives on as a frozen food brand. “We try to find niches. Our restaurant group goes for a fun vibe.” The venture includes the rest of the Columbus Food League team — Carmen Owens, Amy Brennick, Tim Lessner and Harold LaRue. One appeal of the old MadLab Theater and Gallery space was that it was a high-ceiling and open space — giving the business brain trust the freedom to be more creative, including not just the Polynesian decor but the ability to build the kitchen from scratch.

Menu details still are in the works, but pricing will be affordable, Lessner said.

The Grant Street location, which will be next door to the new downtown Hills Market, also hopes to be a lunch and dinner draw for students at nearby Columbus State Community College and the Columbus College of Art & Design.
Dan Eaton covers retail, restaurants, manufacturing, automotive and the advertising/PR industry for Business First.

View The Downtown Restraurant and Grocery Store in a larger map

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Find Your New Pad with Your iPad.....or an Web Enabled Phone

For Immediate Release:
Terry Penrod

Find Your New Pad with Your iPad

Terry Penrod speeds up the house-hunting process in Central Ohio with a real estate search for virtually any web-enabled phone

October 25, 2011, (Columbus, Ohio) - Terry Penrod with Real Living HER is one of central Ohio’s top real estate agents, and he is now providing clients with a mobile real estate search created by Smarter Agent that makes it possible to search all local property listings from their web-enabled mobile device.  His mobile real estate search is the only house-hunting tool that works on 95% of cell phones across all carriers and will search every listing in market, regardless of brokerage.

 Interested home buyers can be in any neighborhood and view detailed property information at the touch of a button. The GPS technology in the mobile device, when available, locates users and pulls up addresses and information on listings in their immediate area. Sales price, square footage, tax information, beds/baths, interior and exterior features, pictures and more become available instantly in the palm of their hand.

Consumers can also search by address, community name, city or zip code when GPS is not available, or if they want to search for real estate in an area other than their current location.

The “Call to See” feature within the mobile application will connect users to Terry Penrod if they have questions or want to schedule a tour of the property.

"It's the next generation of shopping for a home. What the Internet did for real estate, the mobile application will do for the search. It puts data into the buyers' hands where they want it when they want it," said Terry.

Consumers can get Terry Penrod’s mobile real estate search on their cell phone by visiting for easy instructions or by texting agent1 to 87778 to receive a text message with a link to download the mobile real estate application.  

This is available as a fully downloadable application on hundreds of devices across Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. A premium mobile web version is also available on 95% of cell phones. The fully downloadable application is free to download on Sprint devices, BlackBerry devices, the iPhone, and Google's Android. The premium mobile web version is free to access.

# # #

About Terry Penrod

Since 1988, Terry has been a real estate investor and in 2004, I became a licensed real estate agent.  Since then I helped my clients purchase and sell over $30 million in real estate.   In 2010 he became a founding partner of Real Living HER LLC.  He grew up in Toledo, Ohio and attended St. John’s Jesuit High School.  He attended The Ohio State University and graduated with a BA in Communications.  Terry has held various sales and management positions in Central Ohio over the 28 years he has lived here. 

About Real Living HER

Real Living HER, based in Columbus, Ohio, is a full-service real estate company with more than 700 agents and 45 offices throughout Central Ohio.  HER Realtors was established in 1956 and has been the dominant full-service brokerage throughout the area since 1964. Real Living HER offers its consumers services that include residential & commercial real estate sales, property management and rental services, mortgage, title, warranty, and other home-related, lifestyle services.  Real Living HER was recently named “Best Real Estate Brokerage” by the readers of Columbus CEO magazine for the third year in a row in the “Best of Business” awards.  HER is a member of the Real Living franchise system, owned by Brookfield Real Estate, a leading provider of real estate services nationally & internationally, including one of the world’s leading global relocation companies.   Real Living was named one of the best new franchises by Entrepreneur magazine, winner of the Inman Innovator Award, and most promising new national brand by the Swanepoel TRENDS Report.   Most recently, Real Living was recognized by Real Trends as the fastest growing real estate franchise in the country.  For more information, visit

iPhone and iPad are registered trademarks of Apple, Inc. Android is a trademark of Google, Inc. Blackberry is owned by Research In Motion Limited Other trademarks or registered trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Business First: Galaxy Cafe vets open Explorers Club in Merion Village

The Explorers Club is more than a new restaurant — it’s a reunion for two one-time restaurant partners.

Tracy Studer and Ricky Barnes once teamed up for three restaurants in the 1990s and early 2000s, most notably the Galaxy Cafe in Powell and two offshoots in Grandview Heights and the Short North.

“We split in 2002, went our separate ways,” Studer said. “We lost touch with each other.”

Studer had been at the Golf Club of Dublin when he decided he wanted to get back to running a place of his own. A Merion Village resident, he saw that the long-time Crater’s Restaurant & Bar space at 1586 S. High St. was vacant.

“I wanted to do something in the neighborhood so I began working on a deal,” he said.
Then he got a text message. It was Barnes, catching up. The conversation moved to Studer’s Merion Village plans and the one-time business partners decided to revive that relationship. The Explorers Club opened Friday.

“I refer to it as the Galaxy all grown up,” Studer said.

He described the ingredients as “international peasant food” using fresh ingredients, Ohio-sourced as much as possible, with simple preparations.

“The whole idea behind the name is about exploring cuisine, exploring life,” Studer said.
Dishes span the globe, including chile rellenos, banh mi, beef brisket, linguini with shrimp, to name a few, among other sandwich, salad, pasta and entree choices. Nothing on the menu tops $11.75. Studer declined to share sales projections. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday; brunch and dinner Saturday; and just brunch on Sunday.
Dan Eaton covers retail, restaurants, manufacturing, automotive and the advertising/PR industry for Business First.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Franklin County Early Voting Hours This Weekend

Early Vote THIS Weekend at the Franklin County Board of Elections: 
280 E Broad St. Columbus, OH 43215 

Weekend Voting Extended Hours 
Friday, Oct 28th:   8:00am-9:00pm
Saturday, Oct 29th:  8:00am-12:00pm
Sunday, Oct. 30th:   1:00pm-5:00pm 

You must provide ONE of the following items to show proof of your identification:
Your Ohio driver's license number; or

The last four digits of your Social Security number; or

A copy of your current and valid photo identification, military identification, OR a current (within the last 12 months) utility bill (including cell phone bill), bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows your name and current address (including from a public college or university).

To contact the Franklin County Board of Elections call 614.525.3100 or visit their website:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Columbus Dispatch: Jump in area home sales fuels optimism

By  Jim Weiker
The Columbus Dispatch - Saturday, October 22, 2011

 Central Ohio home sales are poised to post the first annual increase in six years.
Figures released yesterday show that 1,719 central Ohio homes sold in September, up almost 17 percent from a year earlier.
Columbus-area home sales remain down 3.7 percent this year, but a 58 percent jump in the number of homes in contract in September could erase that deficit by the end of the year.
“Hopefully, those contracts will manifest themselves in closings,” said Rick Benjamin, president of the Columbus Board of Realtors. “I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re seeing traction in the marketplace.”
Central Ohio home sales have dropped each year since peaking at 27,493 in 2005. Last year, 19,676 homes changed hands in the Columbus area.
Benjamin and others don’t expect the housing market to fully recover until employment rises, but ending the year with more 2011 sales than a year ago would be a symbolic boost for an industry bludgeoned by the recession.
“I’d like to think we hit rock bottom,” said Ron Cadieux, a partner in the Raines Group real-estate firm in New Albany. “This is going to be our best year ever. ... The homes that are well-priced and in good condition are absolutely selling.”
Another reason real-estate experts are optimistic: a sharp decline in the number of people selling their homes.
The number of central Ohio homes on the market dipped below 15,000 in September, compared with almost 19,000 a year ago.
Fewer homes for sale typically results in greater competition for the homes, and therefore, higher sales prices.
“At the very least, this will lead to price stability, based on the laws of supply and demand,” said Mike Carruthers, a Coldwell Banker King Thompson agent in Bexley, where 91 homes are for sale, down from 157 a year ago. (Last year’s figures were inflated by an unusual number of condominium listings.)
Other communities that have seen a precipitous drop in the number of homes for sale include Dublin (519 a year ago, 378 today), Worthington (147 to 92) and Obetz (31 to 17).
Agents say some homeowners have stopped trying to sell, while others are waiting for prices to climb.
“I don’t think prices are where they should be yet,” said Cindy Calender, a Coldwell Banker King Thompson agent in Polaris. “If people are upside down in their homes” — owing more than the homes are worth — “they have a hard time getting what they need, so some are still waiting.”
Home sales in Ohio also were up in September but remain down 3.4 percent in 2011.
“In all corners of Ohio, we’ve experienced a significant uptick in activity in recent months, a hopeful sign of an improving and stable marketplace,” said Meg Hudson, president of the Ohio Association of Realtors.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Columbus Dispatch: Central Ohio home sales rose in September

By  Jim Weiker 
The Columbus Dispatch Friday October 21, 2011 10:28 AM

Central Ohio home sales continue to climb compared to last year’s dismal performance.

In September, 1,719 homes changed hands in the Columbus area, up nearly 17 percent from the same month last year. September’s sales were down 12 percent from August, the last month of the summer sales season.

The figures offer more evidence that the market is normalizing, following a roller-coaster 2010.  Sales boomed during the first half of the year, driven by a federal tax incentive, but collapsed during the second half, when the incentive ended.

For the year through September, central Ohio home sales totals are still slightly behind last year’s sales, but are expected to catch up in the next few months. The number of homes placed in contract during September – but have yet to close – rose 58 percent over last September, suggesting robust sales during the next month or two.

“As home sales for the last three months have surpassed 2010, the year-to-date sales statistics continue to narrow the gap between this year and last year when the home-buyer tax credits were in effect,” said Rick Benjamin, president of the Columbus Board of Realtors. “Although many agents are reporting increased activity, time will tell whether that activity translates into actual home sales.”

Across Ohio, home sales rose more than 14 percent over last September, led by big jumps in some smaller cities such as Athens, Lancaster and Mansfield.

Statewide sales are down 3.4 percent so far for the year.

“In all corners of Ohio, we’ve experienced a significant uptick in activity in recent months, a hopeful sign of an improving and stable marketplace,” said Meg Hudson, president of the Ohio Association of Realtors.

Columbus Dispatch: Grocery’s plan seen as another step for Downtown

By  Tracy Turner
The Columbus Dispatch Friday October 21, 2011 6:52 AM

Hills Market is bringing a grocery store Downtown in a move that some proponents say will fuel more residential development in the area.

The grocery store is expected to open in the spring at 95 N. Grant Ave. as part of the Neighborhood Launch housing development that, when finished, will stretch from 4th Street to Grant Avenue along Gay and Long streets.

 Hills Market Downtown will offer local and organic produce and prepared foods, and it will feature a full-service deli, bakery, butcher shop, coffee shop, indoor and outdoor eating area and free parking, spokeswoman Michelle Chippas said.

 “The grocery is in the perfect location to be a huge addition to Downtown,” said Cleve Ricksecker, director of the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, a group of Downtown business owners.

The store will be in an area that has a large concentration of college students, Downtown workers, visitors and Downtown residents, he said.

“There is a growing residential market Downtown that is now large enough to support a grocery store,” Ricksecker said. “The challenge is communicating to retailers that there is still an unmet demand for retail services Downtown.

“A successful venture like this will likely spur other ventures. “

The grocery is to be housed in a building owned in partnership between Randy Walker Real Estate Services and the Edwards Cos., which developed Neighborhood Launch, Chippas said.

The Neighborhood Launch project has built or has started 73 housing units, with a goal to build 300, Chippas said. The brownstone-style condos start at $200,000, she said.

“Most people who come to the Neighborhood Launch open houses ask, ‘Where do you shop for food?’  ” Chippas said. “We believe that the Hills Market Downtown will be a successful complement to what is already offered at the North Market and Kroger.”

Kroger operates a full-service grocery store in the Brewery District near Downtown; Giant Eagle has stores in German Village and Victorian Village.

Hills Market Downtown will cover 12,000 square feet, about one-fifth the size of Kroger’s Brewery District store, which has 65,000 square feet. The company’s Hills Market on the Far North Side has 17,000 square feet, spokeswoman Jill Moorhead said.

With a 100-year history in Columbus, Kroger welcomes the competition, spokeswoman Amy McCormick said.

 The new Hills Market is a signal that the revitalization of Downtown, on both the commercial and residential fronts, continues to succeed, said Mike Stevens, deputy development director for the city of Columbus.

“The Hills Market will be a strong addition that adds to the vibrancy of Downtown,” he said.

Stevens said the city offered no incentive package to get the store to open Downtown.

Nate Filler, president of the Ohio Grocers Association, said the development indicates that “if you build it, they will come.”

“Not only does it offer consumers more choices and access to fresh fruits and produce, it’ll be a crucial steppingstone to bring more people and businesses Downtown,” Filler said.

The addition of a grocery store Downtown probably will result in lenders and investors viewing the area more favorably, which will promote more development because access to financing will improve, said Columbus developer Tom Fortin.

Fortin helped attract local luxury brownie-maker Sugardaddy’s to the former Modern Finance building at High and Gay streets, now being called the Cube. Fortin also was one of the developers of Carlyles Watch, a condo development at 100 E. Gay St.

He said the grocery store could be the same growth catalyst for Downtown that the North Market was for the Short North.

“When the North Market was redeveloped in 1993, it helped to propel the Short North into the residential and commercial success that it is because it attracted more people who wanted to live in the area because of the close access to food and groceries,” he said.

“Urban living is attractive for its convenience, and having a grocer like the Hills Market Downtown will enhance the demand for more residential living Downtown.”

The market also could benefit from another residential and mixed-use development planned four blocks to the northwest of the Neighborhood Launch project.

Developer George Berardi is applying to the Downtown Commission to build a five-story, 120,000-square-foot building at Spring and Neilston streets that would have 102 apartments on the upper floors and four retail spaces at ground level.

The $11.5 million Discovery District Commons also would include 71 underground parking spaces.

The site has a surface parking lot and two smaller buildings.

Dispatch reporter Marla Matzer Rose contributed to this report.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Columbus Dispatch: Zeno’s [in Harrison West] presses to snuff ban on smoking

Bar also fighting to get $33,000 in fines overturned

By  Tristan Navera
The Columbus Dispatch Thursday October 20, 2011 10:05 AM

HILLSBORO, Ohio — Ohio’s Supreme Court justices remained tight-lipped on the bench yesterday, pressing only for occasional clarification from attorneys in a case that could have a major impact on the state’s 4-year-old smoking ban.

Zeno’s, a bar near Columbus’ Victorian Village, is challenging the law on the basis that it invades businesses’ property rights. Zeno’s also says the Ohio Department of Health is unfairly fining bars and restaurants — even if they have posted no-smoking signs and removed ashtrays — while refusing to cite the smokers who violate the ban.

Maurice Thompson, an attorney for the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a nonprofit legal center, argued on behalf of the bar, saying the statute “essentially releases a police power ... that knows no limit.”
“The (Ohio Department of Health) policy is unconstitutional, as it exceeds the limited authority it has,” Thompson said. “It exceeds the state’s police power.”

Elizabeth Long, deputy solicitor in the Ohio attorney general’s office, said the ban protects the health of bar patrons and employees. She said Zeno’s was found to be “intentionally violating” the ban in eight of the citations, all of which stemmed from complaints.

“Every regulation interferes with the enjoyment of liberty and property to some degree,” she said. “This could mean the future invalidation of countless laws protecting public health, safety and general welfare.”

The bar, at 384 W. 3rd Ave., owes $33,000 in fines for 10 smoking-ban violations. The state is threatening to seize and foreclose on Zeno’s to get the money.

Enforcement of Ohio’s smoking ban began in May 2007, affecting 280,000 public and private places of employment, the Ohio Department of Health says. Since then, bars have received 60 percent of the 33,347 citations and every citation has been against a business, not a smoker.

As of July, more than 2,500 fines totaling $2.5 million had been imposed, the Health Department said. At that time, $778,000 of the fines had been paid.

Thompson said the ban restricts land use, not conduct: Certain types of businesses, such as hotels, motels, clubs and family businesses, may have exemptions, but bars such as Zeno’s may not. He called the ban “spot zoning,” saying smoking goes hand-in-hand with the bar business and the ban has wiped out Zeno’s profits by sending patrons to bars with patios.

Thompson said the bars should not be forced to ban smoking because people visit them voluntarily. He said some bars would ban smoking even without the rule, and that would allow smokers and nonsmokers alike to be happy.

“There is a concern about protecting younger people (in the ban), but bars like this one are for people over 21,” he said.

Long said bars already are held responsible for some patrons’ actions. She said it falls to bars to ensure that patrons are not allowed to get too drunk or disorderly by limiting the drinks served or asking them to leave.
Almost all of the justices’ questions were for clarification of the attorneys’ arguments.

The bar won a case to dismiss its fines in a Franklin County court but lost an appeal in the Franklin County Court of Appeals last November. Since then, it has gained the backing of the 1851 Center, the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association and the Buckeye Liquor Permit Holders Association, among other groups.

Justices vote on a case the day they hear it but don’t announce their decision for three to five months.

Going on the road, as it does twice a year, the high court sat in Highland County Common Pleas Court to hear the case.

Tristan Navera is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau.

Wall Street Journal: It's Time to Buy That House

U.S. house prices have plunged by nearly a third since 2006, and homeownership rates are falling at the fastest pace since the Great Depression.

The good news? Two key measures now suggest it's an excellent time to buy a house, either to live in for the long term or for investment income (but not for a quick flip). First, the nation's ratio of house prices to yearly rents is nearly restored to its prebubble average. Second, when mortgage rates are taken into consideration, houses are the most affordable they have been in decades.

Two of the silliest mantras during the real-estate bubble were that a house is the best investment you will ever make and that a renter "throws money down the drain." Whether buying is a better deal than renting isn't a stagnant fact but a changing condition that depends on the relationship between prices and rents, the cost of financing and other factors.


But the math is turning in buyers' favor. Stock-oriented folks can think of a house's price/rent ratio as akin to a stock's price/earnings ratio, in that it compares the cost of an asset with the money the asset is capable of generating. For investors, a lower ratio suggests more income for the price. For prospective homeowners, a lower ratio makes owning more attractive than renting, all else equal.

Nationwide, the ratio of home prices to yearly rents is 11.3, down from 18.5 at the peak of the bubble, according to Moody's Analytics. The average from 1989 to 2003 was about 10, so valuations aren't quite back to normal.

But for most home buyers, mortgage rates are a key determinant of their total costs. Rates are so low now that houses in many markets look like bargains, even if price/rent ratios aren't hitting new lows. The 30-year mortgage rate rose to 4.12% this week from a record low of 3.94% last week, Freddie Mac said Thursday. (The rates assume 0.8% in prepaid interest, or "points.") The latest rate is still less than half the average since 1971.

As a result, house payments are more affordable than they have been in decades. The National Association of Realtors Housing Affordability Index hit 183.7 in August, near its record high in data going back to 1970. The index's historic average is roughly 120. A reading of 100 would mean that a median-income family with a 20% down payment can afford a mortgage on a median-price home. So today's buyers can afford handsome houses—but prudent ones might opt for moderate houses with skimpy payments.

For example, the median home in the greater Phoenix market, including houses, condos and co-ops, costs $121,700, according to With a 20% down payment and a 4.12% mortgage rate, a buyer's monthly payment would be about $470. Rent for a comparable house would be more than $1,100 a month, according to data provided by

Of course, all of this assumes mortgages are available—no given now that lending standards have tightened. But long-term data on down payments and credit scores suggest conditions are more normal than many buyers think, according to Stan Humphries, chief economist at Zillow. "If you have good credit, a job and a down payment, you can get a mortgage," Mr. Humphries says. "There's more paperwork and scrutiny than five years ago, but things are pretty much like they were in the '80s and '90s."

Not all housing markets are bargains. Mr. Humphries says Zillow has developed a new price/rent ratio that uses estimates for each individual property rather than city medians, to better reflect the choices facing typical buyers. A fresh look at the numbers suggests Detroit and Miami are plenty cheap for buyers, with price/rent ratios of 5.6 and 7.7, respectively. New York and San Francisco are more expensive, with ratios of 17.6 and 17.2, respectively. The median ratio for 169 markets is 10.7.

For investors seeking income, one back-of-the-envelope way of seeing how these numbers stack up against yields for other assets is to divide 1 by the price/rent ratio, resulting in a rent "yield." The median market's rent yield is 9.3% and Detroit's is 17.9%.

Investors would then subtract for taxes, insurance, upkeep and other expenses—costs that vary widely. But suppose total costs were 4% of the purchase price. That would still leave a 5.3% rent yield in the typical market. With the 10-year Treasury yield at 2.2% and the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index carrying a dividend yield of 2.1%, rents for residential housing in many markets look attractive.

A few caveats are in order. First, not all transactions are average ones. Even in low-priced markets, buyers should shop carefully. Second, prices could fall further. Celia Chen, a senior director at Moody's Analytics, expects prices to drop 3% before bottoming early next year and rising slowly thereafter. "If the economy slips back into recession, however, we could easily see a 10% drop," Ms. Chen says.

And property "flipping" can be dangerous even when prices are rising. That is because, absent a real-estate boom, house price gains simply aren't that exciting. Research by Yale economist Robert Shiller suggests houses more or less track the rate of inflation over long time periods.

Houses aren't the magic wealth creators they were made out to be during the bubble. But when prices are low, loans are cheap and plump investment yields are scarce, buyers should jump.

—Jack Hough is a columnist at Email:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Forbes: Best Cities For Women In Business [Including Columbus]


A by-the-numbers look at the best U.S. cities for female entrepreneurs to get started—and thrive in business.

While women make up 50% of the U.S. adult population and account for 46% of the workforce, when it comes to entrepreneurism, they’re behind the curve. All told, women account for only 35% of all people who get involved in starting a business.

According to a new survey by the Kauffman Foundation on the Entrepreneurship Gender Gap, women trail men not just in share of entrepreneurial activity but in revenues (just 1.8% of female-led firms have revenues of over $1 million vs. 6.3% of male-led firms), patents (5.65% of female firms seek patent approval versus 13% of men) and job creation (36% of women-led firms create jobs to 44% of male-led firms).

It’s not all bad. “The great news is that we’re absolutely seeing the number of female entrepreneurs skyrocket in the last year,” says Leesa Mitchell, author of the Kauffman study, Overcoming The Gender Gap: Women Entrepreneurs As Economic Drivers. As an indicator she references female applicants to Astia, a community of entrepreneurs committed to the development of high-growth women-led firms: “In 2010 there were roughly 100 applicants. This year it was well over 400. The momentum is there—it’s happening, and I think it’s going to mean some significant change on the playing field.”

It is against this backdrop that we present the ForbesWoman first annual list of the top 20 cities for women in business. Where are women best-poised for success and why?

To create our list, we began with the FORBES Best Places For Business and Careers, as ranked by my colleague Kurt Badenhausen, for a pool of cities with high projected job growth, education levels and quality of life, and low cost of business. Then to tighten the scope for female entrepreneurs, we added new metrics: What cities have seen the biggest growth in the number of female-led firms in recent years? Where are the most SBA-backed loans going to women, and where are women turning those loans into million-dollar profits?

With the numbers crunched, it wasn’t surprising to see who came out on top. New York and San Francisco–the Alley and the Valley–are the cities where not only are more women launching businesses, but thanks to SBA-backed loans, they have an easier time finding funding and resources which they are quicker to parlay into big-time profits.

“Both cities have strong ties to Web 2.0 activity and social media,” points out Mitchell. “But they’re also among our most diverse cities. In cities where diversity is the norm, we’re seeing women stepping up more readily and far more readily embraced by the community.”

Rachel Balik, a communications writer at Achievers, a San Francisco-based employee rewards company which saw $24.5 million in Series-C funding this week attributes the boom to the unique communal energy of the startup community in Silicon Valley: “Despite being the tech capital of the world, it still has a leftover Hippie vibe, where everyone genuinely wants to support each other. For women, there’s none of that breaking the glass ceiling or trying to get into the old boys club. The playing field is level.”

But just a few steps down the list, real surprises emerge. Tampa, Fla., is known as a city of retirees and not entrepreneurism. But according to research by WomenAble and American Express OPEN, Florida brags the second fastest-growing state in terms of the number of new firms opened between 1997 and 2011. Women-led firms in the city received over $19 million in SBA-guaranteed loans in 2010. On the ground, a keyed in observer of the startup scene in Tampa, Liz Bollinger, the co-founder of Biz-E Chicks, a networking and development community for local women building startups, has seen her own explosive growth. Since 2006 the group’s mailing list has grown from 10 subscribers to well over 500 women entrepreneurs, most entrenched in creative services like copywriting, marketing and photography.

Bethesda, Md., and Washington D.C. both benefit from government contracts in the area, and women’s earnings there are among the highest in the country, so their place among the top cities seems well-deserved. Then there’s dark horse Columbus, Ohio. In 2008, FORBES named it the No. 1 pick for up-and-coming tech cities, largely due to the Battelle Memorial Institute, a research center that supports multiple federal agencies including the Department of Energy.

Not surprisingly, in recent years, women-led firms are taking root there as well. Tech Columbus, a members-only resource for tech entrepreneurs in the Columbus metro area has seen an uptick in women-led ventures and has instituted a new series for women in technology.  “In fact, we just funded this past spring our first business that was 50% founded and run by a female,” says Senior Director of Fund Management Allison Finkelstein. ” This business has now gone on to receive Series A funding and, in fact, just came back from California where it was the first Ohio company to ever present at Demo Day.” she notes that the number of female investors in Columbus is also on the rise.

But as a Midwestern city, Columbus is in the minority among the top cities on this year’s list. Anna Harvey, the assistant administrator of Women’s Business Ownership for the Small Business Administration and head of the  110 Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) across the country, attributes the lack of small business activity among women in the region to a lack of resources. According to American Express OPEN, Iowa and Indiana are at the bottom of the list of growth.

“I see an anecdotal correlation between the number of women in political positions, or positions of power in those communities, with the number of women launching small businesses,” says Harvey. While there isn’t hard data to support this theory, Mitchell agrees that it’s valid. “Look at the diversity on the Chamber of Commerce for a city,” she says, “and it will be indicative of the make-up of the startup community.”
But beyond diversity and in some cases, a deeply-rooted traditions in business, what makes one region more friendly to women in business than others?  Julie Weeks, president and CEO at WomenAble, the consultancy responsible for the number crunching behind this year’s American Express Open report, points to a few factors that can set cities apart for women in business—above and beyond a city that’s just good for business, period: The legal environment, government procurement goals for women- or minority-owned firms, the existence of women’s business organizations in a community and enabling resources like SBA WBCs.

“The most successful business owner is one who is plugged into her community through organizations. Cities that have a lot of those opportunities,” says Weeks, pointing to the NAWBO and Women’s President Organization as examples of a must-join organizations, “are going to be the cities with people and businesses that rise to the top.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Columbus Underground: The Rebirth of Weinland Park

By: Walker


Weinland Park is a neighborhood in transition. Situated between the Ohio State University and The Short North, this largely residential area is on the cusp of a renaissance, thanks largely in part to one of the most ambitious collaborative efforts to ever be planned in Central Ohio.

The Weinland Park Collaborative (WPC) was officially launched in August of 2010 as a partnership effort to revitalize the neighborhood. The collaborative — which is made up of over 20 agencies including The Ohio State University, The City of Columbus, Campus Partners, The Columbus Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, United Way of Central Ohio and others — provides a unique opportunity to redevelop the entire area with a large-scale strategic plan and provide a way to reduce redundancy across the various groups involved.

“The WPC engages with residents and the Weinland Park Community Civic Association to learn what can best improve their neighborhood,” explains Michael Wilkos, Community Research and Grants Management Officer at The Columbus Foundation and Weinland Park resident. “The agencies and organizations coordinate and jointly support a variety of projects to leverage assets and meet needs in the areas of housing, workforce development, education, healthy living, public safety, youth engagement, and resident leadership.”

Currently, the Collaborative’s efforts focused on housing development is what is most visible to the general public. Weinland Park was originally built as a working class neighborhood for employees of the nearby machine factories such as the 3M/Auld site and the Columbus Coated Fabrics plant. When those industrial sites closed up and jobs left the neighborhood, the area began a decades-long decline that the WPC hopes to help reverse. Much more is here