COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST)– Alex Fischer has announced plans to step down as CEO of the Columbus Partnership after more than a decade in the role. Kenny McDonald, CEO of the group’s economic development arm One Columbus, is to succeed him Jan. 1.
“I couldn’t be more proud of everything we’ve done,” Fischer said in an interview Tuesday. “The last decade’s just simply been phenomenal. I have a feeling the next decade is going to be even better.”
The organization of 75 CEOs and community leaders has reached multiple inflection points in issues where it’s deeply involved: Central Ohio’s business community is returning to normalcy with the end of pandemic-related restrictions, Smart Columbus is transitioning to a nonprofit now that the federal grant has concluded, the Columbus Crew has played the first game in its downtown stadium, and the Partnership is leading often uncomfortable discussions on how to ensure recovery is more equitable and inclusive than generations past.
As he surveyed what’s to come, Fischer said, he realized a new leader might be better suited to lead the organization’s next phase.
“The most important thing a leader can do is realize it’s time,” Fischer said.
Fischer, 54, has no other job lined up. He did not want to detract from his current work by starting to hunt for the next phase of his career, he said.
He will remain a trustee of Ohio State University and chairman at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
His wife, Lori Barreras, is chairwoman of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, and they have three grown children, two of whom had all of their school years here. The couple has no plans to leave Columbus.
“Alex has given his heart and soul to the community for 13 years,” McDonald said. “He’s going to go on to different things, but I know he’s going to contribute to the community. He’s never going to lose his passion for Columbus.”
Fischer was Battelle’s senior vice president for economic development from 2007-2009, after five years leading commercialization and economic development at the Battelle-managed Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Before that, he was that state’s deputy governor and chief of staff for two years. A native of suburban Nashville, Fischer has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Tennessee.
The Partnership was founded in 2002 to coordinate the region’s corporate involvement in economic development, civic leadership, philanthropy and public policy. Fischer joined from Battelle as an economic development consultant in the summer of 2009, during the recession, and was promoted to CEO that November, succeeding Bob Milbourne.
One of his first acts was to form the economic development group, first called Columbus 2020, and hire McDonald to lead it. It met its three broad 10-year goals early: add 150,000 new jobs to the region, attract $8 billion in capital investment and increase per-capita income by 30%. In September 2019 it rebranded as One Columbus with a new sky-high goal to make Central Ohio “the most prosperous region in the United States,” but do so equitably.
Meanwhile the Partnership and city rallied a large coalition to win the $50 million in grants creating Smart Columbus, then co-led the projects to test how new technologies can better connect residents to jobs and services. Fischer also played a key role in the negotiations that kept the Crew from leaving the city, culminating in the team’s sale to new owners and the recent opening of a brand-new downtown stadium.
Fischer actually started thinking about stepping down after the 2019 One Columbus transition, but the pandemic emergency brought the busiest year of the Partnership’s history.
Through the end of the year he and McDonald will shape the agenda for what’s next for the group, while Fischer figures out what’s next for him.
“I asked somebody the other day, ‘How do you set up an email account?” he quipped.
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