Groove U

Must Be Present to Win: 5 Reasons Why Columbus is a Great City to Pursue a Creative Career

We want to thank Dwight Heckelman for his guest blog. Dwight D. Heckelman has over 20 years experience in nearly every facet of the music industry. In 2005, he left the corporate world for academia. He served as the Career Development and Job Recruitment Coordinator at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. From 2009 to July 2022, Dwight performed as the Founder and Director of GROOVE U. Sadly, GROOVE U did not survive COVID’s impact and closed in July 2022.

While I was attending college at BGSU, Casey Kelly — a Nashville songwriter — held a seminar on-campus. He talked about his career as a songwriter, co-writing a hit song for George Strait, and offered this career advice:

“Must be present to win.”

Kelly attested that in order to have a creative career, one had to be in a location known as a creative epicenter. It was only in one of those cities where you could make the connections inside an established ecosystem to succeed. At the time, that meant living in Nashville, NYC, or L.A.

Because I wanted a career in the music industry, shortly thereafter I heeded Kelly’s advice and transferred to Belmont University. Living and working in Nashville did indeed provide me with the necessary connections to have a successful music industry career.

But that was 25 years ago. How about today? Do you still need to go to Nashville, NYC, or L.A. if you want a creative career?

Let’s take a look at what Columbus has to offer in comparison to those traditional locations, and you’ll discover why I chose to open GROOVE U, a multi-million-dollar music studio and education facility, here in Central Ohio. Our two-year higher education and apprenticeship program in Music Industry Entrepreneurship allows students to specialize in audio production, music business, live sound, video, interactive, and independent areas. Our success (over 90% of GROOVE U grads find in-field employment) is made possible by the opportunities here in Columbus. (As mentioned above, GROOVE U closed in July 2022 due to COVID.)

1. We are a growing city

The latest census (2020) shows Columbus is on-track to hit one million residents. In fact, Columbus was one of only 14 cities that experienced growth of 100,000 people or more over the last 10 years. And we’re not done growing; five out of six of Ohio’s fastest-growing counties are here in central Ohio. The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission projects that the 15-county area will grow to 3 million residents by 2050.

Columbus grew ~15% over the past decade, which is more than Nashville (~14%), NYC (~8%), or L.A. (~3%).

Growth almost always means more opportunity, and Columbus is no exception.

2. We are a city of entrepreneurs

A creative career is a career as an entrepreneur. Fortunately, all that growth attracts the type of individuals who embody the entrepreneurial sprit.

Columbus was recently ranked the number one rising city for startups, in the top for best cities for entrepreneurs, and the number one city for population, job, and GDP growth among the Midwest’s 10 largest metro areas. Sixteen Fortune 1000 companies call Columbus home.

The support Columbus has for the entrepreneurial spirit and its collaboration between public and private partnerships has been featured in national news sources and is known as “The Columbus Way.”

3. We are accessible to everyone

Centrally located between Chicago and New York, the Columbus Region boasts the greatest market access of any major metro: 46% of the United States population is within a 10-hour drive.

A good measure of a city’s accessibility involves its ranking as a “Smart City.” This metric seeks to measure the quality of life for all its citizens, encompassing vision, leadership, financial incentives, support policies, ecosystems, people-centricity, talent readiness, and track record of success. Columbus is ranked number 11 in the world and second in the United States, less than a point behind NYC and far ahead of L.A. (Nashville didn’t even make the top 50.)

Columbus takes accessibility very seriously, as is evidenced by its Smart Columbus initiative.

Accessibility covers all persons. Columbus is ranked 15th on the percentage of the adult population who identify as LBGT, higher than NYC and only slightly behind L.A. That’s no accident. The Human Rights Campaign gives Columbus a perfect 100 out of 100 in its Municipal Equality Index, which rates the laws, policies, and services of cities based on their inclusivity of LGBT persons.

4. We aren’t just a Smart City, we are a smart city.

Central Ohio is home to over 50 colleges and universities. Not only is traditional education well-represented, but there are over 50 additional institutes of higher learning that are specialized and address the employment skills gap.

That means students can pursue music at an entrepreneurial music industry program (like GROOVE U) or in a conservatory setting (like Capital). They can study communications in a degree program (like Otterbein University) or in a diploma program (like the Ohio Media School). They can train to become contemporary artists (at Ohio State) or designers (at Columbus College of Art & Design). Diversity is our strength.

When these students graduate, they tend to stick around. Columbus has one of the youngest and most educated populations in the country – the median age is 35.9 and 36% of residents ages 25+ hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. That makes Columbus among the top 10 metros in the United States for concentration of young professionals (age 25-34) and the only metro in the eastern half of the country with this distinction.

5. We are a city of creatives.

Long gone are the days when being a creative from Columbus required some sort of disclaimer. Now, companies and individuals look to Columbus for talent.

Over fifty marketing agencies use over twenty-five video/film studios and over twenty-five recording studios to create award-winning content. Event production companies like Mills-James, Live!, and Lyon produce events (like ESPN Game Day).

Award-winning artists (like 21 Pilots) amplify our message that Columbus generates amazing creative output. Artists get their start in some of the best venues here in the Midwest.

Numerous organizations have sprouted up to support our ecosystem. The Columbus Music Commission, The Columbus Film Commission, and The Greater Columbus Arts Council are just a few of the many city-supported organizations that support our creative community.

By now, it should be obvious that NYC, L.A., and Nashville don’t offer much — if anything — that isn’t already in Columbus in a similar (or possibly better) way. Additionally, our proximity to NYC and Nashville coupled with the new remote working habits make it easier than ever to establish relationships and network in those cities. Those cities need our talent, and the relationship has become more symbiotic than ever.

We’ve witnessed an industry “pull” for Columbus talent first-hand. Over 90% of GROOVE U graduates find employment in-field within six months of graduation. So it’s now possible to be a winner by studying, working, and staying right here.

Wondering about the practicality of a music career for your student? Click here to read our previous blog on the subject.

Want to learn even more? Tune in to hear from Dwight as he shares his tips for families with music-loving children who might be thinking about a career in the music business. He’ll talk about relationships, networking, apprenticeships, hard and soft skills, and why a career in music is a lifestyle choice.

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