Last week, Cincinnati was recognized as a start-up friendly city in CNN Money’s article, “The next generation of start-up cities”.  http://money.cnn.com/2012/11/27/smallbusiness/startup-cities/index.html

It was great to see a city in which I have worked in for most of my career recognized as a great place to launch a business.  The article cited startup attractions such as office space, networking, and access to venture capital funds, but there are benefits for any company operating in the Cincinnati area:  access to a substantial talent pool, Midwest work ethic, low turnover, low operating costs and generally an easy commute.  As a testament to this, a number of companies have proven success operating in this market: P&G, Kroger, GE Aviation, Fidelity, dunnhumby, EW Scripps and Perfetti.

As a brand-building agency based in the Midwest, I have always been curious to understand why brands interested in getting a top-notch marketing services partner often discount Midwest-based agencies in favor of those located on a coast.  The reason for this appears to be the perception that the MidWest isn’t a place where trends originate or that the area lags in access to culture. This perception is just that – perception.  The truth is that different counter cultures are born and thrive in the Midwest.  The Midwest boasts a significant presence in art, music, and food—all three of which are the incubators for emerging culture and foundations for sustained culture.

Art & Design culture: While the Midwest doesn’t have the density of art culture like NYC and LA, there are leading Midwest artists, designers and schools that breed very influential movements:

  • The University of Cincinnati’s DAAP program (College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning), consistently ranks among the best in the world by various publications.
  • The School of the Art Institute Chicago, SAIC,  is one of the most influential art schools in the country and in the world.
  • Ann Hamilton, an Ohio native, is now a Professor of Art at OSU.  Her work is shown worldwide and she has represented the United States twice in the Venice Biennale and has numerous major museum installations including The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis, The Guggenheim Museum based in New York, and many others.

Music culture: An active music scene effectively influences other counter-cultures and fosters environments for self expression and culture commentary.  The Midwest breeds many influential indie musicians, who are supported by popular labels and publications such as Pitchfork Media and Saddle Creek, to name a few.  Emerging talent is showcased at numerous music festivals in the Midwest each year: Lollapalooza, MidPoint Music Festival, Pitchfork and Bunbury. A recent study conducted by the Dublin Clique Research Cluster on the geographic flow of music showed that cities like Columbus and Chicago are increasingly influencing music in our connected world.

Foodie culture: MidWest cities are noted leaders in food culture where young chefs can make a big impact and subsequently create cuisine that even inspires the LA and NY food scene.

The longest-running Mobil five-star restaurant of all time, The Maisonette, operated in Cincinnati until 2005. The popular chef of this establishment, Jean-Robert de Cavel– a three-time nominee for Best Chef, MidWest by James Beard Foundation– continues to operate a restaurant in Cincinnati despite being courted repeatedly by cities such as New York, Miami, and LA.

Michael Symon of the Food Network show Iron Chef was born in Cleveland and has been credited with saving the restaurant scene in downtown Cleveland.

In short, the Midwest breeds counter cultures that are self aware, creatively ambitious, and pragmatic.  Start-ups, agencies, or almost any company will thrive in the Midwest because of this access to culture in addition to other valuable assets such as access to a significant talent pool, low operating costs, a strong work ethic, and low turnover. Congratulations to Cincinnati for being recognized for something those of us who work here have known all along.

(image via flickr)

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