Dec 10, 2022 - Business

Axios Columbus' 2022 power list

Illustration of two rows of dominos falling with text overlaid that reads Power Players Columbus.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Welcome to our inaugural Axios Columbus Power Players list, a chance to look back at influential leaders who left their mark on our area this year.

Why it matters: A major developer, a leader of dogs and humans, and an acclaimed poet are among the influential people (and a tiny superchip) that shaped our region in all facets of life.

Methodology: Axios Local's power players are influential individuals who've made a difference in their community in 2022. Our reporters made selections based on their own expertise, a reader poll, and through interviews with influential people.

  • The unscientific list is produced entirely by the Axios Local editorial team and is not influenced by advertising in any way.

📬 We want to hear your own picks for Central Ohio's most influential. Just email [email protected].

1. Hanif Abdurraqib

Hanif Abdurraqib speaking during a convention panel discussion.
Hanif Abdurraqib speaks during a convention panel in 2017. Photo: Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Politicon

Columbus has no shortage of talented writers, artists and musicians, but few creative souls have been as acclaimed in recent years as poet and author Hanif Abdurraqib.

Driving the news: His writing regularly appears in local publications as well as national outlets like New York Times Magazine, plus he runs music website 68to05

  • He was named a 2021 MacArthur fellow, commonly referred to as the "genius grant."
  • He will join Denison University's English department next year as a writer-in-residence.

What they're saying: The residency "will give our students an unparalleled opportunity to learn from an acclaimed poet and critic whose incisive cultural commentary is vital to our present moment," department chair James Weaver said in a statement announcing the appointment.

2. Talisa Dixon

Columbus City Schools Superintendent Talisa Dixon at a press conference.
Talisa Dixon, Columbus City Schools superintendent, speaks during a 2021 news conference announcing a new learning initiative for STEM, art and medicine. Photo: Jay LaPrete/AP

It was challenging enough for Ohio's largest school district to navigate through a disruptive pandemic.

  • Things didn't get easier for Columbus City Schools Supt. Talisa Dixon when the teachers union went on strike last August for the first time in 47 years due to a contract dispute.

State of play: The strike ended after three days, putting Dixon and teachers back to work trying to bring academic scores back to pre-pandemic levels.

  • Test scores were up this year but haven't fully rebounded.

What we're watching: The efforts to improve school safety across the district.

  • Dixon hired dozens of additional security guards this year to bolster its safety presence after severing ties with the local police department in 2020.
  • The district also rejected a new state law allowing for armed teachers in class.
  • We're also watching how Columbus City Schools will adjust with new leadership as Dixon recently announced plans to retire as superintendent. An interim replacement will take over Jan. 1.

3. Jeff Edwards

Two developed buildings on a downtown Columbus intersection.
A pair of buildings developed by Edwards Cos. at the corner of High and Gay Streets. Photo: Google Maps

Few are as ambitious as Jeff Edwards when it comes to rehabbing and developing local properties.

  • His eponymous Edwards Cos. has reportedly invested more than $500 million into downtown Columbus since 2008.

The intrigue: Efforts like transforming the former Citizens Savings and Trust Co. Building into condos — featuring a mailroom inside an old bank vault — earned him recognition from the Columbus Landmarks Foundation.

What's next: Edwards' most audacious project yet is being built near the North Market.

  • The 32-story Merchant Building will involve 700,000 square feet of mixed-used space, including residences, a hotel, offices, restaurants and bars.
  • It's set to be completed in 2025.

4. Intel semiconductor chip

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger holds a semiconductor chip.
Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger holds a semiconductor chip while testifying in support of legislation supporting semiconductor research and investment. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

One of the smallest items manufactured in Central Ohio will soon pack the biggest punch.

State of play: Construction is underway on a pair of Intel semiconductor plants in Licking County.

  • Intel is hiring about 7,000 construction workers to complete the $20 billion project, which will eventually feature about 3,000 full-time workers.
  • The massive undertaking is expected to radically transform the region's workforce development efforts, with Intel pumping millions into STEM education at Ohio State University and various trade schools.

Flashback: The September groundbreaking drew hundreds of business leaders and dignitaries, including President Biden, to what is now a vast open field.

What we wrote: "A project with sweeping trade, manufacturing and national security implications, one that [Biden] says will long be seen as a turning point in American history … all to produce computer chips the size of your fingertip."

5. Lisa Courtice

United Way of  Central Ohio president and CEO Lisa Courtice.
United Way of Central Ohio president and CEO Lisa Courtice. Photo: Courtesy United Way of Central Ohio

The United Way of Central Ohio is used to looking out for other nonprofits, as it raises and distributes money to organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.

  • Now the downtown organization, led by president and CEO Lisa Courtice, is making a big jump of its own.

Driving the news: Courtice's organization announced plans in September to sell its Third Street headquarters to an affordable housing developer.

  • It's relocating to a new "Community Impact Center" on North Front Street, where it will be joined by several other local nonprofits.

6. Gene Smith

OSU athletic director Gene Smith laughing at a press conference.
OSU athletic director Gene Smith at a 2018 press conference. Photo: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Since 2005, Ohio State University athletic director Gene Smith has led one of the nation's largest collegiate athletics programs.

By the numbers: The Buckeyes field 37 varsity sports, from basketball and lacrosse to rifle shooting and synchronized swimming.

  • These sports take in a combined revenue that — a pandemic notwithstanding — has regularly reached well into the annual nine-figure range.

Yes, but: Smith is known for more than leading the Buckeyes to on-the-field and in-the-pool success.

  • He supports athletes' participation in social justice causes and was a vocal advocate for name, image and likeness (NIL) policies to let student-athletes make money off their fame.

The result: OSU led the nation in NIL compensation over the policy's first year. And The Eugene D. Smith Leadership Institute at the university serves student-athletes to "best prepare them for life after graduation."

7. Zach Klein

Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein in a suit.
Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein. Photo: Courtesy of the city attorney's office

The Columbus city attorney is no stranger to making headlines.

  • When Ohio enacted its "Heartbeat Bill" abortion ban, Klein announced his office would not enforce it.
  • He then filed a lawsuit challenging a state law that allows health care providers to potentially deny forms of medical treatment to LGBTQ+ patients.

Most recently, he joined other city leaders in proposing a slate of new gun restrictions.

The big picture: As Republicans gain power in all facets of state government, Klein is among the officials in Ohio's bluest metros who are pushing back.

  • A former city councilman, he unsuccessfully campaigned for county prosecutor in 2016 before winning the city attorney role the following year.

8. Rachel Finney

Columbus Humane CEO Rachel Finney sitting at the organization's headquarters.
Columbus Humane CEO Rachel Finney. Photo courtesy Columbus Humane

With pet adoptions on the rise during the pandemic, the need for a robust local pet shelter only grew.

  • Enter Columbus Humane, which cares for hundreds of animals each day and provides services like low-cost veterinary care and a pet food bank.

Details: CEO Rachel Finney has led a staff of 60, along with hundreds of volunteers, for the past decade.

  • She also oversaw a renovation of the headquarters in 2018.

What they're saying: "Rachel affirms the human-animal bond," an Axios Columbus reader tells us, "and allows everyone, regardless of income, the dignity to keep and care for their pets."

Go deeper: See all 200 of Axios Local's Power Players in 2022


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