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Columbus Credits Manufacturing Base With Boosting Start-Up Growth

Courtesy Cummins Engine

New census data puts Columbus, Ind. in the top 20 cities for start-up business growth nationwide.

The numbers, released earlier this month, show that companies less than a year old made up nearly 5 percent of the city's businesses in 2014. That’s a 1.1 percent increase from 2009.

It might seem small, but it's the 15th-highest rate in the country. And while the list includes other Midwest cities -- St. Louis is near the top -- Columbus is the only town from Indiana, and it has far fewer start-ups total than most others.

Columbus-Area Chamber of Commerce President Cindy Frey says they pride themselves on cultivating small businesses. She says their biggest startups are run by former employees of large, local manufacturers, like Cummins Engine.

"Whether it was engine testing or software for engines -- that's been a great driver, having talented people who identify an unmet need," she says.

Frey also points to a 2012 Brookings Institution report, which said Columbus had the nation's second-most demand for skilled workers on visas. Again, that mostly came from Cummins, but Frey says it still sets the city apart.

"I can't quantify this yet, but my sense is that our immigrant population is a source of strength, because they arrive highly educated and highly motivated," she says. "I'm anxious to see how that plays out in the years to come."

Columbus is in Bartholomew County, in southern Indiana. It's one of only eight Indiana counties where the population grew more than 5 percent in recent years, according to census data.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled Cindy Frey's name.

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