Les Wexner And Columbus

It was a lucky day for central Ohio when Leslie Wexner was born.

Wexner graduated from The Ohio State University, started The Limited Stores in central Ohio and saw them grow into a huge retail conglomerate, and has never forgotten his central Ohio roots.  Earlier this week Wexner, his wife Abigail, and The Limited Foundation gave a $100 million gift to Ohio State.  That gift, which Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee aptly characterized as transformative, is just the latest example of Wexner’s profound impact on central Ohio, its citizens, and its business community.

It is hard to imagine what central Ohio would be like without Les Wexner.  His philanthropic efforts are legendary.  At Ohio State, he has contributed millions toward the construction of the Wexner Center for the Arts and the Les Wexner Football Complex at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.  The latest gift will benefit the Wexner Center for the Arts and various entities within the OSU hospitals.  Other local beneficiaries of Wexner’s generosity include Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Wexner Heritage Village — among many, many others.

As impressive as Wexner’s charitable activities have been, however, he has had an even more profound impact on central Ohio as a capitalist.  The Limited and its various affiliates, subsidiaries, and spin-offs have employed thousands of central Ohioans and brought many new, creative people to our community; those businesses and the taxes paid by their employees have contributed millions toward the coffers of local governments throughout the area.  The Easton Town Center, which Wexner developed, is one of the premier mixed-use shopping areas in the nation and attracts many out-of-towners to our fair city.  And the house where Kish and I live wouldn’t be here but for Wexner and his decision to launch a new suburb in New Albany, a formerly sleepy farming community in the far northeast corner of Franklin County.

People may disagree with Les Wexner’s views about how Columbus or Ohio State should address certain issues.  No one can dispute, however, that Wexner’s generosity and business skills have had an enormous impact in shaping the Columbus in which we now live.

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Protest, And Response, In Wisconsin

We are learning a lot about a changing America, and a changing political landscape, from watching the ongoing story in Wisconsin about legislation that would affect collective bargaining rules for public employees.  The story began with public employee unions flexing their muscle.  They prevailed upon their members — many of whom apparently called in “sick” — to flood the state capitol in protest.  They also prevailed upon Democratic state senators to flee the state and bring the legislative process to a halt due to lack of a quorum.

But then something surprising happened.  Yesterday, a counter-demonstration occurred, as thousands of “Tea Party” activists and other citizens came to the state capitol to support Wisconsin’s Republican Governor in his budget-cutting efforts.  In all, police estimated that 68,000 people came to the state capitol to either support or oppose the collective bargaining bill, and they did so peacefully.  Even more interesting, police report that there were heated arguments between the opposing sides, but no violence.

It is not surprising that teachers and public employees would turn out to protest; their pay and benefits will be directly affected by the outcome.  What I think is extraordinary, however, is that thousands of citizens whose interests are not directly affected were motivated to spend a Saturday outside, advocating in support of the budget-cutting efforts of Wisconsin’s governor.  It says a lot about the deep level of alarm about out-of-control spending that thousands of people would spend their precious weekend hours at a counter-protest.  Wisconsin’s governor, and his Republican allies in the state legislature, must have been encouraged by the strong show of support — which probably is the tip of a much larger iceberg.

It also says something that thousands of people could turn out to support competing sides of a hotly debated issue without violence.  The teachers, public employees, and citizens who went to the state capitol to exercise their rights to free speech and assembly look a lot more adult than the Wisconsin Democratic Senators who turned tail and ran out of state rather than participate in the political process as they were elected to do.