CITY AT THE HEAD OF ITS CLASS
Consolidation, talent pool have made Columbus a hotbed for educational publishers
Sunday, August 05, 2007
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Students of every stripe across the country will have some connection to Columbus when they return to school this year. The city has quietly joined the big leagues as a player in the educational-publishing industry, with thousands of people employed by several major companies. "Central Ohio is really becoming a magnet for educational publishers," said Jay Diskey, executive director of the Washington-based American Association of Publishers School Division. "This was a business that for a long time was based in New York and Boston. Now, a very significant part of it is in Ohio." Publishing giants McGraw-Hill and Pearson Education have major textbook and teachingmaterials operations here. Highlights for Children and its Zaner-Bloser language-arts unit also are based in Columbus, putting the city on a par with the likes of Boston and San Francisco within the industry. Accessibility, livability and a good talent pool are among the reasons Columbus has attracted more than its share of publishing firms, executives in the industry say. "Columbus is a great place to hire people," said Dan Caton, president of McGraw-Hill Learning Group, which has offices at Easton. "We?ve found a rich talent pool here, and it?s also an attractive place for people and their families to live." "The university helps a lot," said Bob Page, president of Zaner-Bloser. "But what you really want to acquire in employees is experience in educational publishing. Having other publishing companies in the market actually really helps in both finding people here and in making it less risky for someone looking to relocate here." Riding a wave
Trends have helped educational publishers in recent years. Rising enrollment nationwide, from kindergarten through high school, has fueled steady growth in demand for educational resources, Diskey said. The federal No Child Left Behind Act also has helped, and increasing demand for alternative materials to support students who are gifted, slower to learn or learning English as a second language have provided an additional boost. Pearson?s Columbus operations are benefiting from other trends, company spokeswoman Wendy Spiegel said. The publishing company?s local units focus on teacher training and materials for vocational colleges. "We?re in the midst of an unprecedented retirement of teachers over the next 10 years, so we expect strong demand for teacher-education materials," Spiegel said. "Our careers group focuses on high-growth employment areas, and there?s been a lot of growth in career colleges overall." Highlights, meanwhile, has branched out with its new High Five magazine for preschoolers ? a hot growth segment for media ? and a catalog selling educational toys and other goods from outside vendors. Industry consolidation
Like many industries, educational publishing has experienced a wave of consolidation in the past decade or two. Jeff Johnston, vice president and executive publisher of a Pearsonowned division that publishes teacher materials, said there were about 30 college-textbook publishers when he started in the business in the late 1970s. "There are about five now," he said. Zaner-Bloser, a language-arts publisher acquired by Highlights in 1972, is unique in being a locally based company that is more than 100 years old. McGraw and Pearson have grown in the Columbus market by acquiring other companies. In fact, both established a local foothold in part by acquiring different parts of Merrill Publishing Co., a Columbus educational publisher that was owned by Bell & Howell until the late 1980s. In 1990, a venture formed by McGraw and Macmillan Publishers acquired Merrill?s K-12 publishing operations, based in Westerville. McGraw-Hill acquired full control of the venture in 1993. The company?s presence in Columbus grew further as McGraw merged several other companies, including Laidlaw and Bennett/McKnight, into its Merrill-acquired business over the years. Technology and education
Well-known names have been one of the few constants in an otherwise rapidly changing business. Technology has altered the way teaching materials are produced and delivered, with much of the business gravitating toward computers. Teaching standards and the way that learning materials are adopted at the state and local level also have shifted dramatically in the past two decades. "When I started out (in the late ?70s), we were writing things out on tablets and had the department assistant type it up," recalled Darlene Leshnock, a McGraw vice president. "Obviously, that?s changed a lot. Technology also changes content: You can do things with calculators and computers that would have been very tedious to do by hand. Technology allows students to explore a lot more math concepts." One thing technology hasn?t done is eliminate the need for publishing executives to meet with their customers. Travel is a regular part of the job for many; Leshnock estimates she spends 25 percent of her time on the road. Last week, Leshnock was in Sacramento, Calif., where she was attending a meeting of the board that decides which curriculum materials will be adopted by California. Every state has its own standards for curriculum, and 22 are so-called adoption states, in which a state-level group makes decisions on what specific materials school districts may choose from. Other states, including Ohio, leave decisions on materials to local boards of education. Still growing
McGraw is still in the middle of an effort to fill more than 100 job openings in Columbus, after expanding its local staff to more than 1,400, up from 1,100 two years ago. The industry outlook is expected to remain strong the next several years. The market for instructional materials is about $8.5 billion in the U.S. Core textbooks account for about half that. "The trends, at least through the end of the decade, are good," Diskey said. "Steady increases in K-12 enrollment are predicted for several years to come, and as a policy area, education certainly has the attention of legislators these days at both the state and local level." firstname.lastname@example.org?
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