This article is part of our Cocktail Chatter series, where we dive into the wild, weird, and wondrous corners of history to share over a cocktail and impress your friends.

Smack dab in the middle of America is the city of Columbus, Ohio. But despite the Midwest’s homogeneous reputation, it’s actually a pretty diverse place: The state capital is a metropolitan hub of varied beliefs, interests, and political views where you’ll find families, corporate bros, and anarchist punks frequenting the same bars and restaurants, as well as 50-plus colleges and universities that call the city home. Through the ‘90s and early 2000s, Columbus also was America’s top test market for businesses trying out new products in the real world before deciding to roll them out nationally. Why Columbus? Because its demographics have always been indicative of the rest of the U.S. — just on a smaller scale.

“In a broad brush, our market may look unusual,” says Paul Carringer of Caring Marketing Solutions, to Columbus Monthly. “What you find within that little pie of Columbus is a variety of groups of people that do fit up well with other parts of the nation.” According to The Columbus Region, no one industry represents more than 18 percent of the city’s total employment. On top of that, the city is steadily increasing in size, particularly in terms of young college grads and millennials, which are both great focus groups for future markets. In terms of its location, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission states that Columbus is within a 10-hour drive from 46 percent of the total U.S. population. That might help explain why so many companies, like Wendy’s, Honda of America, DSW, Victoria’s Secret, and Nationwide Insurance all have their headquarters in Ohio’s capital.

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All of this said, other U.S. cities have challenged Columbus’s claim to the title of the nation’s unofficial test market. NPR stated in 2009 that Albany had become the new top test market, but a few other sources claim that the title has since been given to Nashville. Regardless of where it currently is, marketers have gotten more savvy over the years, and different factors go into deciding on testing grounds these days. It’s less about how well a city reflects national trends, and more about how well a city represents the particular customer segment a company hopes to attract.

For instance, in 2013, the Ontario-based Tim Hortons Cafe and Bake Shop chain decided to introduce a new coffee roast to its menu. But before rolling out its Dark Roast coffee throughout the U.S. and Canada, Tim Hortons tested it exclusively in Columbus. The brand’s baked goods were popular there and the Columbus community was somewhat indifferent to its coffee, so Hortons execs figured a new blend would get noticed there. Unlike health care and tech innovation startups, which generally encourage the world to observe and critique their progress, fast-food brands operate in a purely consumer choice-fueled line of work where competition is high. Consequently, such companies want to fine-tune their upcoming products via test markets before anyone knows what could be in the works. Whether they want it or not, though, testing a fast food anywhere creates hype around the brand responsible. Testers are welcome to post the location-blessed exclusivity of a new Wendy’s sandwich on social media, generating talk about the brand. Then again, this doesn’t help the brand for the purposes of the test itself, so companies often won’t give away any more info than what appears on customers’ twitter feeds.

As marketing gets more advanced and companies put more thought into where and how they run test research, Columbus still has major pull as a prime test market. It’s still small enough where one can be standing between high-rises one moment and driving through rural farmland on the city’s outskirts 20 minutes later. Although it remains a relatively unsung land of ever-increasing opportunities, Columbus welcomes all walks of life in both spirit and infrastructure. Why the nation’s test market capital may be Austin tomorrow or Kalamazoo in a year from now depends on, well, more nebulous reasons than we may ever know.