Every year we select a new crop of People to Watch. And every year we're blown away by the talent, innovation, smarts and drive exhibited by Columbus movers and shakers across myriad professions. This year alone we've got representatives from fields as far-flung as video game design, AIDS activism and comics.

Every year we select a new crop of People to Watch. And every year we're blown away by the talent, innovation, smarts and drive exhibited by Columbus movers and shakers across myriad professions. This year alone we've got representatives from fields as far-flung as video game design, AIDS activism and comics.

Even so, all nine people in the 2016 class of People to Watch expressed the importance of making a difference within the local community.

"There's something about staying and claiming your space that is … really necessary," said AIDS activist and Ohio native Zach Reau. "I think of going to other places with cultures I wouldn't quite understand and integrating myself into those, but I think it is more powerful and productive to change the one I'm familiar with."

Additionally, William Evans, the brains behind blacknerdproblems.com, a website designed to address inequality in pop-culture coverage, said Columbus offers most of the benefits of big-city life with a freedom more in line with smaller towns.

"I think if [the site] were New York-based, there'd be more eyes on it … but also there'd be more pressure pushing us one way or another," he said. "Being able to start it in Columbus and put my own money into it has afforded me more freedom. I feel like it's been easier to control our own destiny."

Read on to see how this year's batch of People to Watch are embracing this sense of freedom and working to help shape the future of Columbus.