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Regionalism, collaboration and Amazon HQ2 on the menu at Northern Kentucky Chamber Eggs ‘N Issues

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By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

The topic for the October Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Eggs ‘N Issues discussion at Receptions in Erlanger was “Tri-ED & REDI Cincinnati – A Regional Partnership.”

Johnna Reeder, left of REDI Cincinnati and Dan Tobergte of Northern Kentucky Tri-ED talk about the importance of regional collaboration at the NKY Chamber October Eggs ‘N Issues (photos by Mark Hansel).

Johnna Reeder, president and CEO of REDI Cincinnati and Dan Tobergte, who holds the same position with Northern Kentucky Tri-ED, explained how that partnership works and why it must continue to thrive for the region to remain successful.

Reeder said the region has two economic development corporation because each has its own swim lanes . REDI Cincinnati, the Regional Economic Development Initiative, represents the 15-county Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which includes five counties in Southwest Ohio, seven in Northern Kentucky and three in Southeastern Indiana.

“I always like to tell people that we want to be that first point of contact for companies looking to locate in the region, or expand within the region,” Reeder said. “I’m quick to say, we want to be the first point, but we’re not the only point. There are a lot of resources and organizations out there that can help your business grow or can help a business locate to the region.”

KPMG, a professional services company and one of the country’s big four auditors, identifies this area as the least costly business location in America and Reeder said its not just a cliché that this region is hot.

“There is a lot going on,” Reeder said. “The amount of activity that we’re seeing in the Greater Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky Southeastern Indiana area, has us all covered up, and I mean high-quality projects.”

Tobergte often refers to economic development as a team sport and said Northern Kentucky is fortunate to have REDI Cincinnati as a partner.

Reeder

“We’re the front door a lot of times and when prospects and capital investments and jobs are looking at the region, they are going to come to, as Johnna said, an economic development agency,” Tobergte said. “Johnna will handle them on a regional basis, from a macro standpoint, the MSA, for example. We’re going to drill down a little bit tighter, into the three counties of Boone, Kenton and Campbell.”

It’s no secret that Amazon is looking for a location for its second world headquarters, HQ2, or that Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky is actively pursuing the project.

Reeder said people have told her that with every major city in the country likely courting Amazon, Greater Cincinnati doesn’t have a chance to land HQ2.

“We would be crazy not to go after a project such as Amazon – we’re that right-sized city, that right-sized region,  that can get things done,” Reeder said. “We can compete with the larger markets because we don’t have their traffic, we don’t have their housing costs, we don’t have their cost of doing business and both of our states are doing pretty darn well when it comes to being business-friendly. A lot of our competitors cannot say that.”

Reeder acknowledged that the region has its challenges when it comes to workforce development, but that is a problem every market shares.

Tobergte

“We have strong universities and community colleges,” Reeder said. “When you see the quality of the projects, we are getting the wins and we are seeing happen in this area.”

Northern Kentucky is at the forefront of some of the positive trends occurring in distribution and a big part of that is simple geography.

“When you are within a one day’s drive or a 90-minute flight of half the U.S. buying power, that helps you out when it comes distribution,” Reeder said. “That’s one of many reasons that Northern Kentucky and this region was chosen for the Amazon Prime location. We’re geographically blessed where we are located in the United States.”

It’s not just pie-in-the-sky enthusiasm that has Tobergte and Reeder excited about the region’s chances to land HQ2.

Tobergte said Tri-ED and REDI Cincinnati have been encouraged by Amazon to go after HQ2, and that’s what they are doing.

“To follow up on Amazon Prime Air, we’re going to work extremely hard on that deal, because it’s going to show well, as we compete for HQ2,” Tobergte said. “We’ve got a great opportunity to do well with our current client. There are more Amazonians that live and work in the state of Kentucky than any other state in the country, outside of Washington.”

Kentucky has 11 Amazon fulfillment centers, an Amazon Web Services facility in central Kentucky and Amazon Prime Air.

“So they know us very well,” Tobergte said.

Responses to the Amazon RFP were due October 19 and Amazon expects to make a decision on the location some time next year. To view the Amazon HQ2 RFP click here.

Landing HQ2 in the region would be transformative for the region and akin to winning the World Series, the Super Bowl and the Stanley Cup of economic development all at once.

It is, however, a project for which there is immense competition and REDI Cincinnati and Tri-ED have to maintain a focus on the economic health of the region as a whole.

The challenges of workforce development and available pad-ready sites remain a challenge in the region.

“If you don’t have product, you are not even going to get a look and in our business, that’s sites and buildings,” Reeder said. “You have to have good utility rates. You have to make sure that it’s business-friendly and a great business climate.”

The buzzword in economic development used to be location, but Reeder said that has been replaced with talent.

“Everyone in the U.S. is struggling. We’re all fighting for those same workers,” Reeder said. “We just are not meeting the needs of tomorrow’s workforce. There’s going to be winners and losers when it comes to the talent game.”

She credits the work of the Northern Kentucky Chamber, Tri-ED and others, in collaboration with Gateway Community and Technical College, for helping the region get ahead in the talent game.

“I know that it’s hard work and it’s messy work, rolling up sleeves to get it done, but it’s getting noticed across the country,” Reeder said.

Tobergte said the industrial sites element is also critical.

“It’s something that we’ve been very involved with it at Tri-ED from the standpoint that we know we have a challenge there and that the landscape is different now,” Tobergte said. “We’re going to be going out with an RFP to try to get some assistance from the professional site-location community to help us gauge what are the future land needs for this region from an industrial standpoint.”

“It’s been tough, from time to time, for representatives in Northern Kentucky to be serving on the boards in Frankfort, we have the same problem in Columbus. We’ve got to be at the table, or we’re on the menu folks,” Johnna Reeder, CEO REDI Cincinnati

Distribution and logistics has become increasingly important in the region, but it is still just part of the economic landscape.

“It’s here, it’s part of us, it’s what we do well, but we will not forget advanced manufacturing as a target, as an industry that makes up over half of our industries in this region,” Tobergte said. “Those industries that export their products and services outside the region and bring dollars back in, we can then use those dollars to circulate amongst us in our local economy here. It’s so very important to have that and if we don’t have that primary industry influx, we’re just going to be trading our own little dollars around here.”

Tobergte and Reeder agreed that the increased presence of information technology (IT) companies and entrepreneurs have also helped create a more economically diverse business environment in the region.

Tobergte said it is up to the member of the business community to act as ambassadors for the region at every opportunity. The use of social media and the sharing of information about the Greater Cincinnati MSA in travels throughout the country are effective tools in telling the region’s story.

“We have a great way of getting the word out about Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati.” Tobergte said. “Each one of you can help us by doing that and telling the great stories that we’ve got here. If we don’t have very good public relations with everybody that works in this region all pulling together, we’re not going to be able to capitalize on the opportunities that we’ve got.”

Reeder said members of communities throughout the region also have to be willing to speak out at the state level about issues of concern to Northern Kentuckians and Greater Cincinnatians.

“It’s been tough, from time to time, for representatives in Northern Kentucky to be serving on the boards in Frankfort, (and) we have the same problem in Columbus,” Reeder said. “We’ve got to be at the table, or we’re on the menu folks. You’ve got to be there to represent your region in the state.”

The monthly Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Eggs ‘N Issues meeting brings community leaders together to discuss issues of regional importance.

For more information on all Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce events and activities, click here

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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