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NKY Chamber takes on two particular focuses key to area’s economy — transportation and small business

By Hannah Carver
NKyTribune reporter

This fall, the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce took on two focuses that are key to the area’s economy: transportation and small businesses.

The two go hand-in-hand, according to Brent Cooper, President and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. He said he sees it as the Chamber’s job to help keep small business owners informed of disruptions, and try to reduce those disruptions.

“We talk about a lot of big transportation projects. Obviously, the Brent Spence Bridge is the mother of all transportation projects, and I always feel like it’s the Mount Everest of our region,” Cooper said. “I feel like once we get that done, so many other things will fall into place, and we’ll be a lot more aligned as a region and a lot more effective.”

While frequently, much of the talk about the region’s transportation needs centers around big businesses, like Amazon, Cooper said he feels the traffic issues impact small businesses and entrepreneurs the most. When there’s a smaller workforce of just a few people, one or two people stuck in traffic have a much larger effect on the day’s productivity.

Brent Cooper

Of course, Cooper knows well himself the headache that can be Cincinnati-area traffic.

“Last summer, when the Brent Spence was being worked on for maintenance — this is not made up — it took me an hour and a half to get my kid to the dentist in the middle of the day,” Cooper said. “That’s because of the snowball effect that the Brent Spence has on the region. It’s a key artery, and once it’s clogged, it just disrupts everything.”

That’s why it’s important not just to look at transportation as a workforce issue, or as a goods and services issue, but rather it should also be examined as a quality of life issue.

“I have a lot of meetings these days where the Brent Spence continuously comes up,” Cooper said. “It continues to be a top issue, not just for our Chamber, but for the Cincinnati Chamber, so I do want people to know, we haven’t forgotten.”

Everything is on the table right now, according to Cooper, and they will continue to have conversations, build community will, and have an open mind about how best to complete the project.

Of course, while it may seem like it at times, the economic focus in Northern Kentucky does not completely revolve around the Brent Spence Bridge.

“We look at things from a macro level and from a micro level,” Cooper said.

On the macro level, there have been some big wins for the region in the last year — for instance, the development in Boone County.

“We just got the money from the federal government, from the state, from the county. Everybody kicked in collaboratively to get this expansion done, which is very exciting,” Cooper said. “We’ve had one of the most successful years we’ve had in the region, in part because of Rep. Sal Santoro. He is chair of the House Transportation Committee, and in that role, he helped lead the charge to try to get as many resources as possible for our region.”

Over the last year, Northern Kentucky earned $67 million in from the federal government for transportation, and through House Bill 202, the Kentucky legislature approved $260 million for the region.

That funding includes a $6.5 million expansion of Kentucky 536, as well as $7.5 million to mitigate congestion in Boone and Kenton Counties, just to name a few of the projects.

On the micro side of projects, the Chamber continues to discuss options like Red Bike, scooters, and walking and biking trails — all things that are impactful throughout communities and are often improvements to quality of life.

“That’s what we tout the most: That we want to find solutions that impact our overall economy, that will grow the economy, and that will help us attract and retain talent,” Cooper said.

Cooper admits he does look on enviously at the mass transit systems of other metropolitan areas, but that said, he’s a big fan of TANK.

“I think we need to support it and expand it. A lot of people don’t realize how many small businesses depend on the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky,” Cooper said. “The more public transportation we have the better off we’re going to be.”

Cooper’s urge to address transportation stems, in part, from his own background as a small business owner, who has seen firsthand the impact traffic congestion can have.

“Part of why I was so passionate about transportation in general is that I don’t feel that we as a region, or as a state, have been historically — in recent history —investing in the way we should,” Cooper said.

“I think that’s starting to change with people like Sal Santoro at the helm, and with some of our discussions that we’re having with business and civic leaders all around. I think people are recognizing that we have to start building roads and bridges to accommodate any kind of growth that we want.”

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