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Chamber Spotlight: Region must be welcoming of diversity, inclusion to grow international trade, jobs

By Hannah Carver
NKyTribune reporter

Growing the economy becomes an even more complex issue in what’s now a global economy, and that’s why the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce took on two major focuses: diversity & inclusion and international trade.

“We are not just competing locally or nationally, but we’re now competing internationally on a regular basis,” Brent Cooper, president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said. “Diversity & inclusion and international trade are linked for a very deliberate reason because we know that if we are going to compete, we have to bring in talent from around the world. That’s just the way it is. We cannot grow with what we have.”

NKY Chamber President & CEO Brent Cooper presents a bottle of New Riff bourbon to a Canadian delegation during their visit to Greater Cincinnati.

As part of the Chamber’s diversity and inclusion effort, they invited all the regional multicultural chambers to come together for a presentation to the Northern Kentucky International Trade Association (NKITA).

NKITA provides a singular point for Northern Kentucky businesses to gain guided access to the network of import and export resources, and the goal of this meeting was to increase engagement on both sides.

“We’ve got to be deliberate and intentional and welcoming,” Cooper said. “In all of the different multicultural chambers, we’d like to see more Northern Kentuckians present, and we would like to see their leaders present at our events.”

Workforce is a main issue that all these economic groups have in common.

“Everybody is looking for talent, ways to connect, ways to collaborate, ways to get better…they all have a stake in talent attraction and retention, and so do we,” Cooper said. “We as a community are collaborating on efforts to tell our story outside the Greater Cincinnati area, and so when we do that, collectively, we are much stronger.”

This October, the region will have its chance to shine, as the Kentucky’s Edge Bourbon Conference & Festival and BLINK Cincinnati are to be held on back-to-back weekends.

“We want to bring people to the area and then tell our story,” Cooper said. “If we can show that we’re welcoming and keep people here and be deliberate, then we can grow talent and make sure that diversity and inclusion is a part of everything that we do. It has to be in order for us to succeed.”

Talent attraction was also emphasized in the Chamber’s conversations with the Canadian delegation that visited Greater Cincinnati earlier this week.

“Our local universities are not attracting as many foreign students as we would like, and as they used to. Canada, on the other hand, they were telling us they’re up 120 percent in foreign students since 2016,” Cooper said. “We need to learn from that. How do we be a welcoming place that brings in top tech talent?”

“We have a lot of companies that are foreign–based,” Cooper said. “DHL has three international hubs around the world —  one in Europe, one in the Middle East, and one right here. International trade is a big deal.”

With Amazon continuing to expand in Northern Kentucky, through a $1.6 billion commitment, the need to bring in talent is even more pronounced.

“Much like what happened in Louisville with UPS, we expect that to happen here. For example, UPS’ presence in Louisville accounts for about 170 businesses that have been started or moved there because of their presence and proximity to UPS. That’s a huge impact, and we’re already seeing it happen here.”

Representataives of NKY show off the region’s bourbon during the Canadians’ visit to the region.

Cooper sees part of the Chamber’s role as connecting the dots. Most of the region’s economy is made up of small businesses, yet they are still greatly impacted by international trade.

“We’re taking a holistic approach to be able to help with the local, state, national, and international needs of our members,” Cooper said. “We look at all the service trades, all the small businesses, the restaurants — they depend on the international trade aspect of what we have here.”

To maintain this level of international trade and continue to grow it, though, there is work to do as a community.

“We have to be adding people to our region, and in order to add to our region, we have to be a welcoming place.” Cooper said. “So what does that mean? That means all aspects of being welcoming —  not just at the business level — but also at the restaurant down the street, at the grocery store, at your church and your local barbershop. We have to be welcoming across the board and encourage everybody to be that way and have that mindset.”

One initiative that will work to strengthen that mindset is the Gateways for Growth Challenge. As one of this year’s grantees, Northern Kentucky joins a cohort committed to developing concrete strategies to integrate immigrants, foster economic growth, and promote inclusion for all residents.

The Chamber, through their GROW NKY initiative, will utilize the $25,000 grant to develop a strategic plan that aligns existing efforts throughout the region to create a comprehensive approach to immigrant integration.

“That’s the heart of it. If we’re going to grow our economy, which is the mission of the Chamber, we’re going to have to be a welcoming place that encourages diversity and inclusion,” Cooper said. “It can’t just be an afterthought. It’s got to be all the time, you’re always thinking about it in your hiring practices, in your HR policies, in your company activities. Are you being a welcoming place?”

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