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NewsMakers 2021: Tri-ED’s Lee Crume has a plan and a vision — loves where he is and where we can go

This is the 4th in a 5-part series honoring The NKyTribune’s NewsMakers 2021

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

Lee Crume is a man with a plan. The plan starts with a vision, of course, and moves to hiring the right team, empowering them to do their jobs, and celebrating their successes, and ultimately leaves the leader to do his real job — defining the “what’s next.”

Crume had a plan for Tri-ED when he became president in 2019. He built the team to 10, modernized office policies (flexible work environment, open office culture, paternity leave and wellness reimbursement) and laid out four potential opportunities for success and growth for NKY.

Those four opportunities, the team agreed, would be Tri-ED’s focus: data-informed community decision-making, activating the Northern Kentucky Port Authority, targeted business growth, and customized workforce solutions.

He changed the working environment in a big way. The bigger way was that he also changed the language: He defined Tri-ED as a “company,” proving that language matters.

Lee Crume

He lead the “company” through a process so that the team collectively aligned its vision — Opportunity and Prosperity for All Northern Kentuckians — and its cause — Tri-ED serves Northern Kentucky so that the community thrives through the creation of new jobs.

“Since Lee Crume arrived at Tri-ED, he and the board have transformed the organization into a strategic leader for opportunities and growth for all of Northern Kentucky,” said Bob Hoffer of DBL Law, a Tri-ED board member.

“During his tenure, Lee has led all the major economic and governmental groups to collaboratively work toward building inclusive opportunities and broad-based economic prosperity for our communities. He and his team have only just begun.”

2020 was a successful year. Tri-ED exceeded two important goals related to projects and capital investment and was very close to the jobs target.

All this and more as the COVID pandemic intruded and created consequences beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. During the height of the shutdown, Crume led Tri-ED to form a partnership with the Chamber and Horizon Funds to launch the Northern Kentucky Restaurant Relief fund, partnered with the cities of Fort Mitchell and Independence to administer small business grants, and joined the Chamber in putting together webinars on The Cares Act, ARPA, vaccine mandates and more.

Crume sees himself as a kind of “head coach.”

“I get to take credit for an amazing team,” he says. “I am most proud of the good, caring people who come to work everyday and work hard and with such passion for the Northern Kentucky community.”

The fact is, he loves his job and is energized by the amazing possibilities ahead.

CVG CEO Candace McGraw agrees.

“Lee has done an excellent job in crafting a new vision and strategic plan for Tri-ED,” said Candace McGraw, CEO, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, and Tri-ED Board Secretary. “His energy and passion for economic development are contagious.”

Lee Crume signing the Ovation topping-out beam

Here are a few of Crume and his team’s accomplishments:

• Led the five major metro economic development organizations to begin convening and formed HorsePower to align on initiatives and requests for the state and to market Kentucky to site selectors.

• Initiated a community engagement program so that Tri-ED meets with the counties and cities on a schedule to increase the flow of information and data between the communities and Tri-ED.

• Developed a presentation: Best Practices and Considerations for Commercial Land Development that Attract High Paying Jobs that has been shared with city and county leaders in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties and with the NKY Chamber members, OneNKY Alliance and Covington Business Council members.

• Directed the Build + Elevate NKY investor campaign with Bob Heil, board vice-chair and CEO of KLH Engineers, because a prosperous Northern Kentucky of the future requires that we look beyond today to the world around the corner. Support of the Build + Elevate NKY campaign ensures that NKY will lead the Commonwealth and the region for inclusive opportunity and broad-based economic prosperity. The plan creates the first true economic development private/public partnership that will lead to the transformation of Northern Kentucky to 2026 and beyond.

• Earned 2021 & 2020 Mac Conway Awards from Site Selection magazine for excellence in economic development.

• Earned recognition as a finalist in 2021 Best Places to Work finalist from Cincinnati Business Courier for first time in company’s history.

Crume admits that COVID has changed the game.

Lee and the Tri-ED team showed their support for the FIFA choosing Cincinnati as a Host City for 2026 FIFA World Cup.

“COVID set in motion a new world,” he said. “The world we once knew doesn’t exist anymore. The workforce is one thing, certainly. But the ‘new normal’ is not the old normal and is not yet defined. . . We are living the experience right now, and we don’t know what’s on the other side.”

He does understand that COVID has triggered a shift in values.

“People want a different balance in their lives,” he said. “And they have options about how to work and understand that quality of life is important.”

He tells companies that are looking at Northern Kentucky that they will face employee challenges wherever they go, but that Tri-ED, working with public officials and private partners, will help them understand the issues so they become the ’employer of choice’ in a great place to do business and be part of a great community. Through the ‘massive disruption’ that COVID is, Tri-ED has services and can provide value.

As for keeping a balance, Crume is doing that in his own life too. Having recently re-married, he and his wife Heather have a blended family and — for now — a long-distance relationship. She and her son and twin daughters are still in Columbus where the kids are in school. Lee has three adult children, a daughter in Seattle and a son and daughter in Columbus. He and Heather enjoy mountain biking, travel and sailing.

“I am really blessed personally,” he said. “I have a job I love in a terrific community and a family I love. Life is good.

“I love where I am.”

And the region will love where Lee Crume plans to take it.

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