LEXINGTON, Ky. — During the 11th annual Kentucky Regional Tour last week, about 50 Central Kentucky leaders toured and studied various sites throughout the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area. During the two-day bus tour, Lexington leaders engaged with their peers, heard about the region’s success stories in key policy areas, learned about common issues and challenges, discovered collaborative opportunities, and strengthened relationships with attendees and others in the region.
Day one of the tour featured stops at the Kenton County Government Center, Kenton County Detention Center, Northern Kentucky University’s Health Innovation Center, the University of Kentucky College of Medicine on NKU’s campus, and Braxton Brewing Co. Topics covered public policy and economic development issues, efforts to address the area’s opioid and substance abuse problems, partnerships between the business community and NKU, the region’s logistics economy, and tourism.
Like many regions, Northern Kentucky businesses need workers, and one way local leaders are addressing this is through the GROW NKY initiative, which works with a variety of workforce partners in the region to strengthen the talent pipeline in high demand sectors like advanced manufacturing, health sciences, logistics, I.T., financial services and construction. Part of that process for regional leaders also includes the re-entry of felons into the workplace and substance abuse recovery, which officials at the Kenton County Detention Center are addressing to alleviate overcrowding in the jail. Through a partnership with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, Kenton County has implemented a 12-step program for inmates dealing with opioid addictions called the COR-12 treatment plan, which includes a 90-day residential treatment followed by six months of aftercare with job training and other services. About 150 inmates are currently enrolled in the program.
On the campus of Northern Kentucky University, the Central Kentucky delegation heard about the unique partnership between the University of Kentucky, Northern Kentucky University, and St. Elizabeth Healthcare to not only tackle the physician shortage in Kentucky, but to also provide additional higher education opportunities for students by creating the UK College of Medicine on the NKU campus. In August, Northern Kentucky University welcomed the University of Kentucky College of Medicine’s first class of medical students.
To close out the first day of the tour, the group visited Braxton Brewing to learn about ongoing revitalization efforts in downtown Covington. Later, participants heard the story of how CVG Airport landed Amazon’s massive Prime Air cargo hub, a $1.5 billion investment coming in 2021. Officials expect about 3,000 jobs to be created from the project.
Day two began with a presentation on two community partnerships at the refurbished Hotel Covington in downtown. The Northern Kentucky Regional Alliance, an organization comprised of regional leaders committed to uniting and mobilizing leadership around initiatives that produce tangible results for Northern Kentucky in the areas of health, education, job growth and community vibrancy. Covington Partners is a unique education collaborative helping the area’s youth achieve success through the use of mentoring, family engagement, wellness initiatives, a substance abuse prevention program and academic enrichment during non-school hours.
The next stop at the University of Cincinnati’s 1819 Innovation Hub enabled the delegation to hear about a few of the region’s initiatives focused on innovation and entrepreneurship. A one-stop destination where industry meets the university’s talent, the 1819 Innovation Hub is outfitted with state-of-the-art technology and incorporates a 12,000-s.f. makerspace, shared office spaces, classrooms, huddle rooms and gathering spaces. The group also learned more about Northern Kentucky Tri-ED’s program called Blue North, which is focused on building a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem in Northern Kentucky that connects both startups and small businesses with the mentors, partners, resources, and potential funders they need to succeed.
Through lunch and a tour of Findlay Market in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine area, the Central Kentucky group saw first-hand how local business leaders are turning vacant properties in what was a high-crime area of the city into one that is bustling and trendy within this historic neighborhood. On the way back to Lexington, the delegation made a stop at the Ark Encounter in Williamstown to hear how the attraction has boosted tourism in Kentucky by as much as 20 percent.
Commerce Lexington Inc. Board Chair Jeff Koonce, market president of WesBanco Bank, said, “The Kentucky Regional Tour not only provides us a great opportunity to learn about another region’s successes and challenges, but also enables us to say ‘thank you’ to the leaders in other areas for their support of Central Kentucky. We often overlook just how inter-connected the different regions of the commonwealth are, and many times we find that other communities are facing similar issues to the Bluegrass region.”