Northern Kentucky’s relaxed urban feel is attracting people and new business

By Abby Laub

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Only three miles from Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati. Bellevue is a quaint town with local shopping and a thriving Main Street program.

In Northern Kentucky you’ll immediately find a vibrant culture and thriving population that enjoys its ample and unique opportunities to work, live and play. This makes Jack Moreland, president of Newport-based Southbank Partners, smile. Moreland and his team have worked tirelessly to coordinate projects that support economic development in the cities along Northern Kentucky’s bank of the Ohio River by making them more pleasant.

The quality of life improvements in Northern Kentucky, Moreland says, are very tangible.

mrnk-cover300“The thing that pleases me the most is the aggregate amount of activity that goes on within the urban core now, as opposed to what it was 10 to 15 years ago,” he said. “I lived here 50 years ago, so I saw the flight out (of the core), but now I’m seeing it coming back and it’s really refreshing. And it’s all happening in all six of our cities.”

Southbank Partners is a coalition of government, business and community leaders dedicated to improving the area’s quality of life and economy. Some of its most notable accomplishments include the creation of the Southbank Shuttle, the Purple People Bridge, and Developers Day. Other major projects are in the Southbank Partners pipeline, especially the Riverfront Commons initiative.

“I don’t think there’s an area in the Midwest that’s more scenic than the Northern Kentucky area,” Moreland said. “It’s got a small-town feel to it. It’s not a huge population, but we have big city amenities, plus scenic areas. And the most important thing is we have a whole lot of friendly people, and they’re driven and innovative.”

With unique assets like world’s the largest swinging bell – oh, yes, it rings – a 500-foot replica of Noah’s Ark, waterfront activities and cultural attractions, Northern Kentucky offers plenty of things to do for residents and visitors and also boasts a lower cost of living than its neighbor Cincinnati.

The most exciting Southbank project in the works is Riverfront Commons, an 11.5-mile trail that will span the riverbanks of Covington, Newport, Bellevue, Dayton, Ludlow and Fort Thomas. The recreational trail is being custom-designed to allow locals and visitors to enjoy walking and biking through a variety of neighborhoods, views of the river, and food, drink and entertainment.

Where happy people are, business wants to be.

“It’s already paying dividends for us,” said Moreland. “We’re having jobs come to town because of the ability to bike ride and walk. That’s what this is all about; it’s fostering jobs through more involvement of companies and young people coming with these companies. It’s all playing to the property well.”

One such big dividend was the late 2016 announcement that Clinical Trial & Consultive Services (CTI) is relocating its headquarters and 500 jobs to Covington from Cincinnati.

“One of the reasons they cited was the opportunities created by Riverfront Commons,” said Moreland, noting that a company of such high caliber values a stellar quality of life for its employees, in addition to cheaper costs of doing business.

CTI is relocating its global headquarters to the RiverCenter Towers, creating a significant increase in revenue and employment throughout Covington. CTI provides therapeutic expertise to pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries and will become the largest private-sector health sciences employer in Covington.

Another entity that has taken note is Cleveland- and Cincinnati-based Bad Girl Ventures. The nonprofit organization empowers female entrepreneurs and just opened an office in Covington.

“Kenton County and the City of Covington are investing heavily in infrastructure that supports small business,” said BGV Executive Director Nancy Aichholz. “Covington is a safe, great walking environment. People are really neighborly and want to see their local small businesses succeed.”

She cited the excitement about revitalized neighborhoods and intentional focus on business and lifestyle as key factors to BGV’s decision to move to the area.

Recreation is a major component of Northern Kentucky’s thriving lifestyle. The area is seeking to earn a “Trail Town” designation from the state of Kentucky.

“Southbank Trail Towns is unique because we have six cities that will be partners, and we’re in urban core and not out in rural areas,” Moreland said.

Moreover, Cincinnati-based bicycle share system Red Bike is expanding into Northern Kentucky with its unique amenity that accommodates tourists and residents alike. Red Bikes have a fleet of 440 bikes, with 56 stations in Cincinnati and 12 in Kentucky.

“Bike share systems have started to pop up around the country just a few years before we launched in Cincy,” said Red Bike Executive Director Jason Barron. “And it was pretty obvious to a lot of leaders that a bike system would be a real game changer for our region.”

Red Bike makes the broader metro region more interconnected than ever, since pedestrians can easily cross the river by bike.

“I think the key is that riding a bicycle is a lot of fun,” Barron said. “One of the things that’s made it improve the quality of life for folks is it’s added a quality of fun for people when they need to get around.”

Daniel Hunt, president of Legacy Leadership, said that ease of mobility is a huge draw for today’s young professionals. The favorable cost of living in Northern Kentucky, he said, also brings young professionals to the area to live and play.

“There are a lot of opportunities in arts and things like that in Cincinnati that are very close, but you also have the opportunity to live in Northern Kentucky at considerably lower prices,” Hunt said. “And NKY is more relaxed … everyone’s very friendly.”

In the business world, too, young professionals can get involved with more ease in Kentucky.

“With a phone call you can get a meeting with a local CEO,” Hunt said. “I talked to people who moved here from Boston or Chicago, and it’s a lot easier to get involved and make a significant impact here.”

Hunt, too, cited good parks and the Riverfront Commons as big draws for young professionals. He said Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky compete with locations like Seattle and Chicago for an excellent quality of life.

“Covington and the river cities are undergoing a renaissance, and it’s all organic growth and change,” he said.

Organizations like Southbank Partners try to help facilitate that organic growth, and Moreland thinks with all of the positive change people and businesses will continue to seek out Northern Kentucky because “this is where they want to be.”

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