Sunday, July 23, 2000

He wants the world for Cincinnati

Neil Hensley travels the planet, enticing international corporations to come here

        It's not all glitz and glamour, this life of international travel Neil Hensley leads.

        As former director of international marketing and now director of business attractions for the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Hensley is as likely to be munching Peking duck in a Ming Dynasty Palace as digging in his Newport garden.

        “It is glamorous, all these exotic locations and incredible receptions in incredibly luxurious buildings. That's one reason I love this job.

        “But at the same time, you have to be "on' all the time, usually suffering from jet lag and zero sleep. That's work.”

        Mr. Hensley, 39 and single, has spent 15 years selling Cincinnati — telling foreign businesses this is the place to open a U.S. facility.

(Enquirer photo)
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        Greater Cincinnati was recently ranked the No. 4 U.S. market for European expansion by Expansion Management, a trade publication for the development industry. Also: In 1985, Cincinnati had 10 Japanese and four German companies; today, it has 100 Japanese and 40 German companies.

        It's impossible to say how large a role Mr. Hensley has played but David Smith, manager of economic development for Cinergy, calls it significant: “He holds us together in the international arena by doing a wonderful job coordinating, then follow-up, follow-up, follow-up until he succeeds.”

        James Sisto, director of international trade for the Ohio Department of Development, echoes Mr. Smith: “His efforts to market Cincinnati have been incredibly creative.”

        One day it's off to the Paris Air Show to tout Cincinnati's aerospace industry. The next, it's off to an expo in Munich to hawk our German heritage. He's in London now, on a trip that nudged him over the 500,000 air miles mark, to explain our location at the juncture of three states and the tax options that offers.

        It's such a dizzying round of airports and hotels he barely has time to launder socks, let alone enjoy his restored home in Newport's Mansion Hill area.

        When he is here, he gardens — “I incorporate ideas from my travels” — and plays with Winston, his Westie (who stays with friends a lot).

        Last year, he flew to Berlin for the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue Conference, a meeting of 150-200 CEOs of U.S. and European multinational corporations.

        Later, when he decided he wanted it here, he and assistant Rene Thomas put together a presentation and personally flew it to Washington — in a silk-lined box.

        “Dialogues have been in Berlin, Rome, Seville, Chicago, places like that. But you know what? We got it. We have 600 people — CEOs, spouses — here in November (16-18), for something that will thrust us onto the international stage.”

        How about a few questions first?

        After a zillion overseas trips, when I vacation ...

It has been in southern France for the past three years, a different village each time. I fan out to the countryside, visit wine regions, historic sites, gardens, the beach.

        A trip I'll never forget ...

China six years ago. The nicest hotel I ever stayed in was there, and one of the nicest lunches, at a former palace of the Ming Dynasty, was there. So was a trainful of chickens, rabbits, birds, straw and seeds, and me in a business suit being stared at.

        My proudest moment ...

Finding out we got the TransAtlantic Dialogue. The last four cities in the running were Boston, Atlanta, Miami and us. ... We got it, proving we can be a player.

        If I weren't doing this ...

        I'd design gardens for elderly and disabled people. Gardens where they could tend plants from a wheelchair.

        Coming home, rounding the bend on I-75 and seeing the skyline ...

I'm proud. It's something I show every visitor and without fail, they gasp, then smile. First-time visitors think this is a flat city with cornfields and smokestacks, so the view surprises them. They were expecting Columbus or something.

        The easiest thing about selling Cincinnati ...

        Everyone works really well together. Whether it's the hotel coming up with a room for an extra night, the server who's so polite, the enthusiastic cab driver or the state people who rush down when we ask, we show a real team.

        The hardest thing about selling Cincinnati ...

        Name recognition. We did a survey recently of German companies considering investing in a U.S. city. Almost none could place Cincinnati — didn't even know if it was a city or a state.

        The thing I never forget with all this traveling ...

        How fortunate I am to have this job. I have friends with the same degree (German studies) who never got to use it. I did from day one. I travel, meet great people and I get paid for it.


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