Sunday, September 14, 2003

Attracting companies

Host city: Development pros

Metro Cincinnati this week gets a chance to show off its extraordinary investments in its riverfronts and other regional assets to development professionals from all 50 states and Europe during the annual meeting of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC). Some relationships built this week could pay off years from now in recruiting a new headquarters company or branch office, with new jobs and tax revenue.

The 1000-plus attendees include IEDC members, developers and site selection consultants who advise companies on which cities to look at, when they are considering a move. Even if just a few add Cincinnati to their must-see list, it could deliver big future benefits for our region.

Development pros also can learn from successes here. We spend more time flogging our mistakes than bragging about successes, but those successes are considerable and region-wide. Visiting experts may see the bigger picture, better than we do, after taking this week's whirlwind tours from Northern Kentucky to Dayton.

Their conference theme this year is "Succeeding in Challenging Times." Most cities are trolling for ways to do more with less, and one of the featured speakers, Delta Air Lines CEO Leo Mullin, can say plenty about adjusting to tough times.

Even on the way in from Delta's airport hub, conference-goers can see at glance how much is being redeveloped here: $870 million spent on two new stadiums, a $324 million all-new Fort Washington Way, the $110 million National Underground Railroad Freedom Center project, Newport's Aquarium and estimated $313 million Levee complex, the $34 million Rosenthal Center for the Arts. New condo construction has caught on downtown. The West End is being reinvented with a $180 million Hope VI mix of rentals and homeowner units. Cincinnati envisions an $819 million Banks development to its central riverfront, and Covington plans its $288 million Riverfront West. Cincinnati Public Schools has begun a $1 billion school-building blitz.

More is on the way. Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley chairs the board of Cincinnati's new development corporation (3CDC). One perk of hosting IEDC's conference is the host city gets to tell its story in the group's quarterly journal. The spring issue lays out metro Cincinnati's "renaissance" in eight articles, including how advanced technology can drive development and how University of Cincinnati is partnering with neighborhood development corporations to revitalize Uptown. UC's building boom is a study in itself.

"We want economic development professionals thinking there's a lot more happening in Cincinnati than they ever thought," says Chamber of Commerce vice president Nick Vehr.

That marketing message deserves wider play here as well as nationwide.

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