In a recent article featured in the Cincinnati Enquirer, H&A’s Terry Hansen speaks about the opportunities and challenges facing the city today. Participating in a site familiarization tour hosted by REDI Cincinnati, Hansen discussed his insights on what he witnessed first-hand during his visit to the region. Following decades in the leadership of IBM’s site location and workforce development operations, Hansen is now a Principal with H&A based in the firm’s Washington DC office.
The full article is below. To view the article on the Cincinnati Enquirer website, please click the following link: Cincinnati ‘exceeded my expectations’.
Cincinnati ‘exceeded my expectations’
Jason Williams, firstname.lastname@example.org
8:32 a.m. EDT August 16, 2014
The region may be better positioned for another General Electric-like deal after top local leaders worked this week to impress a group of jobs-creating consultants from across the U.S.
Six consultants who scout cities for companies looking to relocate and create jobs saw what local leaders have been saying for years: The region is poised for growth.
“I’ve heard a lot of good things about Cincinnati, but I wanted to see for myself,” said Terry Hansen, the Washington, D.C.-based principal of Hickey & Associates, a global site selection and public incentives firm.
“You certainly exceeded my expectations. If a client says to me, ‘I need something in mid-America.’ I’m going to ask: ‘Have you considered Cincinnati, Ohio?’”
REDI Cincinnati, the region’s new economic development initiative, introduced site selectors to top business executives from Procter & Gamble, Duke Energy and nearly 30 other regional companies and agencies. The site selectors also attended private events with Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and Hamilton County officials and toured key neighborhoods and buildings over three days this week.
Site selectors scout out real estate locations, business environments and livability factors for companies looking to relocate. A site selector, for example, was behind helping General Electric pick Cincinnati this summer to build its new U.S. Global Operations Center at The Banks.
The site selectors were in town for the American Chamber of Commerce Executives convention, but REDI’s events were separate. Cities often invite site selectors for non-project-specific, show-and-tell visits. Hansen said he receives one to two invitations a week from cities across the world, but he takes only about five such trips a year.
“To get this number of decision-makers in your community at one time and showcase your assets is highly unusual,” said Johnna Reeder, president and CEO of REDI. “They have the influence to bring thousands of jobs to a region based on their feedback (to companies).”
She added: “I had a site selector say to me she felt a buzz here that she didn’t feel the last time she was in the region many years ago.”
Hansen was the only site selector who agreed to an interview with The Enquirer. He previously spent decades with IBM in workforce development and helping the company open offices across the U.S. Today, he focuses mostly on helping companies looking to relocate IT, biotech and advanced manufacturing jobs. It was his first trip to Cincinnati in which he spent significant time.
Here are his takeaways from Cincinnati:
What the region can promote
• Fundamentals: Cincinnati’s location in the Midwest provides good access to the rest of the nation, and its cost of living is “attractive,” Hansen said. He also cited the region’s skilled workforce and several universities, including the University of Cincinnati’s medical school. “You have that body of skills, and when my clients are looking for a new location, that’s first and foremost.”
• Urban core development: “I can see three cranes going from my hotel. (Downtown’s renaissance) shows the business community is committed. You’ve had some problems, and you’re trying to rectify them.”
He continued: “I can look a lot of metrics up online without visiting a place. But when you actually go out and meet the people, you find out whether they’re really committed or just going through the motions. You can see they’re committed here and want to make this a success. I think my colleagues here with me would say the same thing.”
• Transportation infrastructure and options: Hansen noticed traffic on Interstates 71 and 75 moving well during rush hour. He likes that rideshare companies Uber and Lyft are operating here, and that the streetcar is being built Downtown – good selling points in attracting recent college graduates and young talent.
What needs to improve
• Statewide employee training: The state offers employers up to $250,000 in grant money each year to train workers. That’s critical to economic development because finding properly skilled employees is an ongoing issue across many industries, leaders say.
“The administration of that program is atrocious, one of the worst in the country,” Hansen said. “The application process, the compliance. It requires paper records, and people don’t use paper records anymore. It is so bureaucratic. It’s a reputation other site selection people recognize about Ohio.”
• Luxury hotel: “With nine Fortune 500 companies – and lots of executives coming to town – I’m surprised there’s not one or two high-end hotels here,” Hansen said. “You could use a Ritz-Carlton, Waldorf Astoria or J.W. Marriott.”
• Downtown grocery store: “With the efforts to attract young people to Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, you’d like to see a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.”
What the city showed selectors
REDI and other officials showed off these local assets:
• Great American Tower at Queen City Square: Top business leaders tout the region’s tallest building as a centerpiece of Cincinnati’s Central Business District’s economic renaissance. The $320 million, 41-story tower opened in January 2011 and was built during the height of the recession. It’s 91 percent occupied, including housing the headquarters of Great American Insurance, a Fortune 500 company.
Prime space remains available in the 800,000 square-foot building. Economic development leaders like to showcase that one of the tower’s top floors – which includes a majestic 360-degree view – remains available for lease. Western & Southern CEO John Barrett says it would be ideal for a company to locate its executive offices in the tower and establish back-office operations near Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport or another regional suburb.
Reeder’s take: “We took them to an unfinished floor, and then we took them to a finished floor at Frost Brown Todd and showed them what can be done there. We have an image that we want to portray, and the tower provides a 360-degree view of the region.”
• General Electric’s new site: Local leaders are riding the momentum of GE’s announcing that it is bringing up to 2,000 new jobs and building a $90 million operations center at The Banks. It’s the type of back-office operations center for which Cincinnati and other U.S. urban areas have been bypassed for several years for more spacious, parking-friendly suburban locations.
Downtown beat out two suburban sites in Greater Cincinnati, giving The Banks its first major office facility. The Wall Street Journal said GE’s move is “the latest sign that urban centers in the Rust Belt are becoming more attractive to U.S. corporations.”
Reeder’s take: “I cannot say enough about how we’re leveraging that, but it’s time for us to chart the new GE.”
• Washington Park: The $48 million park makeover has been the cornerstone of near-Downtown residential redevelopment – a catalyst for luring new residents and visitors to once-downtrodden Over-the-Rhine. The park opened in July 2012 and has hosted everything from concerts to kickball tournaments to yoga classes, marking a new day for a site once renowned for drug deals and prostitution.
Some questioned whether a redeveloped park would be enough to lure people to what had been a crime-riddled neighborhood. This summer, orchestral and light show Lumenocity drew a record crowd of more than 42,000 over three days – the capacity of Great American Ball Park.
Reeder’s take: “We wanted to show them a mix of this region. It’s not all about Downtown, but Downtown gives us a great starting point to talk about revitalization.”
• Bragging rights: Site selectors also visited or saw Great American Ball Park, the Gateway Quarter in Over-the-Rhine, Newport on the Levee, the Ascent upscale condominiums in Covington and the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament. ■