Sunday, July 18, 1999

Maybe Ohio has Ky. envy

Who would blame Delta for flying the coop?

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Been to downtown Cincinnati lately? If you have, how do you get in and back out? Or why did you even want to go there in the first place?

        These days the Queen City is more like an earl or duke, maybe even a jester. And it's not just because of the traffic nightmares wrought by the reconstruction of Fort Washington Way, the construction of a new stadium for the Cincinnati Bengals and the destruction of an office building downtown.

        Cincinnati, particularly its once vibrant downtown, has seen better days. The retailing center that once thrived on Fourth Street has moved to any number of shopping malls around the area. White-collar jobs seem to be going faster than they are coming. It's expensive to park.

        Even the fountain of Fountain Square is boarded up for repairs.

        Some of downtown's problems are not Cincinnati's fault. Suburban sprawl, white flight and the headaches most Midwestern cities have had to deal with over the last few decades are inevitable.

        But some of the problems can be traced right to City Hall, where some otherwise bright and well-intentioned people on council and in administrative posts can't seem to get much done when it comes to getting together and actually leading the city.

        So, hey, let's blame Kentucky.

        That's what Cincinnati City Manager John Shirey seemed to be doing last week when faced with the possibility of losing yet another major downtown employer to Northern Kentucky.

        Seems Delta Air Lines has 1,000 downtown Cincinnati employees working in a reservation center who are tired of paying the city's high parking rates.

        So Delta looked the same place lots of other companies have in recent years, right across the river, where Gov. Paul Patton and local leaders practically have a “Welcome, Open For Business” sign dangling from the Roebling Suspension Bridge.

        Using aggressive recruitment, the top-notch and successful Tri-County Economic Development Corp. and a slick tax incentive package passed by the state legislature, Kentucky has out-hustled Cincinnati at nearly every turn when it comes to luring new jobs and business.

        Now Delta wants to fly the Cincinnati coop, and Kentucky wants it to land here.

        That has Mr. Shirey moaning about Kentucky's job-attracting prowess, especially when it comes to Mr. Patton's involvement.

        “We're afraid the governor of Kentucky will decide, "We'll just keep offering incentives until (Delta) comes here' regardless of whether it makes any sense,” Mr. Shirey said.

        Hey, John, care for some cheese with that whine?

        So much for all the regional cooperation politicians and business people like to froth at the mouth about.

        Does Cincinnati want Kentucky to cooperate by not being so attractive to companies? Should Kentucky not provide a better business environment, newer infrastructure, less bureaucracy and a governor who is willing to do what it takes to get jobs into his state?

        This isn't the first time a Cincinnati official has held hisbreath until heturned blue over Kentucky getting jobs Ohio wanted.

        Former Mayor Dwight Tillery and current Mayor Roxanne Qualls have thrown tantrums over companies bypassing Cincinnati for Northern Kentucky. Lot of good that did.

        In the past, companies such as Jacor and Omnicare headed across the river from downtown directly into Covington's RiverCenter office tower. A whole bunch of others Gibson Greetings, Ashland Inc., Toyota, Heinz, GE Capital to name just a few — looked at Cincinnati but decided on this side of the river.

        And don't forget how the aquarium in Newport and the IMAX theater coming there were sunk by Cincinnati before heading to Kentucky.

        What makes the defections even sweeter for Kentucky but just as bitter for Cincinnati is that for years those in the Buckeye State used to have a lot of laughs at Kentucky's expense.

        Ohioans came over here to hunt, fish, go to the airport and engage in all forms of illegal vice in the days of wide-open gambling and political corruption in Newport and Covington.

        Northern Kentucky isn't perfect, but it's come a long way, and for the most part cleaned up its act. Dare we say Ohio is a little envious?

        That's the way one local official recently put it while at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, a place that even with its high fares is the brightest spot on this shining city on the hill.

        The elected official was overheard talking about the Gallis report, an expensive and in-depth look at you guessed it regional cooperation.

        “Funny how Cincinnati wants all this cooperation now that Kentucky is doing so well,” the official said.

        Real funny. But nobody in Cincinnati is laughing.

        NAILING IT. A report carried in this week's Dixie News had one of the most honest statements we've ever seen in political reporting.

        Written by reporter Michael Nail — who sounds like he was named by Elmore Leonard — the story was about an Independence City Council meeting attended by some Northern Kentucky University students.

        “(The students) were in chambers to observe first hand how government meetings are handled,” Mr. Nail wrote. “Those that stayed awake during the meeting said it was interesting.”

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for The Kentucky Enquirer. His column appears Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 578-5581.


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