By John Byczkowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Northern Kentucky now has a script for attracting high-tech jobs to the region, and the curtain is about to go up on Act 1.
On Monday night, a $110,000 study by Angelou Economics, an Austin, Texas, business consultant, was delivered to the board of Tri-ED, Northern Kentucky's economic development agency.
N. Ky. priorities
Of 61 recommendations in Angelou Economics' report on developing high tech in Northern Kentucky, 21 are marked as "high" priorities (the first item contains two priorities and the last contains six):
Create an advanced logistics institute at Northern Kentucky University, and identify funding sources for it.
Create at NKU a branch of the University of Kentucky's virtual reality research center.
Obtain more support for Gateway Community & Technical College's Center for Manufacturing Competitiveness.
Involve local university presidents in economic development.
Promote NKU's Metropolitan Education and Training Services nationally.
Build more hiking and biking trails.
Promote the region's benefits to NKU and GCTC students, to entice them to remain in the region.
Improve networking among the region's high-tech workers and entrepreneurs.
Create a directory on the Web of Northern Kentucky's high-tech businesses.
Create an online matching service for businesses seeking venture capital.
Cut state taxes that discourage business.
Lobby Frankfort to extend the life of enterprise zones.
Find sites for technology business parks.
Replace the Brent Spence Bridge.
Actively promote high-tech growth in Northern Kentucky: Create an advisory board and assign it goals; create a Northern Kentucky Office of the New Economy to promote the region; agree on a definition of "new economy" that fits Northern Kentucky's strengths; communicate the definition within the region; and promote high tech's progress in the region.
The full report can be downloaded at Web site. Click the "Research and Reports" link.
The Angelou report makes 61 recommendations in six areas, including workforce development, infrastructure improvement and making the region more attractive to business. It includes everything from hiring someone devoted specifically to high-tech development in Northern Kentucky, to lobbying for the millions of dollars needed to replace the Brent Spence Bridge.
One confidential part of the report contains the names of several hundred companies Tri-ED will approach with a pitch to expand in or move to Northern Kentucky.
Of the 61 recommendations, 21 are marked "high" priorities. Many of those are internal matters, things Northern Kentucky needs to do before it can begin marketing itself to businesses worldwide, said Amy Holloway, Angelou's project manager on the report.
"There's six months to a year of work before the external marketing can begin," Holloway said.
Angelou researchers talked to more than 200 people in Northern Kentucky, including businesspeople, educators, entrepreneurs, economic development officials, planners, developers and community activists.
The one area of common ground was "a strong commitment to living in the area, unlike a lot of places where we've worked," Holloway said. "You don't find a lot of people in Northern Kentucky who are migrants. We found a great level of loyalty to the area."
But, she said, there wasn't a lot of understanding about the benefits of high-tech. "It's a conservative region, and some of the changes that are required to grow high-tech are things that haven't been done before" in Northern Kentucky, she said.
For instance, one is a need to attract and retain young, educated professionals. Holloway compared Northern Kentucky to 15 high-tech metros such as Seattle, Austin and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. In those 15, about a third or more of the population is 25 to 45 years old. In Northern Kentucky, that age group makes up just 28 percent of the population. It's just a few percentage points, but it makes a big difference, she said.
"If the region's going to focus on high-tech development, it needs to recruit people with high-tech skills who are entrepreneurial" - and who, it happens, are young and college-educated, Holloway said.
That's why the report recommends improving hiking and biking trails, and more actively promoting the region's benefits to students at Northern Kentucky University and Gateway Technical & Community College.
But Holloway also said the biggest area of disagreement in Northern Kentucky is "how to work with Cincinnati on high-tech development, and to what degree they should be partnering."
Angelou recommends a regional approach to high-tech development, because "when you bring a prospect to the region, they wouldn't see that river as a dividing line or a boundary," Holloway said.
This isn't the first report on what the region needs to do to win development and jobs. Others included the 1996 Quest report on Northern Kentucky, the 1999 Greater Cincinnati Partnership report from the Wadley-Donovan Group and a 2000 report from urban planner Michael Gallis.
Danny Fore, Tri-ED's president, said many of Angelou's recommendations aren't new, but the focus on high-tech and on education "just helps us hone our picture."
He said that within a week, the groups behind the study - Tri-ED, Northern Kentucky University, Gateway Technical & Community College, the Madison E-Zone incubator and the Chamber of Commerce of Northern Kentucky - will meet to begin work on implementation.
Gary Toebben, president of the chamber, said Northern Kentucky can't rest on its laurels.
"We have done extremely well with our economic growth the last 20 years, but in order to make those strides the next 20 years, we need to put more of an emphasis on our ability to attract tech-related businesses, and grow entrepreneurial tech businesses," he said.
"The only thing that will make (the Angelou report) different is implementation. Without implementation, it'll make this report no different than any other report that just sits on the shelf."
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