Monday, June 21, 2004
COVINGTON - Northern Kentucky is evolving into a sophisticated, affluent region where rising incomes are attracting Cincinnati companies that cater to an upscale clientele.
Amenities follow wealth to N. Ky.
Luxury goods, fine dining easily found
Some of the best-known names in Cincinnati's high-end retail and service markets are looking at Northern Kentucky in a new way.
The Maisonette is scouting locations in Covington as the owner of the elegant French restaurant plots a move out of downtown Cincinnati.
The developer of Norwood's popular Rookwood Commons shopping center is, along with Dillard's, investing more than $60 million to develop a similar outdoor mall in Crestview Hills.
When Cincinnati auto dealer Mike Deaver wanted to open a Lexus luxury car dealership in 2002, he chose Covington's riverfront.
"Twenty years ago, we would not have looked across the river," said Maisonette owner Nat Comisar. "Ten years ago, it would have been highly unlikely.
"Today, there was no doubt at all that when we started looking for a new location for the Maisonette, we would consider Northern Kentucky," Comisar said.
The region of Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties is still more suburban than chic. And even though growth has pushed into what a generation ago was simple farmland, places like Burlington, Rabbit Hash, Camp Springs, Piner and others have maintained a small-town charm.
But over the last two decades, Northern Kentucky has shifted from a collection of small bedroom communities and old-line riverfront neighborhoods into a booming region driven by job and income growth.
U.S. Census Bureau and state and local economic data show the region's population is wealthier, better educated, living in more expensive homes and holding more professional jobs than 20 years ago.
Northern Kentucky ranks among the top in the state in median income, housing values, wages and education levels.
Million-dollar homes with stunning views of downtown Cincinnati and the Ohio River valley are being built or planned in Newport and Bellevue. Luxury condos and apartments have opened in Florence, Fort Thomas, Ludlow and Covington.
Newport on the Levee entertains huge crowds of people patronizing upscale restaurants. Florence Mall is studying ways to attract more affluent shoppers. Private country clubs and golf courses such as Traditions in Boone County cost thousands of dollars to join. Construction is booming in Triple Crown, an enclave of luxurious homes in Richwood.
Tom Zinn, economist with the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said jobs are fueling the region's economic growth.
"The more jobs we have, the more people we have," Zinn said, "and the more wages they are going to have."
Between 1987 and 2002, 344 companies hired 35,689 workers and invested $3.3 billion in Northern Kentucky, according to Tri-ED, the region's job recruitment and retention agency.
The Northern Kentucky International Airport is driving the job growth, Zinn said.
Several of the major companies that have located or expanded in the region - Toyota, Fidelity Investments, Ashland Inc., FedEx - have said the airport was instrumental.
"The catalyst, what sparks it all, is the airport," said Zinn, who teaches economics at the University of Cincinnati.
Deaver opened Lexus RiverCenter at Third and Philadelphia in 2002.
"Northern Kentucky is opening up, and with the economic situation here, we saw an opportunity for this kind of business," Deaver said.
In Boone County the number of households with incomes of $100,000 to $149,000 grew more than 700 percent to 2,795 from 1990 to 2000.
In Kenton County, the number grew 307 percent to 3,766 households while Campbell County grew by 303 percent to 1,929.
"Those are our customers," Deaver said.
Jeffrey Anderson Real Estate of Cincinnati also wants to be here.
The retail developer of Rookwood Commons looked at the region's consumer buying power before deciding to redevelop the moribund Crestview Hills Mall.
"The general consensus among people in our business is that a lot is happening in Northern Kentucky," said J.R. Anderson, the company's director of development. "All the new people moving in, and the amount of job growth, is bringing a lot of energy to the retail market."
The new center, featuring a totally rebuilt Dillard's, is to open in time for the 2005 Christmas shopping season.
"All the retailers do extensive market research," Anderson said.
Northern Kentucky, say developers and business folks, has arrived.
Enquirer reporter John Byczkowski contributed. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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