Campbell County finds it has hills to climb to broaden development footprint -- mainly, its own

NEWPORT, Ky. -- What Campbell County has in abundance is hills.

Those hills are an issue when it comes to industrial as well as commercial development -- but so are interstate access and sewer lines that would help attract the big companies that usually land in Boone and Kenton counties.

It's no surprise, then, that industrial construction is not a big part of the vision for a county that is growing in residential development, has Northern Kentucky University and has a healthy agribusiness presence, said Seth Cutter, Campbell County economic development officer.

"We're not Boone County; we're not the airport," Cutter said. "We don't have a lot of flat land, so we know the issues."

"There's just not as many opportunities," said Wade Williams, vice president for Tri-County Economic Development Corporation (Tri-Ed). "There are some good industrial sites in Campbell County that we are going to evaluate."

Some of those are spots along the river.

Tri-Ed is working with Campbell to help identify short-term and long term-processes. Short term is a working list of all the sites that have criteria to move forward, such as utilities and access, whether industrial or commercial. Long-term sites are those that might need community land-use changes or zoning adjustments, Williams said.

There are likely competing interests for development south of Alexandria, but light industrial is one thing the county could envision, said Cutter.

"(Campbell County) supports the cities and their visions and what they want to accomplish," he said. Industrial development is not totally out of the picture, however.

So, if not a lot of industrial, then what?

Cutter and Williams point to NKU's Health Innovations campus that is under construction.

"It's a $97 million project," said Cutter. The university plans to partner with high schools and other health care providers in the area as part of their plan.

"We want to build on those strengths," he said, so the future could be research facilities, health facilities and more that tie in with NKU's vision.

More professional offices are part of the picture as well, he said, and the county is working to identify the best sites.

"We want the higher-paying jobs like everyone else," he said. "It's the payroll taxes that add to local governments' bottom lines."

Retail will also play a continuing role. Booming housing developments such as Fischer Homes Arcadia in Alexandria, which has been approved for 1,000 homes, will require support such as nearby professional offices and retail, said Cutter.

Roads are another issue in the county. There's no direct access to Interstate 75, making it challenging for all kinds of business.

Relief could happen when KY 536 corridor is redeveloped from Boone to Campbell County, said Cutter.

"It could be a point of contention with the farming community when it comes up, but it seems like the best idea," he said. "It could have enough capacity to be a thoroughfare."

County authorities have considered another bypass that would reroute traffic away from the Brent Spence Bridge and up 471, but Cutter said that would likely have more conflicts.

Another opening will come with the connector road project that will eventually connect NKU to Route 9. It would open up land near the university for industries that support health care and research, Cutter said.

Campbell County will need a rather large assessment of the road system to make big industrial and commercial changes, said Brian Miller, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky.

A bigger and longer-term plan could include unloading shipping containers that come up the Ohio River from the Mississippi and land at Portsmouth, Ohio, he said. With the right roads, containers could be sent north through Campbell County.

For now though, it's about planning and getting land -- specifically for bigger commercial or industrial -- ready, said Cutter.

Sewer needs, especially, would need to be addressed by Sanitation District No. 1, he said. That's complicated because there are a lot of high-priority construction projects in the three counties.

Still, interest is out there. But first, developers want to see "cleaned up, coordinated documents" from all the 15 cities in the county, said Cutter, and that's why Tri-Ed is helping as well.

"People are ready to do investments," he said. "But (they're saying) 'Before we spend any money, what is your vision?' We want to make sure we have community support" before committing, he said.

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