myNKY to shape Northern Kentucky's vision for future

A look at where region's been and what it's facing

COVINGTON, Ky. – As the New Year’s celebratory ringing dissipates, Northern Kentucky’s Vision 2015 is beginning to focus on its key issues for the future -- but this time, they’re extending a technological hand to the community to gain insight into their vision.

Vision 2015's myNKY, a community-visioning campaign, invites community members to shape the future of Northern Kentucky region.

Vision 2015 Vice President Kara Williams said this is a blank slate for Northern Kentucky. 

“The community tells us what their issues, needs and priorities are. We’re asking the community, ‘What are your hopes, your dreams for the future?’” Williams said.

It’s a different take on community input since the last time they asked the community those questions was nine years ago.

In 2005, 2,500 community members participated in Vision 2015 — but the plan is coming to an end next year. That’s why over the next six months, leaders within the community and Vision 2015 are seeking ideas about what’s important to the folks who live in their community.

“Our goal is to understand what the next vision/goal should be based on community input, much like Vision 2015 did,” Williams said.

How myNKY Will Work?

Through interactive polls, quizzes and games, myNKY.org will invoke the opinions and concerns of the community, which will then be used to create and lay out the next 10-year strategic plan.

“It visually creates myNKY from their perspective,” Williams said.

During the first half of 2014, data will be continually fed into a repository for the region, from the website myNKY.org. The site will feature an interactive prioritization game and a variety of polls and challenge questions on topics such as education, transportation, workforce and green space.

The second half of 2014, will involve vetting, honing and creating the region's goals for the next 10 years.

A research team from NKU and UC, as well as partners in education, business, non-profit organizations, religious, civic and government leaders, along with the 20-person myNKY leadership team — including folks like Rich Boehne, CEO for E.W. Scripps; Candace McGraw, CVG CEO; and Northern Kentucky University president Geoff Mearnsm –- will put all the relevant information together from myNKY.org and decide what the next vision will be.

Creating A Vision For 2015 And Beyond

In 2005, when Vision 2015 was formulated, there wasn’t Twitter, Facebook and online polling like today.

But with social media and a real time data-collecting website, Williams said Vision 2015 felt they could build momentum and gain information much quicker than from in-person meetings only.

Electronic campaign reaches broader, diverse community. By using the power and reach of modern technology, Vision 2015 hopes to involve community members to discover powerful, life-changing ideas for a better Northern Kentucky.

“Great communities don’t happen by accident. They need a plan and a vision,” Williams said. “Northern Kentucky has a long history of community visioning, and as we approach 2015, it’s time to begin focusing on developing the vision that will guide Northern Kentucky’s [future].”

“For Northern Kentucky to be successful, we must all work toward a common vision,’ continued Williams.

According to Chamber of Commerce incoming interim president Brent Cooper, collaboration on issues is key, since Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties are regulated by 38 forms of local government. Cooper starts on Feb. 10.

“[myNKY] is an example where we can collaborate [as a region] and attack things on a united front. We are not one big city. We are a collection,” Cooper said. “We have to collaborate to achieve success."

N.Ky. Facing New And Familiar Issues

While the community will have the opportunity to voice their concerns about the region — and while the goal of myNKY is to figure out what issues are important to the community — they may or may not be mentioning issues Northern Kentucky is facing moving into 2014 and beyond.

Cooper said over the next 10 years, the region’s concerns would likely mirror the past 10 years’ issues.

“If you went back 10 years ago, education, infrastructure, the airport, were issues,” and they still are today, he said.

“Strategic plans force us to re-evaluate where we are at a particular moment and adjust for other issues that have risen,” said Cooper. “We’re going to be encouraging our [Chamber] members to chime in, and anxiously await results of this [campaign].”

Some of those upcoming issues, according to the Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 “Where We Stand” report:

  • Heroin
  • Infrastructure
  • Education
  • Key regional business projects

“Key projects will be part of the conversation in strategic planning,” said Cooper, of the regional business projects that will require state money.

The Consensus Committee, which includes the Chamber of Commerce and representatives from eight counties, selected regional projects for prioritization for funding from the Kentucky General Assembly.

The selected projects include:

Gateway Community and Technical College Urban/Metro Campus

  • Estimated Cost: $81 million
  • The Gateway Community and Technical College Urban/Metro Campus will improve access to higher education and the region’s largest population center in the urban core. In all, the Urban/Metro Campus will renovate seven existing building and build one new facility with 5,000 students engaged at the campus by the year 2020.

Northern Kentucky University Health Innovations Center

  • Estimated Cost: $97 million
  • The NKU Health Innovations Center is planned as an interactive population-health innovation laboratory that is the foundation of a new consumer healthcare economic cluster. The 250,000 square-foot facility will be crafted to address the community healthcare needs in the areas of nursing, psychology, radiologic technology, health and nursing informatics, respiratory therapy and health science.

Northern Kentucky Convention Center Expansion

  • Estimated Cost: $31 million
  • The Northern Kentucky Convention Center expansion will build-out the necessary space needed to accommodate the demand received by the Convention Center.

Riverfront Commons

  • Estimated Cost: $50 million
  • Riverfront Commons is a multifaceted riverfront trail project that will provide needed economic development to the six river cities. Another facet of Riverfront Commons is riverside stabilization and ecosystem restoration. Riverfront Commons, an 11.5-mile walking/biking trail along the Ohio River from Ft. Thomas on the east to Ludlow on the west.

Licking River Greenway and Trails

  • Estimated Cost: $12.9 million
  • The Licking River Greenway and Trails is an effort to create an urban greenway and trail system from the confluence of the Ohio and Licking Rivers, 5.2 miles south, to the I-275 loop. Trail systems seek to connect neighborhoods and businesses on both sides of the river improving safety, increasing property values, and promoting economic development and health in Northern Kentucky’s urban core.

One mainstay issue for the last few strategic plans has been the Brent Spence Bridge.

The bridge “affects commerce throughout the region,” said Cooper, of a major factor in infrastructure plaguing the region.

Built in 1963, the Brent Spence Bridge served as the interstate highway bridge that crosses the Ohio River. But over the years, it has become unsafe and outdated.

Without a new bridge, congestion will continue to grow, according to the Chamber’s report.

  • Average commute times throughout the region will double
  • Increase in traffic accidents
  • Commerce will choose different routes
  • Businesses will choose to locate elsewhere
  • Residents will choose to live, work and play somewhere else
  • Quality of life will decline

Cost: $2.7 billion and increasing at least $100 million every year we wait.

Project Benefits:

  • Creates 30,000-80,000 construction jobs
  • Saves commuters, shippers and manufacturers $748 million
  • Saves $1.3 billion in fuel and time costs annually
  • Continues the growth and prosperity of the region

Newer to the region's list of growing concerns is drug abuse.

Northern Kentucky has seen an overwhelming jump in heroin trafficking and overdoses. It’s become an epidemic for the region.

Because of employees’ illicit drug use, there are hidden costs to Northern Kentucky businesses and communities, according the Chamber, which include:

  • Increased employee absenteeism
  • Job-related injuries
  • Tardiness
  • Errors and lost productivity
  • High turnover rates
  • Increased employer health insurance costs
  • Employee/ employer conflict
  • Increased emergency room visits and hospital stays
  • Increased crime

A never-ending issue for the region, and one that can always use fresh eyes, is education.

The Northern Kentucky Education Council (NKYEC) is part of that community taking a closer look at how to achieve the education levels that Vision 2015 sees so clearly.

Starting at an early age, NKYEC works with children in the initiative Ready by 21. The hope is that it makes them college- and career-ready by 21. And by 25 years old, Williams said they would need to be work-ready with degree in hand.

According to the Regional Indicators Report in 2012 — which measures economic progression — 29.3 percent of the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region’s population had a bachelor’s degree and 36.7 percent had an associate degree in 2010.

By 2020, 50 percent of all job openings will require some combination of post-secondary credentials, on-the-job training, and work experience beyond one year; and 52 percent of all jobs paying more than $33,000 will require higher education, including degrees and credentials, said Williams.

Future Looked Bright

When Vision 2015 was conceived in 2005, the region had had tremendous growth for a decade leading up to the plan’s inaugural year, said Williams. All things seemed possible and within reach.

From 1990 to 2000, the region’s population grew more than 16 percent, and 34,000 jobs were added to the region’s economy with 279 new companies like Fidelity Investments, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Ashland, General Cable and Citi moving to Northern Kentucky.

Then the Great Recession hit.

It brought to a near screening halt, all those gains. Worse yet, the region lost 40,000 jobs, which was Vision 2015’s initial goal, she said.  

Five years into the plan, in 2010, the region had 160,000 jobs, 5,000 less than 2005, when the vision started, and unemployment had gone up by 4.8 percent.

But with the recession in their hindsight, Vision 2015 has been part of bringing 189 companies to the region.

People + jobs = economic prosperity.

In partnership with Agenda360 in Cincinnati, the 2012 Regional Indicators Report measured the economic progress for the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region, ranking them 10th out of 12 regions.

Similarly in the 2020 Jobs Outlook Report, the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region was projected to have 1,069,405 total jobs by 2020, including 338,632 job openings over the next decade. The bulk of those projected jobs were office and administration, followed by sales. Falling last on the list with 563 jobs in 2020 was farming, fishing and forestry.

In an effort to reach that new goal over the next seven years, Vision 2015 is taking another look at the eroded base that they had just begun to build. That is where the self-proclaimed backbone organization is putting the ABCs of job attainment into focus.

Vision 2015’s 2013 Report Highlights

  • UpTech is a business accelerator, supporting innovation and entrepreneurship within the community. In 2012, its first year, they gave up to $100,000 in start-up funding, mentoring, office space and marketing/legal advice, to eight companies.
     
  • The Catalytic Development Funding Corporation, or The Catalytic Fund in short, reached its goal of raising $10 million to finance $100 million in projects in an effort to revitalize the urban core. The Catalytic Fund is set aside for redevelopment projects deemed too risky for investors. The fund’s first approved project is to rehab a destroyed piece of property into a $1.1 million apartment building.

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Make your voice heard at for the next regional strategic plan at, myNKY.org.

Vision 2015 representatives will also be in the region collecting community feedback at a variety of events over the course of the campaign. In March, myNKY, in collaboration with NKY Forum, will hold a public forum regarding regional issues, seeking public input for myNKY.

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