COVINGTON, Ky. - Northern Kentucky’s long-term strategic plan, called Vision 2015, might be more aptly dubbed Vision 2020.
According to its seventh annual report, released today to 300 community leaders, Vision 2015 has been successful pulling together businesses, schools, organizations, non-profits, and various governments to achieve a common goal: Creating a climate where the economy can thrive.
In collaboration with 40 partners, “Vision 2015 lines up the pieces to make sure we are operating at full potential,” said Kara Williams, Vision 2015 vice president.
But the economic meltdown in 2008 stunted projected job growth and has meant the leaders of the group have had to refocus efforts on attracting companies and growing jobs. It's a process that will extend well past 2015.
“I have no doubt Northern Kentucky will have another plan [after 2015] because we see what happens when we align goals,'' Williams said.
Future Looked Bright
When Vision 2015 was conceived in 2005, the region had experienced a decade of tremendous and nearly unmatched prosperity. The long-term strategic plan, which partners leaders from business, government, education and the community, meant to build on that growth and development.
From 1990 to 2000:
- Population grew more than 16 percent;
- About 34,000 jobs were added;
- 279 new companies like Fidelity Investments, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Ashland, General Cable and Citi moved into the region.
“As the growth in real median household incomes and disposable income outpaced the nation, our prosperity increased right along with it,” said Williams.
Then the Great Recession hit.
It brought those gains to a near screeching halt. Worse yet, the region lost 40,000 jobs, which was Vision 2015’s initial goal, Williams said.
By 2010, the region had just 160,000 jobs -- 5,000 less than 2005 -- and unemployment had gone up by 4.8 percent.
Since, the organization's focus has been on job growth and the area has added 189 companies to the region.
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 and focusing on creating jobs, talent and education.
Graphic: What they've done, how they are funded and how the money was spent in 2012-2013
Education is key
Those who just graduated from high school this spring most likely have their sights set on their future—but it’s those in junior high and elementary schools who need to take a real look at what will be required of them to jump into the job pool. It’s their community, said Williams, that will lay the stepping-stones for that future.
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 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.
“We don’t have the education attainment level that other communities have,” said Williams.
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.
“Our goal is by 2020, at least 45 percent of adults over 25 years old have an associates degree or higher."
Progress being made
The group will also use fresh data from the Regional Indicator Report due out at the end of the summer to ensure its vision fits with statistics. Williams said they anticipate using that data to map out the direction that they need to head over the next year and half.
Despite the downturn, progress is being made, Williams said, pointing to several initiatives, which were also highlighted in the report:
- UpTech II, the business accelerator that offers mentoring, office space, marketing and legal advice to innovators and entrepreneurs, recently kicked off its second funding round. Eight companies have been narrowed to 20, with the winners to be announced July 24. In 2012, the group provided up to $100,000 in start-up funding.
- Licking River Greenway & Trails, which opened in September at a cost of $500,00, will be get an additional $60,000 in improvements that include on-street bike paths, kayak entry and access points and adding three miles of trails. “It’s peaceful and beautiful and you can detach from where you are,” said Williams of the oasis that is a mere five minutes from the urban core.
- The Catalytic Development Funding Corporation reached its goal of raising $10 million to finance $100 million in projects in an effort to revitalize the urban core. The fund is for redevelopment projects deemed too risky for investors. Its first approved project is to rehab a destroyed piece of property into a $1.1 million apartment building.
- NKY Boost, operated by Northern Kentucky Tri-ED, was launched a year ago as a free resource connecting Northern Kentucky businesses with job seekers. The program also identifies tax incentives and workforce grants, said Dustin Lester, manager of the business retention and expansion for Northern Kentucky Tri-ED. Its goals are aligned with Vision 2015’s Economic Competitiveness goals and part of that includes assisting with 70 percent of the new jobs annually in Northern Kentucky.
“Northern Kentucky has tremendous reason for optimism—there’s a lot of great buzz going on,” said Williams. “We still have challenges and work do, but [we should] be proud of everything that’s happening in our region.