Is Cincy the fastest-growing Midwest city?

Posted at 7:52 AM, Mar 30, 2016

CINCINNATI -- So far, so good for CDK Global.

The Chicago-based provider of management technology for automobile dealers, which in October announced plans to bring more than 1,000 customer service and back-office jobs to Norwood, has hired its first round of 100 employees, said the facility’s director, Kristin Carrico.

And the company couldn’t be happier with its new employees.

“We were very pleased with the talent source here,” she said.

Carrico attended REDI Cincinnati’s annual meeting last week at Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati. Hers was one of 20 businesses in attendance that had announced economic development projects last year.

It was an evening to celebrate such job creation efforts. REDI, a nonprofit funded in part by private investment, aspires to be the first point of contact for businesses that want to start, relocate or expand in the 15 counties in the Tri-state.

REDI Cincinnati president and CEO Johnna Reeder, right, talks with Dave Ellington, senior vice president for strategy, communications and public affairs for Tri-Health, following Wednesday's REDI Cincinnati annual meeting. Photo by Kevin Eigelbach

REDI served that role for CDK, which knew that it wanted to consolidate some of its smaller United States locations, but didn’t know where, Carrico said. The company initially made the REDI connection through its real estate manager, CBRE, she said.

CDK management liked the availability in Cincinnati of talented workers trained at local universities, she said, as well as the quality and cost of living. Management also was impressed to learn that Cincinnati has more corporate headquarters per capita than New York City, Los Angeles or Chicago.

REDI also helped arrange a financial incentives package from the state of Ohio, which was the most competitive of any state CDK considered, she said.

The company has started on two large buildings in Norwood, Carrico said, with the first one expected to be finished in July. Once completed, they will house about 1,200 people, including 100 who now work in Florence.

Altogether, REDI’s efforts in 2015 resulted in 65 new projects, 7,647 new jobs, 8,206 retained jobs and $1.2 billion in capital investment.

The goal for this year, REDI president and CEO Johnna Reeder told the crowd, is to facilitate the creation of 5,000 new jobs and $300 million in capital investment. So far, in Ohio only, through February, REDI has helped create 498 new jobs, or about 10 percent of the goal, and $16 million in capital investment, or 5 percent of the goal.

REDI is doing better in terms of its new payroll goal of $197 million, with a year-to-date total of $25 million, or 12.6 percent of the goal.

The goals will be tough to achieve, but “REDI and our partners are bringing our A-game to the table,” Reeder said. Those partners will help REDI address issues such as shortages of talent in some fields and changing laws to make them more business-friendly, she said.

About 275 people RSVP’d for the event, Reeder said, and she estimated that about 225 had attended. She told them that this year, REDI planned to focus its recruitment efforts on five industries: biohealth, food/flavoring, information technology, manufacturing and shared services (consolidated back office services for large companies).

The region already has a strong manufacturing and food/flavoring base, she said, as well as a good shared service base of facilities, such as the General Electric Global Operations Center Downtown. The biotech and information technology industries are more of an aspiration at this point, Reeder added.

Some might wonder why distribution/logistics and consumer products aren’t on the list, she said, since the Tri-State is strong in both.

Marcus Taylor, at left, area executive vice president for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., shakes hands with Darin C. Hall, executive vice president for the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, as REDI Cincinnati manager for business development Janelle Lee looks on. Photo by Kevin Eigelbach

“Many of these things would come here anyway” without REDI’s help, she explained.

As the 2015 results show, the city has become an attractive location for businesses. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis said that the Cincinnati metropolitan statistical area has the fastest-growing economy in the MIdwest and the 20th fastest in the country, Reeder said. And Site Selection magazine ranked the MSA as one of the top five most competitive in North America in five categories of industry, she said, a better showing than any other MSA.

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s brief program, Reeder introduced and honored REDI outgoing board members Kay Geiger, Mel Gravely, Ed Jackson and Tom Williams, and welcomed incoming board chair Jim Henning, president of Duke Energy for Ohio and Kentucky.

“I’m very energized and excited,” he told the crowd. “If you’re not, I’m not sure what you were watching here. Our numbers were high in 2015, but we’ve just scratched the surface of where we’re going to go."