Cincinnati serves as model for collaboration

June 14th, 2013

News Coverage:

Cincinnati serves as model for collaboration

Area has worked to distill its economic-development ‘DNA’

Posted: Friday, June 14, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 10:51 am, Tue Jun 18, 2013.

By Rick Farrant

When the northeast Indiana contingent checked in at the 21C museum hotel in downtown Cincinnati earlier this month, it was greeted by three employees standing behind laptops resting on a long, hip-level glass table.

To the right was a gallery of nude sculptures. To the left was a four-foot-high, molded-plastic yellow penguin — one of many yellow penguins that seemed to circulate at will throughout the hotel.

The interesting mix of visuals was a harbinger of things to come for the fact-finding visitors to the Ohio River metropolitan area of 2.1 million people, where collaboratively embracing change and innovation are central to economic-development efforts.

But while there was plenty to learn about Cincinnati’s strategies, the group of 52 community leaders — some of whom traveled to Denver in 2011 on a similar mission — also discovered that northeast Indiana is on the right path.

“I was impressed with everything we learned in Denver,” said John Sampson, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, which organized the trip to Cincinnati June 5-7. “And so on this trip it was a little different. I think it emphasized the progress we’ve made since we went to Denver. And that’s affirming.”

The sheer size of the Cincinnati area and volume of resources make the region decidedly different from northeast Indiana. Organizations serve up to 15 counties in three states. The area is home to 10 Fortune 500 companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Kroger, Macy’s and Fifth Third Bancorp.

The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, which drives a good deal of the economic-development efforts, has a staff of about 70 and a membership of nearly 5,000. The Greater Cincinnati Foundation, headed by Fort Wayne native Kathy Merchant, has $484 million in assets. The United Way of Greater Cincinnati raises $61 million annually.

Despite the Cincinnati area’s inherent muscle to carry out initiatives like Agenda 360, Vision 2015 and the Strive Partnership, northeast Indiana leaders still found some practices and lessons that could be applied locally.

“We do not have Procter & Gamble. We do not have Macy’s. We do not have Kroger,” said Reed Silliman, a partner with Faegre Baker Daniels LLP. “Does that mean we quit? No. It means we’ve got to work harder.”

Northeast Indiana leaders were impressed with Cincinnati’s overall “collective impact” model that encourages all entities to work together. More specifically, it calls for: a common agenda; shared measurements; mutually reinforcing activities; continuous communication; and relying on “backbone organizations” to guide vision and strategy, build public will and mobilize funding.

“The takeaway that I got from this was that as a region they’re working together to move things forward,” said John Urbahns, director of community development for the city of Fort Wayne. “They’ve identified their goals and everybody’s working toward those goals.”

Also appealing to local leaders were Cincinnati’s efforts to clearly define the area’s attributes — or its DNA — in helping drive progress. What leaders there came up with were these characteristics: everything you need and want is within reach; it’s where you can make a difference; it has accessible, “life-sized” heroes; it has corporate staying power; and it has an innovative entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“Individually, they are not unique,” Ellen van der Horst, president and CEO of the Cincinnati chamber, told the northeast Indiana group. “Woven together, they are uniquely ours. These things are not slogans. They don’t show up in any literature we prepare. They are not meant to be aspirational. They are meant to be an articulation of the truth and help different communicators talk about what’s special about this place.”

That resonated with Bill Brown, president of Fort Wayne’s Downtown Improvement District, and prompted Angola Mayor Dick Hickman to remark: “As a region, we have to do a better job in identifying our DNA and exactly how we want to be recognized around the country.”

Also generating significant interest among local participants were Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial efforts, including a heavily mentored accelerator program for startups called The Brandery. The three- to- four-month accelerator annually serves roughly 10 tech startups from a list of more than 500 candidates worldwide. It gives the startups $20,000 each, makes available $175,000 in in-kind services and expects a 6-percent equity in the companies.

The startups are not required to stay in Cincinnati after completing the program, but Brandery General Manager Mike Bott said even if the companies leave, the organization has the 6 percent it can reinvest, and the profile of the nonprofit and the region has been elevated.

Bott said the short duration of the accelerator contrasts with most business incubators: “We’re an incubator with a deadline. A lot of times with incubators, people will get comfortable, they’ll stick around for a long time and they’re not really building their business. They have this dream, but they’re not bringing it to life.”

Perhaps one of the most visibly evident economic-development efforts is the measurable integration of art into the area’s strategies — and it goes far beyond the roaming mascot penguins at the 10-story downtown 21C.

“The arts are an active layer in Cincinnati,” said Jim Sparrow, executive director of Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne. “They see it as such an important part of what’s helping them reach their goals. I think we have to continue to look at a bigger and higher-elevated sense of vision for arts and culture as opposed to a narrow view.”

The arts in Cincinnati, supported in part through ArtsWave’s $11.2-million annual campaign, are reflected in part in the murals on the sides of buildings, the urban-core performances and a business planning and development program for artists called SpringBoard.

Even the networking among visiting northeast Indiana leaders was seen as advantageous, especially for those who didn’t make the Denver trip.

Said Brian Bauer, president and CEO of Lutheran Hospital: “One significant benefit for me was the opportunity to spend quality time with such a diverse group. Economic development starts with relationships and sharing ideas and this exchange strengthens our relationships as leaders.”

There was one more big realization among northeast Indiana leaders: Cincinnati, even with all its resources, has had to work long and hard — seven days a week, van der Horst said — to bring people together for a common cause.

Said Parkview Health President and CEO Mike Packnett: “We must have a long-cycle mentality. There will be a lot of headwinds and speed bumps, but we need to have a stick-to-itiveness to work through the tough times.”