Year in Review: Highlights show growth for NKY businesses, communities, education and health

As 2015 comes to a close, we asked Northern Kentucky leaders to look back at the region’s civic achievements, notable milestones, new businesses and emerging trends to suggest highlights for the year. Here are their responses, organized by key topic areas.
I’d like to nominate as a 2015 highlight the reappearance of NKY Thrives in June after a one-year hiatus, thanks to a partnership among Skyward, Northern Kentucky Tri-ED and Soapbox Media. We’ve written about many of the NKY topics discussed below and will continue to highlight the people and businesses elevating Northern Kentucky in 2016.
If you missed any of our 2015 news stories, click on the Features tab at the top of every page and select “Feature stories.” If you have a story idea you think we should consider going forward, please email [email protected].
Emergence of the new regional plan
Northern Kentucky welcomed Skyward in 2015 by providing over 15,000 touches to a campaign that drove the myNKY community vision. This ambitious plan will set a new pace for success in early childhood education, wellness, jobs and vibrancy for the region.
— Kristine Frech, Vice President, Skyward
In 2015 the myNKY plan was launched and Skyward was born, setting an incredibly focused and measurable direction for the next five years in NKY. This plan is putting extra fuel behind existing community priorities and creating new important ones for NKY’s future.
Leshia Lyman, United Way of Greater Cincinnati
Completion of the Skyward strategic planning process is a notable 2015 achievement, building on Vision 2015 but more focused with metrics by which we can measure ourselves. NKY has developed an unusual capacity to both plan and execute a regional vision. I’m also impressed with the emergence of the next generation of regional leaders, women and men in their 30s and 40s who actively led the Skyward process and who will increasingly shoulder the leadership for the future of our region.
— Jim Votruba, retired President, Northern Kentucky University
Support for job growth
Northern Kentucky and Northern Kentucky Tri-ED had a very successful year for total new projects, capital investment and new jobs in 2015. This year was Northern Kentucky’s fourth best year ever for capital investment — more than $460 million invested — since Tri-ED’s founding in 1987. Combined with continued job growth, that success really showcases Northern Kentucky as an economic engine for the Commonwealth of Kentucky and for our entire region.
— Dan Tobergte, President & CEO, Northern Kentucky Tri-ED

Six advanced manufacturing businesses joined forces with Gateway’s lead manufacturing programs instructor to custom-design a competency-based accelerated program to fill the talent pipeline for entry-level machine operators — the position identified in the 2013 NKY Industrial Park Association demand study as having the largest projected gap. The first cohort, consisting of 20 incumbent employees, starts class in January and will complete the certificate program in May. A second class of adult workers will commence in March, and a dual-credit version of the program designed for high school seniors will commence in August.
— Ed Ratterman, Director, Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Development Coalition of Northern Kentucky

The 2015 highlight for us at Bosch and also for our industry partners in our NKY region was the launch of KY FAME, the dual credit apprenticeship program that’s helping the manufacturing industry to start closing the skills gap. It’s a great partnership between industry (currently 18 member companies and growing), Gateway, KCTCS statewide, Cabinet of Workforce Development and the high school system in our region to launch this program.
— Mike Hirsch, VP Operations, Robert Bosch Automotive Steering
CVG reached agreement with its airline and cargo partners for a restructured business deal, the first Use Agreement in more than 40 years. The agreement provides airport management with more control over the operation and financial structure of the airport. On the jobs front, American Airlines signed a 10-year lease agreement to open a new full-service maintenance operation and establish a crew base at CVG. Allegiant will establish an aircraft base at CVG commencing in January, resulting in additional flights and the hiring of approximately 100 new jobs, including pilots, flight attendants and maintenance crews.
— Bobby Span, Vice President of External Affairs, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
As our region made progress in creating jobs and opportunity, significant progress was made to better align our community’s collective resources to more effectively connect people to jobs. TANK worked with regional workforce partners (NKY Workforce Investment Board, NKY Chamber of Commerce, NKY Tri-Ed) to meet the needs of a growing workforce by transporting a record number of passengers to jobs in Northern Kentucky at some of the region’s key suburban employers.
— Andrew Aiello, General Manager, Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky
Thriving entrepreneurial community
Northern Kentucky led the passage of Kentucky’s Angel Investment Tax Credit program. In only eight months, the program’s annual allotment of $3 million in tax credits were exhausted in stimulating $7.5 million in Kentucky startup funding.
— Casey Barach, Senior Vice President of Entrepreneurship, Northern Kentucky Tri-ED
Connetic Ventures, led by Brad Zapp, established a $5 million fund made up of roughly 50 angel investors providing regional startups with another much-needed seed stage funding source.
— JB Woodruff, Commercialization Director, Kentucky Innovation Network
Brad Zapp has made a huge difference in the region in attracting talent and tech startups to Northern Kentucky. He’s made it a hub for innovation by bringing in investors to fund these companies and keep them here in NKY.
— Natasia Malaihollo, Founder and CEO, Wyzerr
Bad Girl Ventures Inc. celebrated the signing of an agreement with the City of Covington to begin the buildout of a new office on Pike Street, where we’ll hold business growth workshops for female business owners, have offices for regional staff and host events for our 650-plus Bad Girl alumnae members. We’re excited to contribute to the growth of the region through entrepreneurialism!
— Nancy Aichholz, Executive Director, Bad Girl Ventures

Improving access to education
The Pre-K Works Demonstration Site in the Erlanger-Elsmere School District displayed inspirational collaboration that resulted in over 100 more 3- and 4-year-olds receiving high-quality early learning experiences, which was an increase of 134 percent!
— William Scheyer, President, Skyward

In 2015, Gateway Community and Technical College initiated two partnerships to make college more accessible to students. The Northern Kentucky Chapter of the Kentucky Federation of Advance Manufacturing (KY FAME) partnered with Gateway to offer advanced manufacturing students the opportunity to earn an income while attending college and graduate debt-free. In addition, a partnership with Northern Kentucky high schools allowed nearly 300 high school students to take college classes. Gateway celebrates partnerships with industry, four-year institutions, secondary schools, nonprofits and the community that make the dream of a college education reality.
— Keith Bird, Interim President, Gateway Community and Technical College

A great highlight of 2015 was the opening of the Northern Kentucky Scholar House in Newport, a new Brighton Center facility that provides affordable housing, childcare and case management services to help low-income, single parents complete their college education and achieve self-sufficiency. It’s the first of its kind in Northern Kentucky, and, through the generosity of donors who support our work, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation was able and proud to invest in it.
— Laura Menge, Giving Strategies Officer, Greater Cincinnati Foundation
The opening of Northern Kentucky Scholar House in Newport is a significant step in supporting single parents to achieve an Associates or Bachelor’s degree, leading to a good job. The project also integrates quality early childhood education, making it a two-generation strategy. Not only will parents be able to pursue skills and complete their education to improve their economic security and stability, but simultaneously they’ll be ensuring their children are on a path from the earliest age to engage in lifelong learning.
— Tammy Weidinger, President & CEO, Brighton Center Inc.
Focus on healthier living and choices
Heroin continues to be our greatest challenge as a community. The three counties cooperated this year to hire Kim Moser and Kirk Kavanaugh to run a Northern Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, the creation of which, in my opinion, is our best move yet in seeking to intelligently address the problem and coordinate the efforts of agencies and people in response.
— Steve Pendery, Judge Executive, Campbell County
The advocacy done by Northern Kentuckians to pass Senate Bill 192 (the Heroin Bill) is a model for community advocacy across the country. The Heroin Impact Response Team did not let go of its goals or its values as it worked to make sure that the legislation included everything.
— Ann Barnum, Vice President of Community Strategies, Interact for Health
Green Umbrella is very excited that in 2015 NKY welcomed the state’s first bike-sharing program, with the expansion of Red Bike to Covington and Newport, and secured a $4.5 million investment to develop the Riverfront Commons mixed-use trail project. These two initiatives will significantly increase opportunities for active transportation and outdoor recreation, connect people to jobs and improve health and air quality.
— Kristin Weiss, Executive Director, Green Umbrella
Development in urban core
In 2015, our third year of full financing operations, The Catalytic Fund celebrated groundbreakings for Boone Block and Hotel Covington as investments from our loan fund into urban neighborhoods and business districts reached $2.1 million, leveraging $52 million in total investment. The exciting projects we supported have to date created 105 residential housing units, 226,000 commercial square footage and 308 new permanent full-time job equivalents in NKY’s urban core.
— Jeanne Schroer, President & CEO, The Catalytic Fund 
This was a monumental year of movement for Covington. The studio is located on the corner of Pike and Madison and has a bird’s eye view of all the rebuilding of business in downtown’s core. We decided to take a stronger part in the progress and opened a retail shop directly below the design studio this month, Durham Dept., to further diversify the unique offerings and businesses shaping the new landscape of our downtown.
— Austin Dunbar, Founder, Durham Brand & Co.

From my perspective the most satisfying occurrence this year is the continued revival of the urban core on both sides of the river. This year Southbank, partnering with our member cities, was successful in obtaining nearly $8.5 million for development along the riverfront, including a $4 million grant for the city of Covington. These funds are public funds from organizations like the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and OKI, whose commitment to a community of walkers and bikers and acknowledgement that the urban core has value and that the Ohio River may very well be our #1 asset is refreshing and a tremendous departure from even 10 years ago.   
— Jack Moreland, President, Southbank Partners

The culmination of many years of effort on the part of residents, police, city and the Center for Great Neighborhoods has led to a revitalization of the Westside neighborhood in Covington. The Sept. 17 groundbreaking for the Hellmann Creative Center will result in a $2.2 million commercial development that will act as an anchor for the Martin Luther King Boulevard’s revitalization and will help continue the development of the Westside as a community where there is an increased quality of life for all residents.
— Tom DiBello, Executive Director, Center for Great Neighborhoods
Bringing attention to Northern Kentucky
The election of Gov. Matt Bevin was a big highlight this year! It’s a new day in our Commonwealth, and Northern Kentucky is well-positioned to thrive with this new administration.
— Gary Moore, Judge Executive, Boone County
In 2015, Northern Kentucky University broke ground on a $97 million Health Innovation Center, a facility that represents a new approach to the education of healthcare professionals and to healthcare delivery. Through transdisclipinary education and research teams as well as partnerships with community leaders such as St. Elizabeth Healthcare, the Health Innovation Center will transform healthcare not only in our community but across the nation when it opens in 2018.
— Geoffrey Mearns, President, Northern Kentucky University
Air service growth at CVG has been consistent and ongoing, with local passengers increasing 16.4 percent and total passengers increasing 6.7 percent over 2014 (through November). CVG was the recipient of the World Airports Award from SkyTrax as Best Regional Airport in North America for fifth consecutive year. Also named #1 World’s Best Domestic Airport serving 5-10 million passengers.
— Candace McGraw, CEO, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
Hosting the 2015 MLB All Star Game gave our region the opportunity to highlight the unique communities on both sides of the river. Working collaboratively with intent to impress, the entire region shined and our thriving Northern Kentucky riverfront played host to thousands of visitors.
— Gina Douthat, Director of Communications & Development, Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.