It’s an old trope: when someone’s talking about the best choice of new facility for a business, you’ll almost certainly hear “Location, location, location,” somewhere in the sales pitch. And, while the saying is tired, it’s consistently remained trued throughout more than a century’s worth of growth and commerce in our region. Growing businesses have been establishing posts along the Cincinnati-Dayton corridor for decades. This has created a mega-corridor of commerce and industry along several major interstates. It’s also trickled right across the Ohio River into Northern Kentucky.
Before the pandemic, the whole region was buzzing with growth. And through the pandemic – the lockdowns, shutdowns, social distancing measures for businesses, layoffs, employee turnover – we can still hear that buzz. Yes; Cincinnati’s real estate market and local businesses took a hit during COVID – we all did. But the mini-recession of 2020 was smaller in our region than most, and the bounce back is visible and far-reaching.
The question is: What’s so special about commercial real estate in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky? The intersection of OH, KY and IN is almost a no-man’s land between the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and the Southeast. But that’s not a disadvantage; it’s something unique to the area that the local governments of Cincinnati and Boone County, KY have turned into a strength.
Economic Development Programs help Local Small Businesses Expand
In Cincinnati, two organizations lent small businesses a helping hand during the pandemic: REDI Cincinnati, and JobsOhio. JobsOhio, a state-run economic development and employment program, implemented inclusion grants a couple years ago, which aim to help small businesses in underserved areas or run by underrepresented demographics get the leg up they need to compete with other growing businesses in the region.
REDI Cincinnati is an organization that optimizes the resources of JobsOhio services by connecting businesses who could best benefit from inclusion grants. REDI Cinci is funded by private corporate entities to boost and attract businesses to the 3-state, 15-county region of Southwest OH and Northern KY. Just across the river, Northern Kentucky Tri-ED is another economic development organization boosting the availability of financial and logistical resources for small businesses in the region looking to grow.
Both REDI Cincinnati and NKY Tri-ED are nationally recognized as two of the most effective economic development organizations in the country by Site Selection magazine. Site Selection also noted that among state-to-state economic growth in 2020, Ohio was 4th, and Indiana and Kentucky tied for 5th; meaning the commercial growth of our Cincinnati region was represented in all three states.
Covington, Kentucky Businesses saw Astronomic Growth in 2020
In September, 2021, Inc. 5000 did a meta-analysis of growth and attrition in different regions throughout the country, right down to what businesses grew and what businesses suffered. Ten businesses in Northern KY were part of their list of fastest-growing small businesses in the US over 2017-2020. Every single one of these growing companies can be found near the Cincinnati hub:
- Motus Freight, Bellevue, 665% growth (transportation logistics)
- StepCG, Covington, 490% growth (IT management)
- Laurash, Covington, 384% growth (family-owned business recycling computers for schools)
- LapTop of the Line, Walton, 383% growth (family-owned business refurbishing and selling laptops)
- ReFurb Ninja, Fort Wright, 279% growth (refurbish and sell electronics)
- Blair Technology Group, Covington, ~250% growth (refurbish and sell Microsoft products, began a new construction project in Summer 2020)
- Prolocity Cloud Solutions, Covington, 216% growth (IT management)
- BM2 Freight Services, Covington, 173% growth (transportation logistics)
- Tier1 Performance, Covington, 46% growth (business consulting firm)
The continued growth of these small businesses will add jobs and commerce to our region in a way that is sustainable, long-term; IT management, electronic recyclers and transportation logistics are all growing markets, and will continue to be as technology becomes more important in all aspects of life.
Cincinnati Small Businesses Expanded to Add Jobs During the Pandemic
Just North across the Ohio River, Cincinnati small businesses grew as well, despite the hardships of the pandemic. In the last half of this year, 15 expanding local companies promised a minimum of 86 new jobs in the area and retaining 220 via the inclusion grant program. REDI Cincinnati President and CEO, Kimm Lauterbach, explained why shoring up the growth potential of local businesses along the river has made Cincinnati such as attractive place for businesses looking to expand into the Midwest:
“With more than 43 million tons of cargo moving through our river ports, and air cargo growing by 15 percent year-over-year at CVG, the Cincinnati region will continue to be a clear choice for companies that need to reach the rest of the country.”
And she’s right. With a sizable inland port on one of the most navigable rivers in the country, and an international airport with the capacity for rapid cargo transport growth, Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky commercial and industrial real estate will only become more valuable and more attractive in the coming years. REDI and Tri-ED aim to unite businesses all over the region, small and large, to grow together, and create a super-hub of commerce and industry, the effects of which will be felt far past the borders of our 15 counties.
Entrepreneurship & Inclusivity in Cincinnati’s Commercial Markets
Along with the adept enthusiasm with which our regional businesses pivoted and worked together to keep momentum up during the pandemic, there has been a boom of new small businesses and entrepreneurial enterprises. In fact, in Cincinnati, applications for new businesses rose by over 26% in 2020 from the previous year – the 44th highest increase of all metropolitan areas in the country.
And while Cincinnati at-large retracted about 3.5% in 2020, that push of new businesses and the drive to continue economic growth in our region nulled that retraction in no time. In 2020, Cincinnati boasted the 5th largest economy in the Midwest and 27th largest in the country. This set up all those new business applicants for an almost COVID-proof economic climate in which to flourish.
Another important factor in this entrepreneurial growth in our region is the focus on inclusivity. Socioeconomics has always unequally favored some demographics over others, and COVID highlighted that disparity of representation in successful businesses. Cincinnati was one of 5 US cities the Brookings Institution recently featured as catalysts for reimagining economic structures to create more equal, representative demographics in business.
University of Cincinnati recently founded an innovation center that relies on collaboration between the university, local businesses, and public and private entities. It fosters research and development across many different fields, encouraging intersectional work, whether alumni, students, residents, or business owners across many different fields. The Innovation Hub has a makerspace/microfactory, a venture lab, and dedicated corporate spaces. This dedicated public space allows literally anyone the opportunity to learn, research, teach and develop, fostering economic growth of all kinds throughout our region.
The Magic of Southwest Ohio & Northern Kentucky Commerce
As a commercial real estate developer, our relationship with Cincinnati’s local economies is reciprocal. Your growth is our growth. The things that make Cincinnati itself special might have a lot to do with geography and topography, but what really makes this area special – and low-key recession-proof – is the body of businesses, large and small, that are invested in not only their growth, but the growth of our region as well. If COVID showed us anything, it’s that the promise of Cincinnati’s growing commercial and industrial property markets isn’t just a prediction- it’s an inevitability.