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The Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development Corporation (Tri-ED) recently conducted a survey with 86 Northern Kentucky business leaders providing insight on the opportunities and challenges the pandemic and recovery have presented to our region’s companies.
“Gathering business insight and key data that we can share with our communities and companies are priorities for Tri-ED. We have the expertise and tools in place and we plan to leverage them on an ongoing basis,” said CEO Lee Crume. “I recently heard this: ‘You can’t solve problems you don’t see. Data reveals the problem.’ Through data, we can identify areas to improve our services and strategies to enhance our community.”
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Hiring is a Priority for Northern Kentucky Employers
“With NKY’s labor force participation rate at 67 percent, higher than both the state and national averages, we know that hiring is a challenge many employers are facing,” shared VP of Economic Development Kimberly Rossetti. “Outreach about workforce programs and services was requested by 73 percent of respondents. We are working with GROW NKY and our partners, Northern Kentucky Career Center and the Workforce Investment Board, and education institutions such as Gateway Community & Technical College to help employers with attraction and retention of talent.”
Through GROW NKY, many employers have taken advantage of Strategic Workforce Action Team (SWAT) meetings that bring together a coalition of organizations in Northern Kentucky to meet with companies so they have the resources they need to grow, attract, retain and advance a globally competitive workforce.
Companies are taking a progressive approach toward employee health and well-being, diversity, equity and inclusion, sustainability and community engagement in Northern Kentucky. They are using policies in these areas as employee attraction and retention tools. Over 70 percent of respondents said they are actively working on policies in these areas while 16 percent have policies in place already.
One example is Perfetti Van Melle U.S.A., maker of Airheads, Mentos and one of the world’s largest manufacturers and distributors of confectionery and chewing gum with headquarters and production facilities in Northern Kentucky. Perfetti offers competitive pay and great benefits that include medical, dental and vision coverage, paid time off, a 401K plan that’s among the top 1% of plans in the U.S., career development and the unique perk of a monthly candy allotment. The company just announced it will move to more sustainable packaging for its Mentos Pure Fresh Gum, launching a recyclable paperboard bottle packaging in the U.S. market beginning in the first half of 2022.
Perfetti makes life sweeter for employees and residents of the Cincinnati region through community engagement with a variety of non-profit organizations such as the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, United Way’s Digital Equity Initiative and the Ronald McDonald House.
Return to Work Trends
Nationally and locally there is an ongoing dialogue about employees returning to the office and whether or not the office is “dead.” In a recent interview with 91.7 WVXU, Corporex CEO Dan Sink shared that six tenants at RiverCenter, across a variety of industry sectors, are expanding.
According to 90 percent of survey respondents, new policies around working remotely will be developed and at least some employees will continue to work from home.
“The companies we’ve worked to retain and bring to Northern Kentucky in 2021 have been a mix of office and manufacturing,” added Rossetti. “Legion Logistics President Lacy Starling shared that they hope the company’s new space in Newport on the Levee will support recruitment and retention to accelerate their growth.”
Tri-ED worked with Legion Logistics and the City of Newport to retain the company in Northern Kentucky when it was considering a new location.
Supply Chain Challenges Impact NKY Businesses
Disruption of the supply chain is impacting NKY companies; 75 percent of respondents indicated that, other than workforce, supply chain disruption is their #1 concern. Getting materials, either domestically or internationally, is a challenge and rising prices are an obstacle businesses are facing.
With more than 40 automotive industry suppliers in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties, the shortage of semiconductor chips and electronics was specifically mentioned by 5 percent of respondents.
Business Retention & Expansion (BRE) Outreach Program
Angie Mulberry, Director of Business Retention at Tri-ED, has visited more than 80 companies so far in 2021. Through the BRE program, Tri-ED connects existing businesses with solutions to sustain operations and accelerate growth — from identifying potential tax incentives, sites for potential expansions and workforce recruiting grants to making connections with regional partners.
Mulberry often shares the Bluegrass State Skills Corporation (BSSC) grant opportunity with companies in Northern Kentucky. Through the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development’s Grant-in-Aid and Skills Training Investment Credit, businesses can apply for funds to support employee training and up-skilling.
“This survey gives us a glimpse of the challenges and opportunities our businesses are facing,” noted Crume. “Through our BRE meetings, we will work with companies to find areas where we can help and support them. We are planning to meet with CEOs in August to find out how we can do more to serve our business community.”
In 2020, Crume and Rossetti spoke with 20 Northern Kentucky business leaders from a variety of industry sectors to gain an understanding of how COVID-19 affected their operations, workforce and projections for 2020 revenues, growth and recovery. A short report of those findings is available for download.