By Mark Hansel
NKytribune managing editor
The State of Northern Kentucky was the topic at Tuesday’s Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Eggs ‘N Issues discussion at Receptions in Erlanger.
The top elected officials in their respective counties credited a spirit of cooperation among elected officials and business and community leaders throughout the region for Northern Kentucky’s solid economic outlook.Judges/Executive Gary Moore of Boone County, Steve Pendery of Campbell County and Kris Knochelmann of Kenton County discussed a wide range of topics, including tax reform, the new regional communications system and growth.
Moore, who was first elected in 1998, has witnessed Boone County’s continued transition from a largely rural area to a diverse community with significant growth in population and industry.
Since 2000, Boone County’s population has increased from 86,000 residents to nearly 130,000 in 2017. Improvements in infrastructure including the construction of Aero Parkway and the widening of Mt. Zion Road, which is now in progress. In January, Amazon Prime announced plans for a $1.4 billion hub, to be located on CVG land in the county.
“A quick look at Northern Kentucky would suggest that we are doing well, and we are,” Moore said.
Metrics such as positive job growth, unemployment rates, payroll tax receipts, building permits, home sales and household income levels, Moore said, are all indications that the county, and the region are prospering.
Despite the positive indicators in Boone County and across the region, Moore said there are still challenges.
“The region is in the throes of an opiate epidemic that is wreaking havoc on communities, our families, our schools and our employers,” Moore said. “We have a workforce challenge that has resulted from a misalignment of skilled training of the needs of our employers. If not addressed (it) poses a very severe threat to our future economic vitality.”
Pendery has served as judge/executive for 18 years and was the mayor of Fort Thomas and a city councilman prior to election to his current position. He is the current chair of Northern Kentucky Tri-ED and opened by addressing recent speculation that Northern Kentucky could be in the running to become the location for Amazon’s second world headquarters.
“I realize that the Amazon talk is just talk right now, but we would not be mentioned as a real possibility for that project if we were not perceived as a great community with a stellar future,” Pendery said. “Northern Kentucky really has outperformed the competition for years with the best growth record in the state and the region. We have low costs, good infrastructure and nimble responsive government, educational institutions and community leadership.”
Knochelmann had the always-challenging task of being last in the rotation to deliver opening remarks. Now in his third year as judge/executive after serving for eight years as a county commissioiner, Knochelmann credits Moore and Pendery for fostering the atmosphere of collaboration in the region.
“If you think these guys, from their presentations and comments, are on top of their game, you’re right,” Knochelmann said. “They live and breathe Northern Kentucky, they live and breathe their counties. We challenge each other, but they are constantly doing the right thing, not always the easy thing, so I’ve learned a great deal from those two gentleman in the past few years.”
Knochelmann has less experience in the role of judge/executive than his counterparts, but Kenton County has been out in front on some key issues facing the region, including the regional communication system and the battle to address the opioid crisis.
“The heroin epidemic is going to continue to get worse before it gets better,” Knochelmann said. “As much as everybody is working on it, I want to make sure that we all realize there is far more work to do there. We all have to make sure we are getting out of our comfort zones and making sure we are open to ideas and suggestions.”
Moore said the $30 million regional communications system is a great example of the spirit of collaboration that now exists in Northern Kentucky.
“It didn’t take us long to realize that each county building its own…radio system, with everyone having their own controller, towers pointing just inward to our county, made no sense,” Moore said. “Designing this regionally has saved several millions of dollars. In the process, we have developed, pretty much a unified fee, that replaces the old antiquated landline fee.
The new technology also allows first responders in all three counties to communicate with each other throughout the region, something they can’t do using the current system.
Another example of collaboration that Moore pointed to is Fiscal Courts in all three counties agreeing to support an increase in the hotel tax to support the funding of the Northern Kentucky Convention Center expansion.
When discussing tax reform and the potential for local governments to implement a sales tax Pendery delivered the most candid line of the session saying it’s time to take the shackles off of local governments entirely.
“I think we ought to be able to do whatever the hell we want within reason,” Pendery said. “Whatever latitude we get from the legislature in the state of Kentucky, we are going to be reined in by our own taxpayers. We are closer to the man in the street than any other level of government and I promise you, if we screw up, we’re out, immediately.”
There was a consensus that identifying funding sources locally to support regional projects is going to increasingly have to be part of the strategy, because the money is just not available at the state or federal levels.
Also at Tuesday’s session, State Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger received the 2017 Chamber MVP Award from Kentucky Chamber President and CEO David Adkisson. Koenig received the award based on his sponsorship of HB 296, which reduces costs and ensures appropriate care under Kentucky’s workers’ compensation system.
The monthly Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Eggs ‘N Issues meeting brings community leaders together to discuss issues of regional importance.