In 2020, shortly after the onset of the pandemic, business leaders from the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, the Cincinnati Business Committee, the Cincinnati Regional Business Committee, and REDI Cincinnati came together to form the RESTART Task Force. Their mission — to provide a voice for the business community while also taking on a leadership position in safeguarding the region’s economy.
“To me, RESTART is the quintessential Cincinnati response to a challenge,” says Kimm Lauterbach, the president and CEO of REDI Cincinnati.
A RESTART subcommittee was formed for economic development with a focus on the reemergence and future resiliency of the Cincinnati region coming out of the pandemic. REDI Cincinnati was most familiar with the economic development subcommittee, but there were also subcommittees on public health, arts and culture, and sports venues, in order to look holistically at what a community would need to reemerge in a positive way.
Wade Williams, Vice-President of Global Business Development with REDI Cincinnati, notes that they had just completed a five-year strategic planning cycle and were armed with a fresh strategy and lots of data, which they immediately deployed. That strategic plan brought together groups across the 16-county, three-state region to discuss cooperation and collaboration.
“That really gave us a leg up and a head start over some of our peers,” says Williams.
Adds Lauterbach, “I joke that nothing tests a strategic plan quite like a global pandemic. We were fortunate that we’d had such broad community-based participation in developing that plan, and it held true to really be a road map to what our assets were, and those assets didn’t change because of the pandemic.”
The pandemic has created fundamental shifts in the way consumers and businesses operate and intersect. These trends are expected to carry the region forward and include the acceleration of remote work, e-commerce, telemedicine and transparency. The RESTART economic development subcommittee — co-chaired by Brian Hodgett of Procter & Gamble, Candace McGraw of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and Tom Williams of North American Properties with support from Kimm Lauterbach of REDI Cincinnati — was formed.
The subcommittee worked diligently to identify three core focus areas and the leaders to support them. Pete Blackshaw from Cintrifuse was tapped to lead efforts in the “great supply way.” Mike Venerable from CincyTech would spearhead biohealth, and Chad Summe from Quotient would lead capital continuum.
“Supply chains had been disrupted in ways we’d never seen due to the pandemic, and so we asked, ‘How do we start thinking about supply chains differently, knowing that we are a distribution and logistics hub in the Midwest because of our proximity to markets?’” says Lauterbach.
The second pillar focused on biohealth.
“It allowed us to leverage the relationships that we had with CincyTech, which has been driving innovation in the startup ecosystems, particularly around healthcare,” says Lauterbach.
The biohealth team looked at their strengths and noted the gaps within the pandemic structure. They focused on the recruitment of new and seeding startup opportunities that could address these gaps.
Finally, they addressed capital continuum. What did it look like to really grow a company at every stage of seed capital? How could they use the Main Street Lending Program for financing?
The REDI Cincinnati team theorized that because of COVID-19, they were going to see supply chain restructuring across manufacturing, distribution and some retail assets. They believed
opportunities would exist to attract significant operations as a result of that. They also think there could be organizational redesign and realignment across these global offices.
“We went through a structured company analysis process — going even deeper than we normally do to identify some key targets that we thought were going to be available in the Fortune 500 space because of the COVID-19 impact,” says Williams. “We developed a targeted list of companies that we were actively seeking to have conversations with.”
The Cincinnati region is nicely positioned for success in a post-pandemic world. The Wall Street Journal recognized the Cincinnati region as one of the most resilient markets during the pandemic. In addition, Moody’s Analytics and CNN Business’ Back-to-Normal Index ranked Ohio at 91% back to normal in Sept. 2021.
“Cincinnati has always weathered ups and downs well because we have such an economically diverse base here,” says Lauterbach, who attributes Ohio’s resiliency to the power of partnership.
“There’s certainly a huge amount of pride in this city and this region, and it brings people out to support even in the worst of times,” says Lauterbach. “So, while we’re going to suffer some lows, they are cushioned because we have some pretty phenomenal assets.”
Cincinnati is fortunate to have some of the biggest companies in the world, including Procter & Gamble, Kroger, and Western & Southern.
“Those companies have grown up in this entrepreneurial ecosystem, and they’re conditioned to partner with a vast variety of startup companies looking for that technology and innovation,” says Lauterbach. “Just having those types of companies that are still willing to open the doors and have conversations has fostered a lot of entrepreneurial growth.”
Lauterbach mentions Gravity Diagnostics, a startup that was at the “right place, right time, right leadership.” Tony Remington, CEO, and Julie Bazil, COO, of Gravity Diagnostics, were named EY Entrepreneurs of the Year.
“We have this ecosystem here that wasn’t going to let companies like that fail,” says Lauterbach. “Whether it’s the African American Chamber, Minority Business Accelerator or our own chamber, they have this whole support system anchored by the big companies and wrapped around with our civic organizations that have believed and invested in this entrepreneurship idea for so long. And again, the diversity in economy allows so many potential startups to thrive here because there is an idea or a place for almost everyone.”
Lauterbach feels that the Midwest is going through its ownrevival as talent and companies view it as a reliable place to foster research and development yet still have that stability of the market as well.
As for REDI Cincinnati, they are in the midst of one of their best years ever.
“We know the direction we’re going through our strategic plan and the RESTART Report,” says Williams. “You take all those assets and that collaborative system and deploy a well-thought-out strategy, and we’re poised for really good growth.”
REDI Cincinnati is located at 3 East Fourth Street, Suite 301, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202. For more information, call 513-562-8444 or visit redicincinnati.com.