Corporations are good at making money – but do they know EVERYTHING?

Do Cincinnati corporations really have all the answers?  Are their executives that much smarter than the rest of us?

Almost every time I Google anything about the built environment in Cincinnati I discover yet another mysterious coven of corporate executives recently founded or re-organized to “be a force for transformational change,” corporate-governed 3CDC-wanna-be’s.

The first new entity to catch my eye was the Port Authority, originally organized in 2001, reorganized in 2008, and currently under-going a major strategic-planning initiative.  While the Port’s first projects were smaller brownfield sites that needed government support to clean-up environmental issues, it was their biggest project to date – Queen City Square – AKA Great American Tower – that seems to have been the initial impetus for this government agency with all its publicly-subsidized tools. As staff members repeat frequently – there are no other Port Authorities like the one we have in Cincinnati as all of the rest were actually formed to promote and regulate business related to ports on waterways.  Our 9 member governing body is exclusively composed of corporate executives (with the exception of Charlie Luken, the mayor who initiated the dismantling of the city’s in-house planning department in favor of leaving the decisions up to corporations), most of whom never seem to have so much as visited many of the neighborhoods under discussion as they try to determine how best to “help.”

Then there is REDI, the Regional Economic Development Initiative.  That’s a really weird one.  On April 3, 2014 they announced their pick for their first CEO, Johnna Reeder,  previously the Vice President of Community Relations and Economic Development for Duke Energy.  The very next day, the new CEO was “caught by surprise” when P&G announced a $1,000,000 gift to the regions newest economic development agency.  Nor was she aware of the names of the board members who would be serving as her new boss, announced the day after that.

Talk about quick results:  Less than 7 months later Cincinnati  Business Courier credited the fledgling organization not only with project commitments including “3,454 new jobs to be created, 4,626 total jobs retained and nearly $333 million in capital investment from 41 companies” but pointed to REDI as the party responsible for bringing GE to the Banks.  Wow. That’s miraculous, isn’t it?

And yet the REDI web site states:  The Regional Economic Development Initiative (REDI) Cincinnati has been recognized as one of the top economic development organizations in the nation for 12 consecutive years by Site Selection magazine.  What the heck? Has REDI lumped their history in with that of their development predecessor:  the Cincinnati USA Regional Partnership that operated under the direct supervision of the Chamber of Commerce?

But these two organizations are not the same thing.  P&G didn’t contribute a million bucks to the Regional Partnership with its 45 person board and a wide diversification of representation that includes the United Way, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, leading academic organizations, and the Urban League.  In fact, not a single member of the fourteen member staff listed on the REDI website admits to any prior association with the Cincinnati USA Regional Partnership.  Instead of 45 representatives to contend with, brand-spanking new REDI only has 14, the only individuals from outside the corporate sector being John Cranley and Chris Monzel.

Yesterday I discovered the 45 member Cincinnati Regional Business Committee, formed in the fall of 2012, their goal to “put together a structure to get more laser-like focus where we can be a force for transformational change,” like the super-secretive Cincinnati Business Committee, but not so secretive and for medium-sized companies.

Over and over and over again we see the same names pop-up on all these boards:  Tom Williams, John Barrett, Scott Robinson, Ed Jackson, Shane Wright, Kay Geiger, Andy Hodgett, and Gary Lindgren.  Western& Southern, North American Properties, Duke Energy, P&G, General Electric, and the grand-daddy of all the mystery organizations so seldom discussed in polite Cincinnati society: the Cincinnati Business Committee.  It’s a very tight little corporate club that’s making our decisions for us now, friends co-operating with friends who look at the world from the exact same perspective.  What’s good for Cincinnati’s corporations is apparently good for all that ails us in this town.  Corporations are no longer just corporations, now they are corporate citizens and we are supposed to be grateful.  And quiet.  Mostly we are supposed to be quiet.

This patiently orchestrated power-grab is not subtle, Citizens.  The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, Regional Economic Development Initiative (REDI), Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority (Port Authority), Cincinnati Business Committee (CBC) and the Cincinnati Regional Business Committee (CRBC) are all located in the same building together at 3 E. Fourth St.  The same consultants have facilitated the strategic planning process for the Port, the Chamber, and REDI.  It’s a system designed to work together and we have turned-over our decision making authority to the for-profit entities who make the money off these deals.  Nobody is asking critical questions and it makes me nauseous.

7 thoughts on “Corporations are good at making money – but do they know EVERYTHING?

  1. Paul

    The scariest line to me was near the end: “…are all located in the same building together at 3 E. Fourth St. “. I’m sure they do some good, but to whom are these organisations accountable? Goverments ideally are accountable to citizens. Business entities are accountable to their share-holders (if any) and their investors/owners. America is headed the wrong way. Go Bernie and Elizabeth Warren!

  2. executivedreamer Post author

    Why are you sure they do some good, Paul? I am quite sure these businesses are not doing this for altruistic reasons. There’s a huge amount of money in development. They are putting together this expensive structure in order to make a buck. They do believe that their buildings are good for the city – but don’t get confused as to the bottom-line motivation. And is this city getting enough in return? We’ve got to be better negotiators.

  3. Paul

    Because, the Chamber of Commerce supported Artworks and raised alot of money for that, and also hired my band, the Burning Caravan, to play for an Artworks wrap-up at which the $$ raised was announced 🙂

  4. Bill Collins

    The irony here is that this effort by the elite to consolidate decision-making power in their hands is happening at the same time that the middle class and working class are growing in the City again, after 40-plus year of declines.
    [Here note the recent U.S. Census estimates showing population growth in the City, and the Cincinnati City school district’s mid-October reports to the Ohio Department of Education showing three straight years of enrollment increases.]

    In the neighborhoods, we’re seeing a growth in civic involvement by middle-class/working-class people. Of course it’s still not at the level (yet) that it needs to be, but the upward momentum is clear and unmistakably: more regular folks are getting excited about and engaging in their communities again after a 30-40 year lull. [And, if we can improve and desegregate 3-4 additional public elementary schools in key communities that are already stable and integrated, this community engagement among young adults and children in key communities will explode.]

    So, again, *why* is the elite maneuvering to consolidate power as Kathy described? And, why are they pushing more Charter Schools and school privatization at a time when public schools are improving in Cincinnati and Charter Schools across Ohio are floundering and failing left and right?

    Well, I think it’s all about the money. [Are you surprised? Not hardly]

    They (this elite that we’re talking about) aren’t stupid. They see the growth and see the energy in the City. And — being who they are (rich, white, powerful well-connected and for the most part themselves the products of elite private schools — want to make sure they get their cut of things like tax breaks, profits, as they control school policies that affect the rest of us.

    Let’s not be discouraged, folks. The elite’s efforts at consolidating power, as described in this article, show that we (regular folks) are back. As we engage, revitalizing neighborhood life community by community, as we we inform ourselves more and more (thanks to popular media outlets like Cincyopolis) about how the elite is trying to grab more cash (as more cash is being made in the City) we will increasingly take a seat at the table and tilt development, planning and public education more in our direction. I’m sure of it.

  5. Jeff Capell

    Corporations can be as wrong as every other group. People would understand government and politics better if they realized that every group has an agenda, and would take the time to understand every group’s angle in the public process:

    – Corporations and business groups exist to make money, not to promote high employment.
    – Teachers unions exist to promote the interests of teachers, not the interests of children.
    – Police unions exist to promote the interests of police employees, not public safety.

    Those are 3 common groups that are misunderstood and there are plenty more.. People who form their opinions on issues or candidates based on what some group tells them to do are not only lazy, but probably don’t even understand why they are being led a certain by that group. I’ll still read what groups have to say, but in the hopes that they’ll have some relevant facts or arguments and not because I need them telling me how to think.

  6. executivedreamer Post author

    Agreed. So when we are making these important decisions that we are going to live with for a very long time and cost a lot of money, don’t you think it’s a good idea to have more viewpoints in the room? My husband and I see the world very differently (he’s all science, I like art) – and it’s a pain to hammer out a compromise together. But I notice we make better decisions together than we ever would by ourselves


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