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.