Oct. 06--Area economic development directors are frustrated with the Cincinnati USA Partnership because they aren't getting the job-generating leads and attention from the agency that they used to before JobsOhio entered the picture, a JournalNews investigation has found.
Cincinnati USA Partnership for Economic Development is a private nonprofit agency responsible for leading the region's business attraction and retention activities. In Ohio, it coordinates economic development in Brown, Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren counties.
Development directors from those counties complain that communications with the Partnership soured after it became a regional office of JobsOhio in 2011. Officials say that is a major problem when they are trying to attract new businesses and jobs to their jurisdictions.
The concerns have some communities rethinking their financial contributions to the Partnership, which relies on public and private donations to fund operations. This rift comes as the Partnership embarks on a new $10.5 million, three-year fundraising campaign.
Warren County paid $25,000 this year to the Partnership, but Commissioner Dave Young said that money is not a given for 2014. He said there has been a "power vacuum at the top" of the Partnership, and he hasn't seen the agency promote Warren County.
"I think I am cautioning the long-term viability of the relationship at the level we're committed to at this point," Young said. "I don't think the taxpayers in Warren County have gotten an adequate return for the past couple years on the Partnership investment."
Clermont and Butler counties have cut contributions in past years due to budget constraints.
"Certainly the performance of the largest (development) organization of the region has been a topic of discussion," said Andy Kuchta, Clermont County director of community and economic development. "It's certainly been a big transition from the previous administration to JobsOhio. There's certainly been some hiccups and bumps along the way."
Ohio Gov. John Kasich's administration established the nonprofit JobsOhio in 2011 to lead the state's job creation efforts.
Cincinnati USA Partnership was named later that year as one of six regional JobsOhio Network partners statewide. As such, it is the go-between for local jurisdictions and JobsOhio officials in Columbus for crafting business deals.
The private JobsOhio replaced economic development activities of the public Ohio Department of Development, since renamed Ohio Development Services Agency.
The Partnership always had the mission of marketing and promoting the Cincinnati region to businesses, Kuchta said. But local governments working to land business projects used to be able to work with regional state representatives to close a deal, in addition to the Partnership.
However, when JobsOhio formed, the state Department of Development's regional Cincinnati office closed. That role shifted to the Partnership, Kuchta said.
Since then, there has been a lack of clear communication on strategies and how Partnership staff is going to be promoting key industry clusters identified for growth in the Cincinnati market, such as consumer products and brand development, advanced manufacturing and biohealth, Kuchta said.
Core marketing materials promoting Cincinnati are outdated, Kuchta said.
During the transition, there was confusion about who had responsibility for what; how incentives, jobs and investment were to be calculated; and what qualifies companies for tax incentives, Kevin Chesar, Monroe development director, said.
"I think just the JobsOhio roll out overall, and the programs and the state trying to get up to speed, led to some issues with implementation," Chesar said. "I think there was a communication gap there that the Partnership has really tried to do better with."
"I think things stagnated, which caused frustration on everyone's part," Chesar said.