Will Expanded Clout For Port Authority Strengthen Its Economic Development Capabilities?

Early this year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designated the entire 226-mile stretch of the Ohio River between Huntington, WV and Louisville, KY as the “Ports of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky,” greatly expanding it from its previous 26 miles. This expansion mirrors other large-scale capacity and access expansions across America’s inland ports.

In Duluth, MN work began in May on a project to enhance rail connections and the intermodal abilities of the port. The Duluth Seaway Authority, the western edge of the St. Lawrence Seaway, states that it is the largest project they have undertaken since their creation in the 1950s.

Further south, America’s Central Port, the port authority for the St. Louis region, began a new $50 million project to provide rail access to six Class I carriers and increase intermodal capabilities. And ports along the Great Lakes are seeing increased shipments of steel, grain, and salt, and are also upgrading rail infrastructure to keep up with demand.

The growth of these ports coincides with several different events. As the nation continues to recover economically from the Great Recession, traffic is increasing along most of America’s transportation corridors; and rail-river/lake intermodal traffic is becoming increasingly popular.

This trend is evidenced in the US Department of Transportation’s recent designation of the Mississippi River as a “container-on-vessel route,” which will provide a vast corridor for container shipping by barge along the entire Mississippi River system. Founded in 1999 to stimulate economic development in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, the Mid-America Port Commission plans to create even more port authorities in the near future along the Mississippi River.

The congestion in Chicago’s rail yards and limited real estate along Lake Michigan is also contributing to growth in other Midwestern ports. Also looming in the background of these expansion decisions is the soon-to-be-opened Panama Canal expansion, which is expected to increase traffic within all of America’s ports and transportation corridors.

This recent expansion of Cincinnati’s port authority makes it the second largest inland port in the United States, and is expected to enable the region to take better advantage of these trends and help serve as a catalyst for economic development.

The problem for the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, however, is a continued lack of dedicated funding stream. This limits the organization’s ability to pursue economic development projects that have come to define its core mission.

REDI CEO Johnna Reeder spoke to this at an August meeting for the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, for which she serves as a board member. At that time Reeder said that the region must do a better job at attracting manufacturing jobs and wants the Port Authority to play a larger role in doing just that.

A proposal to lease the bulk of Cincinnati’s parking assets was approved in June 2013 and would have provided such a revenue stream for the Port Authority. This deal, however, was later cancelled upon the arrival of newly elected Mayor John Cranley (D) and affirmed by a majority of City Council in December 2013.

CDK Global Appears Poised To Bring 1,000 Tech Jobs to Norwood

On Monday it was announced that CDK Global, an integrated technology and market services provider, would relocate 1,000 jobs to the Cincinnati region. At the time of the announcement, however, a specific site was not identified.

Given the company’s focus, UrbanCincy suggested a site somewhere in the center city would make sense for CDK and their employees. Since that time we have learned that the company will most likely move into the large Central Parke office complex in Norwood.

Located at Montgomery Road and Sherman Avenue, the site is in the heart of Norwood and is just down the street from Paycor’s new headquarters in Linden Pointe. Cassidy Turley lists Central Parke as having a block of 95,000 square feet of office space available following the relocation of Cincinnati Bell’s operations to downtown Cincinnati over the past year-and-a-half.

REDI Cincinnati, the region’s job attraction and retention organization, would not confirm the location, but sources close to UrbanCincy say that a deal is in fact close to being finalized. Representatives at CDK Global also would not confirm the information, but did say that they expect to close on a deal by Monday.

If true, it would follow a trend of major employers increasingly choosing in-town locations rather than suburban alternatives that long defined economic moves over the past several decades. It would also be a major win for Norwood which has struggled to maintain its tax revenues as company after company has left the aging industrial city for other locations.

With annual payroll estimated to be around $45 million, the City of Norwood would receive approximately $900,000 annually in new tax revenues from their 2% earnings tax. This is not accounting for any types of tax breaks that may have been offered by the City of Norwood in addition to those given by the State of Ohio.

The Central Parke complex was developed on the former General Motors production plant that was shuttered, along with its 4,000 jobs, in 1987. Since that time, the City of Norwood has struggled economically and been dealt several setbacks in its efforts to diversify its tax base. Such struggles have meant credit rating hits and caused the city to drastically cut its budget and reduce public services over the years.

While landing CDK would help in the short-term, the future continues to look problematic for Norwood with fewer and fewer resources coming from the statehouse in Columbus. As a result, it may still make sense for a municipal merger with the City of Cincinnati in the future, which is both more economically powerful and stable.

The former office space occupied by Cincinnati Bell is reportedly in good condition and will require minimal upgrades in order to accommodate CDK’s staff. Its location is accessible by two Metro bus routes – the #4 and #51 – and has a Walk Score of 85.