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Recent deals cement growing Cincinnati-Dayton relationship

Major business heavyweights expanding regionally, and a new federal designation for grant funding have cemented Cincinnati and Dayton’s growing relationship.

General Electric Co. announced plans in April to open a U.S. Global Operations Center in the Cincinnati-area, and is considering sites in the northern suburbs and downtown to build it. The shared services center, which will house finance, technology and other administrative services for the global conglomerate, will create 1,400 new jobs to Ohio and employ about 2,000 altogether when it opens in 2017.

GE’s already strong presence here, including the headquarters of its aviation division in greater Cincinnati and a major Dayton-area GE Capital office, was credited with the company selecting Ohio for the project.

Then it was revealed May 15 that Cincinnati-based consumer goods giant The Procter & Gamble Co. is the force behind a nearly 2 million-square-foot distribution center under construction in Union, in Montgomery County. The center is expected to create 800 new jobs when it opens in 2015.

“We’re starting to get the attention of people in the state and in the country,” said Jeff Hoagland, president and chief executive officer of Dayton Development Coalition.

The Coalition is a private nonprofit agency responsible for leading the region’s business attraction and retention activities. Its southern counterpart is the organization Regional Economic Development Initiative (REDI) Cincinnati.

“The relationship that Dayton and Cincinnati has is only going to grow,” Hoagland said.

Most recently, the Cincinnati-Dayton region learned last Wednesday it was one of 12 sites nationally to win a coveted “manufacturing communities” designation from the federal government. The designation under the Obama administration program, Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, is worth potentially millions for the local aerospace industry. Companies, universities and other organizations in the 27-county region seeking federal funding for research and training related to aerospace manufacturing will get preferential treatment on their applications because of it.

That applies to groups located in northern Kentucky, Butler and Warren counties, and Springfield.

“It gives us validation in that it differentiates us from other parts of the country. Not everyone can say that they have this kind of designation,” said Johnna Reeder, president and CEO of REDI Cincinnati.

“It’s also an independent validation that we have what it takes in advanced manufacturing; that we’re unique and that we’re better,” Reeder said.

One significant factor in winning the federal recognition is that Cincinnati and Dayton jointly applied for the status, the first public-private partnership leaders can recall between the two cities on economic development.

The manufacturing communities designation can’t be directly compared to the recent proposal submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration seeking approved airspace to test unmanned aerial vehicles, according to Dayton Development Coalition. An Ohio-Indiana test site was rejected about six months ago, dampening efforts to grow the burgeoning drone industry even though leaders say those efforts will continue regardless. But, with this U.S. Economic Development Administration application, “what really made a difference certainly was the collaboration,” said Quin Kline, the Coalition’s vice president of strategic partnerships.

“We’re brand new in the collaboration efforts with Cincinnati so to have the first one that’s your big one to be a win I think gives great confidence to the efforts of okay, what else can we collaborate on?” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

Going forward, the new manufacturing designation forces the two cities to continue to work together, Whaley said. That’s because the four co-applicants on the project — the cities of Cincinnati and Dayton, REDI and the Coalition — agreed to make sure local organizations don’t submit funding applications for competing projects, she said. Therefore, priority projects will have to be identified throughout the area. Partnerships between universities and businesses are encouraged.

Additionally, the designation isn’t forever. The partners will have to re-apply for it in the future and prove they worked together to invest taxpayer dollars, she said.

Major business players in the region are taking note of the cooperative efforts, and the critical mass that a Cincinnati-Dayton metroplex could create. For example, retail developer Steiner + Associates, working to attract tenants to its Butler County project Liberty Center, cites figures that the region’s combined population will grow to 3.5 million by 2015. Steiner, the same developer of Easton Town Center in Columbus and The Greene in Beavercreek, is building a similar-style $350 million, more than 1 million-square-foot shopping, dining, residential and office complex between Cincinnati and Dayton at the intersection of Interstate 75, Ohio 129 and Liberty Way.

“I’m very interested in the concept of regionalization and I’m fairly ambivalent whether jobs come to northern Kentucky, Cincinnati or Dayton as long as they come to our region,” said Mike Michael, president of Fifth Third Bancorp’s Cincinnati division, which covers the bank’s operations from Kentucky north to Lima. Cincinnati-based Fifth Third is Ohio’s largest bank by deposits held.

“I think we as southwestern Ohioans have taken more of a regional approach and it’s worked well for us,” Michael said.

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