What Baton Rouge is learning about Cincinnati’s wins, losses

As they wrap up their three-day trip to Cincinnati today, Capital Region civic and business leaders attending the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s Regional Canvas Benchmarking Workshop are learning about workforce development solutions that are proving effective in a Midwestern city that reinvented itself over the past 25 years.

Over the past two days, the roughly 100 attendees have been shown examples of how Cincinnati business leaders made significant investments in the community and successfully leveraged private dollars to redevelop neighborhoods as well as the city’s riverfront. They’ve created an emerging tech economy and built partnerships with surrounding communities in the greater metro area to stop a trend of negative net migration that—as in Louisiana—plagued the Cincinnati area for decades.

Many of the challenges Cincinnati has faced are similar to those in the Capital Region. But there are many key differences. The Cincinnati area has a significantly larger population and corporate presence, and there’s an obvious spirit of cooperation—what one speaker on Monday called “communitarian”—that enabled the community to get beyond the factionalism that so often prevents forward progress in Louisiana.

A few other takeaways from the recent workshops:

Like Baton Rouge, Cincinnati has had some of the worst health outcomes in the U.S., primarily because of lifestyle and environmental factors. In recent years, however, this has changed.

Through a nonprofit organization called The Health Collaborative, Cincinnati is rethinking the way it delivers primary care by paying doctors for keeping patients well rather than for treating them when they get sick. The organization started small several years ago with a pilot program that proved successful. Today, it has 560 primary care practices in the network.

The Health Collaborative is also focused on improving access to health care for the area’s low-income population through transportation initiatives, and on helping needy patients navigate the complex web of social service agencies on which they rely by making direct referrals to domestic violence counselors or substance abuse treatment programs, among other services.

The Health Collaborative CEO Craig Brammer says the idea is to create a healthier region, which will not only improve the quality of life for residents but make the area more attractive and economically vibrant.

“This is about economic development,” he says. “We want to improve the health status of the region not only because it is the right thing to do but because it will improve the economics of the region.”  

The city’s two-year-old streetcar, Cincinnati Bell Connector, hasn’t proved to be the big win some had hoped, at least not yet. Though the 3.6-mile modern style streetcar was promoted as an economic development catalyst for the resurgent downtown and nearby Over the Rhine neighborhood, riders have failed to embrace the new system. Ridership numbers have fallen more than 50% since January 2017 and the $148 million system is operating at a deficit.

“The streetcar was envisioned as ‘we’ll get this done, everybody will love it and we’ll expand it,” says Gary Lindgren, president of the Cincinnati Business Committee. “But if it’s not part of larger transportation system it’s not going to work, and this is not part of a larger system. It doesn’t really go anywhere.”

Mayor Sharon Weston Broome recently nixed plans for a 3.4-mile streetcar line on Nicholson Drive, citing concerns about the high operating cost and the lack of connectivity to the larger traffic grid.

• Cincinnati’s business community is committed to increasing inclusion and diversity of minority businesses. The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber has extensive policies and programs to increase the participation of minority and women-owned businesses in the community. A minority business accelerator funded primarily through grants and private donations takes new businesses through a 12-week program. Minority business owners start by getting help with the fundamentals of starting a business and then progress to the accelerator, which provides access to attorneys, office space and capital through low-interest loans and grants.

“If we don’t build a workforce today and for the future that looks like where the country is going, we run the risk of not being competitive as a region,” says Mary Stagaman of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. “If we think these legacy companies will stay here because they’ve always been here we’re not paying attention to how business is done.”

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