Minority Developer Partners with Uptown Consortium on Key Corner in Innovation Corridor
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The Uptown Consortium (UCI) has signed a letter of intent (LOI) with Queen City Hills, LLC to develop a key corner of the Uptown Innovation Corridor. Queen City Hills, LLC is an ownership group comprised of prominent local executives with extensive business and real estate investment experience. The team is led by Ed Rigaud, David Foxx and Albert Smitherman.

The LOI gives Queen City Hills, LLC nine months to submit a development plan and enter into a purchase agreement for the UCI-owned property on the southwest corner of Martin Luther King Drive and Reading Road. The selection of a minority-owned development team is a key component of the economic inclusion model that UCI has prioritized in the Uptown Innovation Corridor. The full investment team of Queen City Hills includes Ed and Carole Rigaud, David and Patricia Foxx, and Albert and Liza Smitherman.

"We are very fortunate to have Queen City Hills as the designated developer of this important site. The leaders of Queen City Hills, known for their innovative and inclusive management approaches, have vast business and investment experience,” said Neville Pinto, board chair of Uptown Consortium and president of the University of Cincinnati. “Uptown Consortium has been intentional in our diversity and inclusion efforts, so it’s gratifying that Queen City Hills, LLC has stepped forward to invest in an ownership stake. We look forward to collaborating with Queen City Hills as we develop the Uptown Innovation Corridor.”

Last summer, Uptown Consortium purchased the former Marathon gas station at 3049 Reading Road and the former Dual Manor Health Care Center at 515 E. Martin Luther King Drive in addition to three adjacent properties. This land is included in the LOI with Queen City Hills, LLC. The group is exploring options for a mixed-use development on the corner, including possible residential, office and/or hospitality uses.

“The Uptown Innovation Corridor is a timely opportunity to help transform our region’s innovation ecosystem, so we are very excited to help shape the Corridor’s development through our shared vision,” said Ed Rigaud, principal of Queen City Hills, LLC. “We will work closely with the Uptown Consortium and the community to create a development and amenities that will advance the goal of attracting top talent and high-growth, innovative companies to the Corridor.”

Uptown Consortium has made comprehensive economic inclusion a priority in its development initiatives. WEB Ventures, the Consortium’s economic inclusion consultants, are focused on ensuring inclusion in all aspects of the development and operating process of the Corridor, including construction contracts, employment, developers, and investors. The WEB Ventures team was essential in recruiting the principals of Queen City Hills, LLC to the Uptown Innovation Corridor.

Queen City Hills, LLC joins a host of developers in the Uptown Innovation Corridor. Terrex Development & Construction and Messer Construction Co. are developing the Uptown Gateway in the southeast corner of the Corridor. In August, Terrex announced that the University of Cincinnati will be its first tenant with a building that will become a digital futures research commons for university-industry collaboration. The northeast corner will be a mixed-use project developed by MLK Investors and the northwest corner will be home to the consolidated NIOSH research laboratory.

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The Corridor Conversation: Jill Meyer

Jill Meyer is president and CEO of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, one of the largest metro chambers in the nation with 4,000 member businesses from 15 counties in Southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky, and Southeastern Indiana. Jill has set the Chamber on an aggressive course designed to grow the vibrancy and economic prosperity of the Cincinnati region.

Before joining the Chamber, Jill practiced law for twenty years at Frost Brown Todd, and served as the Member-in-Charge of the law firm’s Cincinnati office. A dedicated volunteer for many civic and community causes over the years, she currently serves on the boards of 3CDC, Downtown Cincinnati, Inc., City of Cincinnati Department of Economic Inclusion Advisory Board, Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District, and Art of the Piano. She is a member of the United Way Tocqueville Society and ArtsWave Women’s Leadership Roundtable.

Jill has been honored as a YWCA Career Woman of Achievement, a Cincinnati Business Courier Forty Under 40 recipient, and is an alum of the Chamber's inaugural Women Excel (WE) Lead class and Leadership Cincinnati Class 34. In 2016, she received the Difference Maker Award from the American Bar Association and was recognized by the Cincinnati Business Courier as a Woman Who Means Business.

We caught up with Jill recently to get her views on the Cincinnati region’s innovation economy and how the Chamber is helping to drive it.

What role does the Regional Chamber play in the innovation economy?

The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber serves nearly 4,000-member businesses and their 300,000 employees. 83% of those firms are small businesses and we take to heart our responsibility to work on their behalf on issues like talent attraction and retention, transportation, and in particular, connecting more people to jobs, education, and healthcare.

Recently, we announced a new partnership with Cintrifuse, giving startups easier access to Cincinnati Chamber membership and its many benefits. And the Cincinnati Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator is accelerating the development of sizable minority businesses while expanding and strengthening the regional minority entrepreneurial community.

Our talent pillar is focused on expanding and diversifying the talent base. In addition to our CincyisIT.com portal to attract new tech talent to the region, the Chamber is also partnering with Cincinnati Public Schools to introduce high school students to career pathways through pre-apprenticeships in technology with our region’s businesses. Additionally, we will be launching a skills-based hiring model of middle-skill tech talent in the coming months.

What does our region need to do to continue growing its innovation economy?

The Cincinnati region, like many areas around the country, is in a war for talent. Our challenge is not unique, but our ability to solve against the challenge is. The Cincinnati Chamber has assembled a diverse Talent Initiatives team to attract new residents to fill available jobs, develop leaders and find innovative ways to close the workforce gap.

Collaboration is key. The Cincinnati Chamber is recruiting new tech talent through partnerships with Kroger technology and initiatives like our new website, CincyisIT.com. And we’re working to fill future jobs in IT and advanced manufacturing through a pre-apprentice partnership with regional businesses and Cincinnati Public Schools. It offers students the opportunity to work while at CPS and get a taste of available jobs and sectors.

We’re engaging future talent through the Cincinnati Intern Network Connection (CINC), a summer event series exposing interns and co-ops to all our region has to offer, with the goal of keeping these students in our region after graduation. 2018 is also the second year for The Big College Event which brings together thousands of students from regional colleges and universities to connect with internship opportunities, interest groups, social scenes, community engagement and our unique Cincinnati flavor.

Additionally, we helped the Mayor’s office launch Cincinnati Compass which is operated by Steve Driehaus and Bryan Wright. Cincinnati Compass is a collaborative project with the University of Cincinnati, 60 community partners and an expanding list of investors to welcome, with open arms, immigrants into the Cincinnati region. We know that immigrants are key to a robust economy and a vibrant community. 

What national innovation trends do you see impacting our region in 2019?

There’s a lot going on in transportation and transit. We’ve looked closely at the national picture and especially at the innovative things being accomplished in many of our peer cities. The truly successful regions, when it comes to transportation, have a clearly-defined vision for the magic they wish to create and a broad, diverse set of stakeholders willing to roll up their sleeves and get dirty in making their vision of connecting people to jobs, education and healthcare a reality.  That’s why earlier this year, we have launched The Connected Region, our region’s vision for connecting people to all that our region has to offer.

The Cincinnati Chamber is fortunate to have transportation experts on its team and a driven group of business, civic and transit leaders working together to make Cincinnati a more connected region.

Earlier this year, Uber announced a first of its kind, multi-year partnership with a collaborative of regional Cincinnati organizations to create the Cincinnati Mobility Lab. The Lab will share data, conduct studies, engage employers and activate designers to help deploy new tools that help connect the Cincinnati region. I can tell you this partnership is much coveted by cities around the nation and the globe.

In what business sector would people be surprised to find a strong innovation culture?

From what our members tell us, manufacturing is still fighting an image problem. These are not your grandfather’s factory jobs. Manufacturing, especially advanced manufacturing, is high-tech, has some of the highest average wages and some of the lowest turnover rates. From additive manufacturing to robotics, connected devices and AI, our region’s businesses are leading in Industry 4.0.

Manufacturing is the largest of 20 economic sectors in Ohio, with a $40 billion annual payroll and a gross domestic product of $106 billion - the third highest in the nation. More than one in 10 Ohioans – including 117,000 of our Cincinnati neighbors - are employed by manufacturers. You can understand why it’s critical that we’re working to fill the hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs that will become available in the next ten years.

What is the one thing you want people to know about the Cincinnati innovation scene?

When we talk about tech jobs in the Cincinnati region, it’s important to know that we’re not only talking about jobs working for tech companies. Cincinnati has tech talent! It’s thriving throughout all our sectors and its driving companies like P&G, General Electric, Kroger and so many more.

We’re also working on the second iteration of BLINK, the art and light event that brought one million visitors to downtown Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine in 2017. BLINK, October 10-13, 2019, will again feature artists and creatives from around our region, our nation, and our world, reinforcing and securely planting Cincinnati on a global map as an innovative, diverse and creative future city.

The Cincinnati region has an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is gloriously diverse and multi-faceted. We have tech-based, hyper-scalable, venture-backable startups as well as Main Street businesses that create jobs and deliver excellent quality of life to our citizens. From Cintrifuse, CincyTech, UpTech, Ocean and HCDC, to Mortar, Aviatra, First Batch and Artworks’ Co.starters, this is a place to build and scale a businesses and we have the track record to prove it.


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First tenant announced in the Uptown Gateway development at the Uptown Innovation Corridor

On Wednesday, August 22, the University of Cincinnati announced their intention to sign a long-term, build-to-suit lease in the Uptown Gateway development in the Uptown Innovation Corridor. Terrex Development and Construction and Messer Construction will develop a 180,000 square foot building that will serve UC’s Digital Futures initiative, where companies can openly innovate and collaborate with UC, the community, and each other. The Digital Futures building will be located at the highly sought out corner of Martin Luther King Drive and Reading Road by the I-71 interchange and in close proximity to the 1819 Innovation Hub.

“UC has a long, impressive history of keeping innovation and collaboration central to its culture. These traditions coupled with their new investment in the Uptown Innovation Corridor communicates a significant step for our region,” said Beth Robinson, president and CEO of Uptown Consortium. “We are building a transformative ecosystem in this district, so this lease marks a key milestone that is certain to attract the innovation community.”  

The Uptown Innovation Corridor project is led by the Uptown Consortium (UCI). To date, UCI has strategically assembled over 120 parcels of land and formed critical partnerships with the Avondale community, City of Cincinnati and influential local developers. In January 2017, UCI announced Terrex and Messer as the preferred developers for the southeast corner of the Corridor development known as the Uptown Gateway. In August 2017, UCI and their partners celebrated the official opening of the MLK interchange after nearly a decade of advocacy and planning. 

“This innovation district is vital to the future of our city,” said John Cranley, Mayor of Cincinnati. “This project is an amazing catalyst for the reinvestment of these great historic neighborhoods.” 


The Uptown Gateway project is an urban, mixed-use development including class A office, hotel and residential uses. Project amenities will include an underground parking facility, outdoor plaza and green space, and sustainable green design. UC is the first tenant to sign on to the project. This development agreement will attract likeminded tenants and talent to the Corridor. 

“This development represents a shared vision for our region as a leader in innovation,” said Johnna Reeder, president and CEO of REDI Cincinnati. “The growing Innovation Corridor will mobilize stakeholders to help realize our full potential by bringing new jobs and capital investment into our community.” 

Over the last two years, UCI, Terrex and Messer have actively prepared the project for future construction, including prioritizing the needs of the Avondale community in the development planning. From project inception, UCI and the developers have met with the City and community council for feedback and set increased economic inclusion protocols to ensure that Avondale residents are included in job opportunities during construction and beyond. 

“The Avondale community welcomes UC’s decision to locate in the Innovation Corridor and hopes it will spur others to invest in Avondale,” said Patricia Milton, president of the Avondale Community Council. “This is what matters: creating opportunities for the current residents to be involved and to succeed, so when the buildings are complete, we grow together as one vibrant neighborhood.”  

At the press conference on August 22, Dr. Neville Pinto, UC president and UCI board chair, delivered the news to stakeholders and media personnel. Terrex and Messer expect the project to be completed in 2021.  

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What's New in the Uptown Innovation Corridor: Healthcare Tech and Michael Pistone
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Michael Pistone is the Director of Innovation Acceleration at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Michael and his team are responsible for identifying, assessing, developing and commercializing promising healthcare innovations at Cincinnati Children’s, including digital health/HIT, medical devices/diagnostics and therapeutics. He joined Cincinnati Children’s in 2012 and has more than a decade of experience in healthcare technology product development, commercialization/new ventures, market analysis and competitive intelligence. 


Michael is a passionate husband and father who is actively engaged in the community, in addition to a self-described “washed up DII college linebacker” and food, beer and coffee enthusiast. He shared his views with us on a variety of topics related to his work at Cincinnati Children’s as well as the Uptown Innovation Corridor and the innovation economy in general.


What is the one thing you want people to know about Innovation Ventures at Cincinnati Children’s?

Cincinnati Children’s has a robust innovation engine, generating more than 150 new discoveries every year. Innovation Ventures exists to capture and develop these discoveries and move them to the market where they can have the greatest opportunity to impact children’s health. We invest millions of dollars annually, both in projects and new spinouts to accelerate the development and impact of promising discoveries. 


What is the biggest challenge you face in commercializing medical technology and discoveries?

It’s difficult to select the single biggest challenge we face. Cincinnati Children’s benefits from a wealth of innovations which creates a challenge when it comes to prioritization and where we “place our bets” in terms of personnel and capital. There’s also the age-old challenge of “the valley of death” – the early stage funding and development gap that exists between academic research and commercial products. We’re working to overcome this gap with our acceleration team.


How does the Cincinnati innovation ecosystem differ from the other cities in which you worked?

When it comes to pharma/biotech/medtech/venture, Cincinnati isn’t Cambridge and it’s not the Valley. That said, Cincinnati has proven itself to be an attractive and fertile region for innovative health startups, and we’re an attractive region for established industry looking for highly collaborative and cost-effective partnering opportunities. So while we may have to work a little harder to find the right management talent for a new startup or we may have to travel more frequently to partners, the Cincinnati ecosystem is definitely an asset we tout, not a hurdle we have to overcome. 


What are the top three things our region needs to do to attract and retain the necessary talent to grow our innovation economy?

We need more of our startups to exit. This will create a pipeline of entrepreneurs in our backyard that will be on the lookout for their next gig. This is critical. It will also make it easier for new companies to get the attention of and secure capital. Money follows proven entrepreneurs. 


We need to continue to work at being collaborative. That will help us, as a region, make sure we can “show up” as a truly integrated ecosystem rather than disparate nodes. And it will springboard and transform our innovation economy. Collaboration is an overused buzzword, but it’s more than that at Cincinnati Children’s. It’s in our DNA. It’s pervasive. 


And we need to embrace an exponential mindset. This means not settling for simply making something a little better; that’s an incremental approach. We need to strive for something different, something that is, in the words of Harvard Business Review, “out for 10X growth, not 10%.”


What has been your favorite “discovery” since moving to Cincinnati?

Probably the great beer scene. As a self-described beer snob, the Cincinnati region has a tremendous community of excellent breweries! 

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The Corridor Conversation: Peg Moertl

Peg Moertl taking the reins of HCDC, Inc. (formerly known as the Hamilton County Development Company) earlier this year was as logical as it was wise. Logical because it is the natural next act for an economic development pro who has worked on all sides of the equation – small business, government, nonprofit and for profit, banking – for more than four decades. Wise because Peg is not just passionate about her work but brings a strong record of achievement to her new position.

HCDC’s work is organized into three pillars: access to capital, business coaching and incubation, and economic development. It is the largest certified development company in the state of Ohio both in terms of units and dollars. At 77,000 square feet of available space, HCDC is the largest and oldest incubator in the State of Ohio and about three times the national average size for incubators. In its capacity as the economic development office for Hamilton County, HCDC supports neighborhood revitalization and business growth through community consulting, business coaching and tax incentives.

“HCDC really is a gem,” she said. “Each leg alone would be enough for some organizations. The fact that we marry all three of them really does position us in a unique way in the overall economic development effort.”

We caught up with Peg to talk about what the region needs to do to maintain its momentum.

Peg points to three key ingredients that will be necessary to continuing the region’s impressive run of recent successes. The region must recognize that a rising tide does not float all boats, and that we must have an intentional focus on equity to ensure the benefits of a growing economy reach broadly into our community. “Quality affordable housing, effective education, bail and criminal justice reform, transportation, and lingering racism are all critical elements that we need to address with real intention,” she said. “If we don’t, we’re going to reach a point where it will stall economic development progress, if it isn’t hasn’t already.”

The region also cannot let the current county and city budget issues or national policy uncertainties derail its efforts. “It will require a combination of strategies, certainly, including not just new resources but retooling the way we do things,” Peg said. “And maybe we need a bigger public dialog.” Cincinnati and other areas of the state, for example, have made strides in ensuring a more welcoming environment for immigrants as a means of addressing population loss. “So we have a lot of new companies that are immigrant-owned. As they grow, they’re hiring more people.”

And, finally, we need to make sure that the companies birthed here, stay here and grow here. “We’ve been focused to a degree on attracting high-tech entrepreneurs to come here and grow their businesses,” she said. “But how focused have we been on making sure they stay here? Some just leave when they’re finished with whatever accelerator they’re a part of.” She feels the Uptown Innovation Corridor can play a key role in this regard, and keeping these companies in the region is a major focus of HCDC’s Office of Innovation + Creativity as well as the HCDC Business Center.

A word about entrepreneurs
We figured that – having been the director of an organization of women business owners, creating the region’s first micro-credit program, serving as development director for the City of Cincinnati and a host of other positions in banking and economic development – Peg would also be a great person to weigh in on the most important characteristics of a great entrepreneur. “Passion and tolerance. That makes all the required hard work and the rejection and failure worthwhile,” she said. “And preparation and persistence. Success follows lots of homework, lots of starts and stops, lots of obstacles.”