The Corridor Conversation: Peg Moertl

Peg Moertl of HCDC in Cincinnati.

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.”