Thousands of new jobs, more high school graduates in college, an inclusive community — the future is bright in the eyes of a Northern Kentucky planning group that hopes to reshape the region by organizing businesses, non-profits and governments under a unified plan.
Vision 2015, a non-profit planning organization created in 2005, has galvanized an array of interests. Dozens of civic leaders sit on the organization's Regional Stewardship Council. A long list of well-known local companies funds the effort.
Public support for the plan is mixed. Interviews with residents unaffiliated with Vision 2015 suggest the organization has yet to attract widespread public awareness.
Last week at a Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce breakfast, A.J. Schaeffer, chair of the Vision 2015 board, delivered an upbeat assessment of Northern Kentucky's prospects.
More than one year after launching the long-term plan, Schaeffer said early data suggest that the region is on track to reach the stated goal of creating 50,000 new jobs in eight years.
To meet the goal — Schaeffer admitted it sounds "unreachable" — Northern Kentucky will need to improve its citizens' education, draw new companies to the region and change its culture to become more inclusive of persons of color, Schaeffer said.
To further stress the last point and illustrate how far the region has to go, he condemned a recent hate crime in his hometown of Burlington.
He urged chamber members to add persons of color to their boards as one way to increase inclusion. Diversity and inclusion make economic sense, he said.
After the event Schaeffer acknowledged there are also moral reasons for diversity but said he didn't want to make the case based on his personal values.
"Separate and apart from the fact that it is the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, there are all kinds of economic reasons that make this a compelling initiative," he said.
Vision 2015 itself struggles with attracting a diverse audience. Schaeffer said he's worked to make the organization inclusive by bringing together representatives from Northern Kentucky's southern counties and from urban areas. His audience at the Chamber of Commerce didn't quite match the goal.
"A.G. mentioned inclusion," Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson said. "Look around the room. It wasn't a very diverse audience, was it?"
Grayson, however, isn't discouraged. He predicted Vision 2015's recent planning and research will soon pay off.
Jerome Bowles, president of the Northern Kentucky Branch of the NAACP, also commended Schaeffer and Vision 2015's efforts. The NAACP and Vision 2015 are working together to pressure Covington to name 12th Street after Martin Luther King Jr. The name change would serve as a symbol of an inclusive Northern Kentucky, according to Bowles and Schaeffer.
Twelfth Street is a two-lane road flanked by gritty apartments, dive bars, open lots and a few stores. The neighborhood is an illustration of the many challenges planners face in developing Northern Kentucky. City leaders have promised for decades to widen the street and rename it in honor of King. Some envision a grand corridor through Covington that will connect Interstate 75 and Newport.
It's hard to imagine the working-class street as glamorous. Still, the widening project is finally moving ahead, and the city's commissioners will hold a public hearing in July on a proposal to rename the street. The proposal has come up for vote before and failed, but Covington Commissioner Jerry Stricker says he's confident this time it will pass.
Whether residents are looking forward to the change is another question. In interviews on a recent morning, people who live and work on 12th Street expressed doubt and mistrust about the city's and Vision 2015's plans. Most hadn't heard of Vision 2015 until a reporter provided a general synopsis. A noticeable divide existed between white and black residents, with many whites neutral or opposed to the new name and blacks supportive but uncertain about what impact it would have.
As a customer walked into his dry cleaning shop on 12th Street, Paul Landrum said he's neutral about the name change and other planned improvements.
"We've been here since 1947," he said. "It was one-way going that way for a while. And one-way going that way for a while. Two ways. The only thing that it will do is change our letterhead."
Ready for hi tech?
Landrum's two children graduated from Covington's Holmes High School with top honors. The schools are good, he said. The problem is that training programs offered to young people are underutilized, he said. His suggestion for what Covington needs? More entertainment.
A few blocks east, Victoria Bandy sat on a stoop outside her house on a side street off 12th Street. Her first-grade daughter played next to her as Bandy offered a competing assessment of Covington's schools.
"They need to pay more attention to the kids individually," she said. "I feel that there are lots of kids who get pushed through school who are not learning to read or write."
Vision 2015 leaders agree. Helen Carroll, a member of the plan's executive committee and leader of an affiliated group, Champions for Education, said Northern Kentucky schools produce far too few graduates ready for college.
Vision 2015's leaders believe better education will lead to increased economic growth and attract companies with high-tech jobs. But Bandy worried that many of her neighbors will be unable to take advantage of the 14,400 high-tech and professional jobs Vision 2015 hopes to create.
"A lot of people here are not educated, so those jobs would not benefit a lot of people," she said.
Joseph Critchfield, 62, who moved from Over-the-Rhine to Covington 15 years ago, said Vision 2015 should consider offering young people more training for hands-on work instead of just high-tech training.
"Where's your welders coming from?" he said. "Where's your plumbers coming from? Where's your electricians coming from? You know those jobs aren't going away. You can't put a light socket in with a computer. That computer can tell you how to weld that piece of metal together, what to use, but it won't do it."
Saraj Patel, a clerk at Ameristop, said she supports the proposal and thinks it will improve the area. ©