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Business Community Hears from Covington Mayoral Candidates

The candidates for Covington Mayor, current city commissioners Sherry Carran and Steve Casper, appeared together at a luncheon/forum hosted by the Covington Business Council. Below you will find their written responses to questions posed by the CBC and its members, as printed and distributed at the forum. The responses have not been edited in any way. Other questions were asked of the candidates at the forum and those responses can be seen in an upcoming broadcast by the Telecommunications Board of Northern Kentucky.

Chuck Scheper has proven to be an effective leader during his time in office. Why are you the best choice to continue his efforts?
 
Carran: I am the best choice for next Mayor of Covington because of my keen understanding for the issues facing our City and the region, and of my network of relationships already in place. Both have been developed over the past 14 years while working to improve quality of life in Northern Kentucky.
 
I work with others to achieve goals established by initiatives that have been set to transform and sustain Covington and our region as a whole. One such initiative is Vision 2015’s ‘Shaping Our Future’, including the Urban Renaissance component led by Chuck Scheper. Vision 2015 strategies that I have been actively involved are the Brent Spence Bridge Replacement Project; urban forestry relating to livable communities; the Licking River Greenway; effective governance through the Kenton County Governance Study Group; and housing initiatives through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, the Hope VI Project and participation in the Catalytic Fund of Northern Kentucky’s Housing/Development Summits.
 
These strategies strive to improve the quality of life in Covington and our region, and thus improve our economic competiveness.
 
Regarding continuing Chuck’s efforts, my hope is he will still have a significant role at City Hall in moving Covington forward.
 
Casper: ​ 40+ years in the real estate industry in management and ownership positions gives me the understanding to help run the city in a businesslike manner. 2 years ago when I ran for the commission my platform included key points to attract new businesses, retain current businesses and control expenses. A majority of the 10 point plan addresses those same goals as I had, demonstrating I’m on the right path. Besides my own business experience, I was elected President of the Cincinnati Board of Realtors as well as the Ohio Association of Realtors further enhancing my leadership abilities. In addition, I’ve chaired over 1000 meetings over the 40 years giving me the confidence to conduct the commission meetings. Since the primary I have met with each of the commission candidates at least once and several more than once to develop a working relationship with whoever is elected. Outside of the city I’ve reached out to the leadership of Newport, Ludlow, Taylor Mill, Kenton County and Covington Independent Schools on the Kentucky side and the Mayor of Cincinnati and a Hamilton County commissioner on the Ohio to foster strong working relationships to attract jobs to our region.
 
What steps are needed to ensure that Covington continues on a path of fiscal responsibility?
 
Carran: The obvious path is to increase our revenues and the best chance for this is to bring in new business. (Will address in a following answer.)
 
We also need to continue finding efficiencies in providing City services through collaboration with other government entities and through attention to how our City departments are functioning. Nurturing services, programs and projects that provide positive impact will position us for improved revenue. With improved revenue we can increase investment in our infrastructure and amenities to further attract others, business and residential, to invest in our City. Public/private partnerships will also help us accomplish more in programs and projects.
 
Regarding expenses, we have our health care benefits cost down but we must continue to get this cost more with what the business community provides. Also the drain on our budget from contributions to the State pension system needs to be addressed. Last year at a Kentucky League of Cities meeting for ‘cities of the 2nd class’, I encouraged the group to come together on State issues specific to cities of our size, including pension cost, because our specific concerns were not being heard by the majority of State Legislators; this effort has now started.
 
Casper: We have taken many good steps to bring our “house” in order, but we need to continue to control our expenses so that we can set aside money for our infrastructure. Through collaboration we can save money while assuring we maintain our services at a high level. Having the county takeover dispatch was a good first step, but we need to create other opportunities to save money. That said, the only way we can grow the city is to create new jobs which in turn provides additional revenue. Job creation must come 1st before we can look at new programs or services. I have voted twice not to raise our property tax and have supported tax incentives to our current
businesses to create additional jobs while offering incentives to new businesses that bring in a minimum number of jobs. This added revenue will allow us to address all the deferred maintenance of our streets and equipment.
 
It has been said that Covington needs to be branded. What would you say is Covington's brand currently and what would you like it to be?
 
Carran: Covington does not currently have a brand and I believe there has been a hesitancy to create one because past efforts have not worked. I do not see Courage + Vision = Growth as a brand but more of a rallying slogan to get Covington going in positive direction and it is working.
 
Branding for Covington has to be more than a slogan or logo; it has to be part of a larger marketing strategy to convey an image that Covington is unique and desirable. The one word I hear repeated when people describe a positive attribute of Covington is “WELCOMING” so including that feeling into the marketing strategy would be good.
 
Casper: C+V=G, Courage plus Vision equals Growth is a good branding for Covington for the near future! We will be hiring a person as communications director who will be assigned to work with the marketing task force, chaired by Commissioner Masters, to determine how best to market ourselves over the long term. We have so many assets that can be highlighted: location, architecture, historic preservation, culture and arts, Gateway Community and Technical College, diversity of our residents as well as our business people. We are on the cusp of a new vibe that needs to be a part of any future branding.
 
Small upstart businesses and larger corporations have different needs when considering locations. How will you best address the needs of both in an effort to attract them?
 
Carran: An area where Covington can best help companies, both small and large, when they are considering location is to have real-time information on sites, incentives and programs available. Also help them access economic/market analysis for their specific business by working with NKU’s Center for Economic Analysis and Development. Easy access to the above and responsive communication from the City is a necessary first step.
 
Larger companies are looking for incentives but also for a talented workforce; talent that represents the “entrepreneurial aspirations, vigor and creativity essential for growth”. This kind of talent is in demand so companies prefer to locate where the talented workforce wants to live. This means Covington needs to continue focus on strategies for enhancing quality of place that the talented workforce wants: outdoor recreation, urban-style environments with an inviting public realm, and a variety of gathering places that provide access to new experiences and social interactions that support creativity.
 
Small upstart businesses may need additional help with business planning and low/no interest loans and grants. The City needs to be prepared to provide a more ‘hand-holding’ approach and provide intuitive knowledge the potential business may not have.
 
Casper: Emphasize our assets named above coupled with reduced payroll tax incentives for bringing in new jobs. Right now we can offer some of the most favorable lease rates while providing the most convenient location in the region. I would showcase our IT companies, like Tier 1 and C-Forward as examples of success in Covington as well as Biologic in the medical research arena. Gateway will serve as an enticement by providing a well trained workforce. I would showcase the prime office space available on the riverfront to those larger corporations. We offer the best views in the region. Would also emphasize our affordable housing stock up to luxury condominiums overlooking the Ohio River.
 
What kind of marketing strategy should Covington implement to start filling its many vacant storefronts?
 
Carran: It has been explained that we need more people living in the City in order to attract businesses to our storefronts. This is the strategy 3CDC used in ‘Over the Rhine’ in Cincinnati and it is working. They began their work by enhancing the exterior of the buildings and living spaces within, by improving the public realm and by going after small business that were needed to provide services, dining and entertainment venues to create a vibrancy in the area.
 
So taking from this model, the City has already begun an incentive program for creating living spaces above our storefront buildings. We now need to take it to another step by encouraging and supporting qualified urban developers to invest in our storefront buildings, not only the exterior but the interior living spaces as well. At the same time we need to be responsive to the needs of those who have already made this investment. The next most important step is to improve the public realm of our storefront corridors to make them more inviting. This is the step that was not accomplished in some our Pike Street redevelopments, which hurt the full potential
of the investment made.
 
Casper: Besides the above answers, economic development is the best marketing strategy. Business creates new businesses so we can play off the recent announcements of a new boutique hotel at 7th and Madison and the acquisition by Gateway of the Marx building, also on Madison. The last year I’ve suggested taking the block of 7th west to Washington and turning it into a gathering place similar to 4th Street Live in Louisville or the Pavilion in Lexington. This will allow us to capture the 250,000 people attending the Madison Events Center and another 250,000 people who attend the Madison Theatre. Up till now they have no place to go before or after their event taking their dollars somewhere else, not acceptable.
 
How will you support small business owners located in Covington who wish to grow their businesses?
 
Carran: To support our small businesses who want to grow we need to make the regulatory process predictable, reliable and consistent. This will include improving our zoning code and map.
 
We also need to be prepared to help with finding low/no interest loans or grants to fund the investment. Marketing is another component that the business may not be contemplating but if we could give guidance or support towards this effort it could be a win-win for both of us.

Casper: We have in place payroll tax incentives for those small businesses able to grow the number of jobs. In addition, there are other incentives to improve their physical space and incentives for those properties that have apartments above the storefronts. As a city, I’d like to see us provide more streetscaping, thereby making us a more attractive place to live and work. Madison is heart of our downtown business district and needs to be dressed up. One way could be to use the upcoming Bi Centennial as a means to do so. On the flood wall is a depiction of what Madison looked like in 1914, the year before the Centennial. Street was draped with patriotic banners which could be easily done today. No reason to wait till 2015, we should begin to celebrate the best of Covington.

PHOTO: Pat Frew, executive director of the Covington Business Council, with mayoral candidates Sherry Carran and Steve Casper/RCN