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Young Professionals on Why They Chose Covington

In front of a full house at The Madison Event Center, five young professionals took the stage on Thursday afternoon at the November Covington Business Council (CBC) luncheon to talk about the future of Covington and their role in helping propel the city forward.
The discussion was led by editor and publisher of The River City News, Michael Monks, who asked the five panelists a series of questions ranging from why they decided to locate in Covington and where they see the city five years from now to what is the one thing they would change about the city and how they would pitch Covington to someone considering moving or opening their business in the city.
Serving on the panel were: Kelly Charlton of TCZ Properties, Joe Daniels of Swing This! Kettlebell and Strength Studio in Latonia, Rachel DesRochers of Grateful Grahams and the Northern Kentucky Incubator Kitchen, Jake Rouse of Braxton Brewery, and Brandon Sehlhorstof The Catalytic Fund.
Michael Monks: Why did you decide to invest in Covington?
Kelly Charlton: One, Covington is my home. It’s where I feel the most comfortable. Two, I pay attention. I saw a great opportunity here and wanted to be a part of something big.
Jake Rouse: Braxton was all about finding a place that was in need and really had a great vision for urban renaissance. We identified a need for Northern Kentucky to have their own craft beer. When we sat down and looked across all of Northern Kentucky, it was very clear that Covington had the most potential. 
MM: How do you help businesses ink a deal in Covington?
Brandon Sehlhorst: When we have developers come to us, it’s really sitting down with them and showing them on a map the critical mass of development that is happening in downtown Covington and just showing them this momentum. Then, we usually take them on a driving or walking tour so it really brings it all to life. We also meet with a number of community partners and show them the city’s amenities. We want to show them the potential Covington has.
MM: What has your experience in Covington been like and why did you keep your business in Covington after outgrowing your original space in the city?
Rachel DesRochers: We stayed because they love what I was doing. When you feed people delicious treats it helps (laughter). To be in this stage of the growth that is happening in Covington right now, it’s really amazing. It was an easy choice. I didn’t want to leave Covington. 
MM: Joe, you live in downtown Covington, own a business in Latonia, and experience a lot in the city. Why?
Joe Daniels: I’m a fan of diverse offerings and that’s what I find here. There’s a lot of diversity. There’s a lot of things to do. There is a lot people doing many different things and their common goal seems to be to make the community better. That goal aligns with what I’ve always tried to do. Covington is a great place. 
MM: What’s your pitch for Covington? 
KC: There are a lot of organizations out there that are really helping to build a community. It feels good to be a part of that. I feel like I’m not alone in this and there are a lot of resources available. 
JD: I’ve worked in many places throughout the Tri-State, and it seems like in many other communities, there’s a “What can you do for me?” mentality. When I’m in Covington, it seems like it’s more “How can we help together?” Everywhere I go, there’s a person saying “We can help each other.” It seems like that attitude is bringing the community much closer.
RD: Covington said, “Hell yes!” That’s really awesome. Everything I’ve brought to the city, they’ve said, “How do we do it?” That’s huge. I think I would have gotten kind of lost in Cincinnati had I tried to do some of the things we’re doing here over there. 
JR: What Covington lacks in funding, they make up for it in social equity. When we took the (Kickstarter) record from a brewery in San Diego that’s one of the best beer cities in the world out of Covington, Kentucky, it legitimately blew my mind. We’re on this amazing upswing in Covington but we’re not there yet. Everybody knows that. That’s why we’re here. At Braxton, we’re trying to convince people to move in right next door. Covington has a more organic, more real, genuine Over-the-Rhine-type feel and that seems to resonate really well with people.
BS: My pitch would start off with “What are you looking for?” I think Covington is a place for everyone. I think it has something to offer for everyone. 
MM: If you could change one thing in Covington for the better, what would it be?
BS: I think one thing we really need in downtown in Covington is a public gathering space that is consistently programmed and that people can go to at any time of day. I want something unique and distinct to Covington. I think the Madlot is a huge step forward. We need more of that in downtown Covington to really ignite the development in downtown Covington even further. 
JR: I think one of the biggest things that hurt us on this side of the river is that half of the bars I go to in Covington still allow smoking. I can’t go to half the bars in MainStrasse because I get sick from secondhand smoke. I think that’s one thing that could change and we would be okay. 
JD: I would like to see the utilization of more of our small park spaces not just for our children but also for adults. We need to take care of ourselves more. I’d like to see us re-invest in these spaces.
KC: I think one thing that is missing is a lot of young families coming in. Covington has a stigma of not being very safe sometimes. I think one of way of changing that is lighting up the streets. There are a lot of good bars and restaurants around here and a lot of things to do, but sometimes people won’t walk down the street because it’s not very lit up. I think lighting up Covington would make people feel much safer. 
MM: What’s your perfect day look like in Covington five years now?
JD: Having a place to spend the day, to walk around. We have several things that we can do, not that we’re stuck on an agenda, but we can adapt and go here. We walk more.
RD: Hopefully, in five years, we’re still growing. That’s the beauty of where we are right now. The revitalization is very strong and it doesn’t stop. It keeps going and progressing. It’s fun being in a city where everyone knows your name. In five years, that’s that many more people to know, talk to, and work with. There are so many amazing organizations and how do we bring them all together. How do we all work together? 
JR: I think a perfect day in Covington five years from now for me is actually in Ohio. It’s over in Ohio and when I start talking about Covington everyone recognizes what I said is true. It’s genuinely really awesome what’s happening around here and I’d love in five years to walk outside of the brewery and see the streets on 7th and Pike lined with retail and restaurants and have a lot of foot traffic and people being genuinely excited to walk around. 
BS: I wish that in five years more people will be on the streets. When you drive through Covington at 8 o’clock on any given night it’s empty and that gives an unsafe vibe. I think having more foot traffic, more things to do, more of a reason to stay in Covington and not go to The Banks or OTR, I think that’s the biggest reason to have a reason to stay here. 
Fritz Kuhlman (CBC Member): How do you feel about connecting Covington with public transportation that is happening in Cincinnati?
BS: I think it’s coming. I think the first step is starting with the bike share program that just opened in Cincinnati and is really taking off. I think that if we can get that here and establish it in some key locations it would really help the connectivity between downtown Cincinnati, OTR, and Covington and the five River Cities. 
JS: Cincinnati is one of our greatest assets. I think anything we can do to prove that the river is not an ocean is going to be huge. I’m all for more public transportation to get us back and forth.
RD: It comes back to we’re all in it together. At the end of the day, if we work together with more people, it’s bigger, better, and more beautiful. We need it to be easier for everybody.
JD: I can get down with the bike share idea (laughter). It’s not going to be as big of a monetary investment upfront as compared to a streetcar. But with that comes the issue of bike safety. I would like to see a bike share in Covington but there will have to be an educational piece.
KC: I think the bike share is a great idea. It would make Cincinnati more accessible for people who live in our city.
Catherine Hicks (Dayton, Kentucky): How can our tiny town attract people like you?
KC: There have been a lot of city incentives that were very attractive to me. I don’t know that I could do what I am planning to do without the help of city incentives.
JD: Connectivity – the social media aspect. Let people know what you offer. Make it fun. 
RD: Affordability is important. Also, letting people like these guys sitting up here know that you are there and what you have to offer is a huge piece. 
JR: Three things: One, accessibility. You need to be able to call someone from the city and say, “Hey, can we talk about what is happening?” and get the meeting and actually do something about it. Second, the path of least resistance is important. By nature, as entrepreneurs, we’re extremely impatient. The more paperwork, the more steps in the process, the more it frustrates the hell out of us. It’s just naturally who we are. If you can streamline processes and make it easier for them to business with you that is a huge help. The last thing is incentives. Any type of incentive you can throw at a small business that is willing to take a risk in your community is going to be infinitely helpful.
BS: I would say creating a sense of place. Really think about the experience that someone has when they come to Dayton. Realize what the opportunities are for Dayton and what the city isn’t. Having a clear message about that to share with young people is the best advice I can offer.
Story & photo by Jerod Theobald, managing editor
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