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Op-Ed: How Should NKY Better Market Itself?

At a gathering of Kentucky business leaders last year, an economist pulled up a list of the largest cities in Kentucky. Louisville (600,000), Lexington (308,000), Bowling Green (61,000), and Owensboro (59,000) were in the top four. 

The City of Covington, Northern Kentucky’s largest city, came in at number five with 41,000.  

That presentation prompted a series of serious conversations about how Northern Kentucky should present itself. How should we better market ourselves to Frankfort, as well as anyone looking to do business or relocate here?

To anyone that has recently moved here or any visiting tourist, Northern Kentucky looks like one big place. In my opinion, we are.

Our Northern Kentucky counties are packed with cities and people in a way that is, well, unique to the rest of the state. In fact, if we were to combine just parts of Boone, Kenton, and Campbell counties, the result would be the 2nd largest county overnight, with more than 400,000 people.

Here’s an interesting comparison: If you’ve ever been to the Hamburg Pavilion off Man o' War Boulevard in Lexington and traveled to the Bluegrass Airport, you’d find it’s about 15 miles in distance. In that scenario, you travel through one city, one county, and one 911 system to get to your destination.

Here in Northern Kentucky, if you were to travel from Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights to our airport (CVG), you would only travel 14 miles.  

But here, you cross through six cities, three counties, and three different 911 systems. I’ve driven this route for years, and I honestly had to look it up on a map because I wasn’t sure how many cities you drive through.

There are 120 counties in Kentucky, and most of them have one main city or town. In our neck of the woods, we are 37 cities in the three northernmost counties alone and 20 of those cities are among the top 100 largest cities in Kentucky.

Looking at Northern Kentucky cities by population, the top five are Covington (41,000), Florence (32,000), Independence (28,000), Erlanger (19,000), and Fort Thomas (16,000). Newport (15,000) comes in at sixth largest.

By themselves, each Northern Kentucky city is 10 percent or less of our overall population. And while each one is critically important to the whole, none of them is an island standing alone. In my opinion, one of the greatest features of each of our cities is that they are in close proximity to the others. 

Fort Thomas is minutes from Newport on the Levee and MainStrasse in Covington. Fort Wright is minutes from shopping in Florence and Crestview Hills. And all of them are minutes from CVG and all the amenities of Greater Cincinnati.

We are a collection of small towns linked as one larger community. We are part of the Greater Cincinnati experience, that is a key component of who we are. Here, you get the best of both worlds. And part of our story is that, together, we are one of the three largest metro areas in the state of Kentucky.

Fifty years ago, our Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce was founded by a group of leaders who clearly recognized we are stronger together. While we have certainly accomplished a great deal in that 50 years, much remains to be done. As we consider the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead in a global economy, it is important to remember that what was true all those years ago is still true today. We are better together, with a strong voice and purpose for the benefit of all.   

I invite you to join us at the NKY Chamber as we continue to work toward that vision.    

Brent Cooper is the president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce