More than 100 Baton Rouge civic and business leaders are in Cincinnati today to learn about what the Midwestern city has done over the past 18 years to remake itself in the face of blight and economic disparity.
The group, which left Baton Rouge Sunday morning on a chartered flight, is partaking in the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s three-day Regional Canvas Benchmarking Workshop, an annual event that for nearly two decades has brought Baton Rouge leaders to cities around that country that are tackling problems similar to those in the Capital Regional.
BRAC officials chose Ohio’s third-largest metro area because of the success it has had with redevelopment efforts, both along its historic riverfront—the city sits on the Ohio River, which forms the state’s southern border with Kentucky—and particularly in an area north of the downtown area known as Over the Rhine. In recent years, that 19th-century neighborhood has become a trendy area with millennials, entrepreneurs and the arts community.
“One of the big driving interests for everybody in looking at Cincinnati is to see how they’ve taken communities and driven reinvestment into those areas,” BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp says. “Redevelopment happened with a lot of planning and governmental involvement, so we really want to see that and get a chance to walk through there, and talk to the leaders there about what worked and what didn’t.”
At a welcome gathering Sunday afternoon, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, a Democrat now in his second term, told the group a close partnership between City Hall and the business community has been key to the success of the revitalization efforts. Also crucial to the strategy has been the focus on inclusion—what Cranley calls a “social contract of racial justice”—that has enabled everyone in the community to benefit from redevelopment efforts.
“We implemented policies that were pro-growth and pro-inclusion,” he said, noting that when he took office just 2% of city contracts went to minority businesses. “This year, that figure will top 20 percent.”
The issue is relevant in East Baton Rouge Parish, particularly with Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s renewed focus on revitalizing north Baton Rouge. In addition to Broome, several Metro Council members are on the trip, as are board members of the Capital Area Finance Authority, and representatives from the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority and the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance.
At nearly 300,000 residents, Cincinnati is only slightly larger than Baton Rouge when you only include those living in the city limits. The total Cincinnati metro area, however, boasts more than 2.1 million residents—significantly more than the Capital Region’s roughly 830,000 people— and is home to nine Fortune 500 companies.
Canvas events will continue today and Tuesday.