Three smart leaders who generate economic activity visit the Walnut Hills Open Newsroom

Rick Karlgaard, Publisher, Forbes, suggests “the most valuable natural resource in the 21st century is brains. Watch where they go! Because where they go, robust economic activity will follow.” Over the last seven weeks, the On The Ground Open Newsroom has chatted with catalytic talent who are actively pursuing inclusive development strategies in Walnut Hills for food access, education, housing, entrepreneurship, spirituality, history, arts and culture, healthcare, and music. Why Walnut Hills? There are twenty-two videos, hosted by long-term resident and Walnut Hills Community Council president, Kathryne Gardette, to watch here that explain why Walnut Hills and why now.


During last week’s seventh Open Newsroom, three community leaders shared more about economic initiatives in local government with Hamilton County Commission president, Denise Driehaus; in financial services with William C.Johnson, Jr., Business Development / Community Outreach Manager, First Financial Bank; and about client key needs and income-producing programs from a major nonprofit led by John Mitchell, President/CEO of the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.


Commissioner Driehaus talked about being part of the historic all-women Hamilton County Commission and the upcoming work that the commission is focusing on in 2020. Priorities include building two parking garages — one on the FC Cincinnati stadium site and another at Findlay Market — the Commission on Women and Girls, and the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program for addiction treatment.


“The LEAD program gives police officers the ability to not incarcerate folks who have either an addiction issue or a mental health issue, but rather guide them into treatment. We’ve got some rather chronic folks in this community that suffer from addiction issues or from issues related to mental health … why are we throwing them in jail instead of getting them the treatment that they need? We’re rolling this program out in partnership with the City of Cincinnati and we’ve got a federal grant to do it. We’re anxious to see what the impact will be not only for those individuals, but we’ve also got an issue with jail overcrowding in this community … so this is a two-pronged approach,” says Driehaus.


William Johnson detailed why First Financial Bank chose Walnut Hills for a new location and talked about the services the bank will bring to the neighborhood, including a free-to-use community room, an eight-week financial education course, plus a new technology called an Interactive Teller Machine (ITM) that allows users to hit a button and talk live to a teller on a screen outside of normal branch open hours.


“It was about four years ago that First Financial decided to come into the Walnut Hills community. Our bank president, Archie Brown, wanted to invest in this community, and also bring our ALIVE program. That stands for Access, Lending, Investment, Volunteering, and Education. We’re just really passionate about being in Walnut Hills because we know this community is doing great things,” Johnson says.


John Mitchell, president/CEO of the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, detailed the organization’s history in Walnut Hills, dating back to 1968.


“We decided to stay in Walnut Hills because it’s a central location,” he says. “Reliable, available, public transportation is of paramount importance to those who are blind or visually impaired. There is a bus stop directly in front of the agency, so that was key. The building that we’re in is extremely solid. We’ve had some engineering checks done on it in the late 90s before we made the renovation. In 1999-2000 we did a complete basement to roof restoration and renovation of the building, bringing it up to full code, and reordering where we had the services within the building, and that’s why we’re staying here.”


Mitchell continued: “We also have a second location right next to the Cincinnati Museum Center where we create employment opportunities. That’s our Hornbeck Social Enterprise Center. In that center, we have an industrial operation where we create employment, working for a federal government program to produce products for the federal government. That building also houses our viability office products service, which is a new social enterprise startup where we now have almost a thousand customers who are ordering products and getting excellent pricing, next day service, and excellent customer service from our staff that runs the service who are all blind or visually impaired.”


In conjunction with the On the Ground Series, Soapbox has been running a text survey to learn more about how Walnut Hills residents shop and purchase fresh produce and groceries. To participate in the survey, Walnut Hills residents are invited to text ‘HELLO’ to 513-230-6899 and answer a few brief questions about where they are purchasing groceries and what they are purchasing. This is the last week to gather data for this report which will be shared with the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation and the local food access community.


Thanks to everyone who stopped by at Caffé Vivace over the last few months to tell their stories or join as guests at the Walnut Hills On The Ground Community Open Newsroom. To read the entire series made possible by The Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S.Bank Foundation, visit:

The Walnut Hills On The Ground Community Open Newsroom and Groundsource program have been made possible by a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project with additional support from First Financial Bank, opening a new branch soon at 926. E. McMillan St. in Walnut Hills, along with the helpful team at Caffé Vivace.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Kacey King Redmond.

Kacey King Redmond is a graduate of Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism and has her MBA from Thomas More University. She has written for various trade publications, associations, and is a published poet and children’s author. She currently specializes in content marketing for her consulting firm, Cincy Marketing Maven, and acts as social media manager for Soapbox Cincinnati and its sister publication, NKY Thrives.