A new Port Authority program aims to attract manufacturing jobs of the future

The Port Authority has launched an ambitious project to buy and rehabilitate old industrial sites and attract good-paying manufacturing jobs to Cincinnati.

The project is a $170 million venture to buy and clean up old and underused industrial properties, resell them to manufacturers, and claim a share in the growth of advanced manufacturing jobs in urban neighborhoods that have experienced decades of disinvestment.

“There's a big demand for manufacturing, and we want to capture it here,” says Laura Brunner, president and CEO of The Port.

Manufacturing jobs are growing again. For five years before the Covid-19 pandemic emerged, manufacturing jobs grew steadily in the Greater Cincinnati metro region and around the country. Then the pandemic hit. But growth returned as supply chain demands and an expanding economy created opportunities. Manufacturing jobs in the region have now exceeded pre-pandemic levels, and growth is expected to continue, spurred on by massive federal investments, the long-term transition to greener infrastructure, and investment in the U.S. supply chain.

Cincinnati’s urban neighborhoods should capitalize on that growth, Brunner says.    

“Cities are at risk for missing this opportunity, because it's much easier to put manufacturing out in green fields where it's a blank slate,” she says. “But then you've moved the jobs away from the people that need them inside cities.”

Laura Brunner“We want to repurpose industrial land that we have inside Hamilton County and attract those jobs back where they're needed, close to the people that need jobs and help restore the fiscal health of the municipalities inside Hamilton County.”

The Port’s goal is to acquire, clean up, prepare, and resell 150 acres of industrial land, and in doing so, create 1,800 manufacturing jobs and increase the value of those properties by more than $600 million.

Much of the investment would be targeted in neighborhoods such as Camp Washington and Queensgate, communities that were once the heart of manufacturing in Cincinnati and that still enjoy good access to rail, road, and air shipping networks. “That's a primary area, where we've identified there's an enormous opportunity,” Brunner says.

To raise the money for the effort, The Port is creating what it’s calling the Cincinnati Jobs Bond, a plan to borrow $100 million. The plan calls for $70 million to be raised at low interest rates from national and local foundations such as the Kresge Foundation, a metro Detroit philanthropy whose mission is to create opportunities in America’s cities. The remainder $30 million would be raised through creative use of tax increment financing, using the expected growth in property taxes to borrow money in the short term. Another $70 million would be raised through federal, state, and local grants.

The effort is still in its early stages, as consultants and attorneys are working out the details.  The plan will take several years to carry out, but if it’s successful, Brunner says it could be expanded here and replicated in other cities.

“We think we're the first ones in the country doing something like this,” she says. Foundation grants and loans are often used for worthwhile purposes such as the arts, education, or the environment, she points out. “I think we're the first ones doing something that is really focused on manufacturing jobs as our primary goal.”

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David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading, or watching classic movies.