Best & Worst States: Tale of Two Surging Cities

Cincinnati and Phoenix forge economic-development success with digital-technology prowess as well as historic advantages.

The piece below is part of Chief Executive‘s annual Best & Worst States for Business ranking. Read the full report

Phoenix, Arizona

Their states only stood pat in the new “Best States/Worst States for Business” rankings for 2020, but Phoenix and Cincinnati are building on their reputations as dynamic places for CEOs to do business amid a newly shaky economy.

Arizona’s ranking of No. 7 remained unchanged in CEOs’ perceptions of state business climates in the annual survey by Chief Executive, and likewise at No. 9, Ohio retained its position within the top 10 states. But each state has at least one major city on the rise.

Greater Phoenix is leveraging its reputation as a haven for corporate shared services, emphasizing workforce development in areas such as blockchain and taking advantage of the stream of immigrants arriving in the metro area. The region of 4.8 million people can count on enduring attributes including a reasonable cost of living, a robust transportation infrastructure, a strong network of higher-education institutions and a sunny quality of life, Chris Camacho, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC), told Chief Executive.

“What’s different now is we’ve put things in motion predicting where future jobs are going to be, versus, ‘If you come here, we’ll give you job-training dollars,’” Camacho said, citing the example of a blockchain-certification program that GPEC helped establish at local Mesa Community College a few years ago with the help of Cisco and Apple, among others. “We’re trying to pre-emptively train.”

And while Covid-19 at least temporarily set back the local economy and job market, it isn’t likely to affect one of Phoenix’s biggest development attributes for the long term: the immigration of about 110,000 people each year, on average, to the area. “That means we have a plethora of workers available across the entire spectrum,” Camacho said.

Such advantages, Camacho maintained, could even give Greater Phoenix – which is not anywhere near auto manufacturing of any sort — a shot at what looms as the biggest economic-development prize now in the balance: Tesla’s plan to pick a site for a truck-assembly plant in the coming months. “We’ve got a compelling value proposition,” he said, including a strong stream of engineering graduates, a young workforce and “not having natural disasters. And innovators like Musk will challenge the norm in everything they do.”

The Queen City, Cincinnati, is at the center of REDI Cincinnati, a 16-county economic-development effort that straddles the Ohio River in northern Kentucky and includes part of southeastern Indiana. Post-Covid-19, talent development remains the group’s priority as it responds to demands of local CEOs.

And REDI Cincinnati is positioning the region as great place for companies to expand and locate if they want to lead the digital disruption of their markets. “That’s where the competition is among us in economic development – attracting that next big disruptor to the market,” Kimm Lauterbach, CEO of REDI Cincinnati, told Chief Executive.

Cincinnati, Ohio

For example, she noted, Amazon is establishing a $1.5-billion hub for its Prime Air delivery service at the Cincinnati international airport, and CEO Jeff Bezos himself broke ground for it about a year ago. The three-million-square-foot facility is supposed to create 2,000 jobs, Bezos said. REDI Cincinnati worked with dozens of universities and local chambers of commerce to reinforce the airport’s successful pitch, Lauterbach said.

Given such developments, she said, REDI Cincinnati is hoping for increasing success in its efforts to re-acquire local talents who have left the area. Other pillars of the local economy include Procter & Gamble and Over-The-Rhine, the rehabbed central-city area of Cincinnati that is brimming with tech startups.

“We’re looking for those people who have ties to the Cincinnati region, and they’re coming back in great percentages because of all the assets we have,” Lauterbach said, including an emphasis on innovation and economic diversification. “They know their spouse or partner will be able to get a job here, too.”