Project Category: Investing in Small Business
Organization Name: City of Cincinnati Department of Community and Economic Development
Organization Website: http://choosecincy.com
MetroWest Commerce Park
809 Evans Street
Cincinnati, Ohio 45204
Project Cost: $12,000,000
The City of Cincinnati strategically acquired approximately 100 parcels, totaling 18 contiguous acres, in its Lower Price Hill neighborhood to establish much needed development sites within its urban core, while offering access to existing industrial infrastructure imperative to attracting new manufacturing operations; the site was renamed Metro West Commerce Park.
Metro West required full-scale environmental assessment and complex soil and groundwater remediation, as the area’s +100-year heavy industrial history resulted in contamination and associated environmental liability the private market would not address. Acquisition, cleanup, demolition, and infrastructure improvement activities totaled $9.8 Million, funded through various local, State and Federal programs and competitive grants. The project was in-process for a decade, receiving environmental regulatory approvals in 2014 to accommodate development.
The City was also working with Nehemiah Manufacturing Company, LLC (Nehemiah), a local consumer products manufacturer/repackager, to realize its corporate mission to “build brands, create jobs, and change lives”. Dan Meyer and Richard Palmer founded Nehemiah in 2009, leveraging their successful business experiences at companies including Procter & Gamble and other multi-million-dollar firms. Nehemiah creates job opportunities for the chronically unemployed in the inner city to achieve steady work and the hope of a better future.
As Nehemiah’s space and production needs expanded, the City offered 7 of its newly-available acres to accommodate a new development and consolidation for Nehemiah, located in the heart of its target workforce population. The project includes construction of a new 180,000-sf, $12 Million office and warehouse facility. The building will house Corporate Headquarters and all Nehemiah business functions and uniquely offers social services in-house to holistically support its workforce beyond employment considerations.
Current Status: Under Construction
Community Needs Addressed:
Lower Price Hill (LPH) is on the western, industrialized edge of Cincinnati’s downtown, landlocked by the Mill Creek, Ohio River, and very steep topography leading to adjacent neighborhoods. LPH is a pocket of residential property surrounded by some of the oldest industrial property in Hamilton County. In recent years, LPH had the highest dropout rate of any area in the Cincinnati Public School District, and unemployment rates are some of the highest in the City.
Decades of sprawl and disinvestment have led to poverty, blight, and many other outcomes including depressed economic conditions and health disparities in LPH. As reported by neighborhood nonprofit “Community Matters”, residents “felt trapped in an environment with 48% living in poverty, 66% unemployment rate, 90% renters without access to dignified housing, and the second lowest life expectancy rate in Cincinnati.”
Nehemiah was attracted to Metro West due to LPH’s unemployment and limited entry-level job opportunities, which aligned with the Company’s ambition to address those issues: First, by creating proximity, nearby residents can get to work w/o a car; and Second, by creating a manufacturing company, workers with low job skills can be hired and trained to build on those skills for advancement.
Throughout project development Nehemiah has engaged City government, social services, community leaders, and Cincinnati’s corporations to raise awareness and intentions of the project and workforce development.
Nehemiah’s founders established the Beacon of Hope Business Alliance, which serves as the nexus for providing social services to employees and guidance to corporate members informing and encouraging hiring practices that recognize the value of reaching the “hard-to-hire”. Through Beacon of Hope, which will have a physical presence within the new facility, Nehemiah provides whole-life coaching and an on-site social worker to ensure multi-faceted support and growth opportunities for its employees.
Benefits and outcome:
This project benefits economic, corporate, environmental & social interests within Cincinnati:
The direct economic benefit is measured by the retention of 76 full time employees ($4.4 Million annual payroll) and creation of 50+ new jobs within three years ($2 Million annual payroll). Construction will bring 200 temporary jobs at an estimated $7.5 Million payroll. The City encouraged Nehemiah’s Corporate benefits, contributing a shovel-ready site complete with liability releases from EPA. The years of City resources expended on Metro West for assembly and cleanup were necessary and invaluable to reactivate this land for such productive use.
Its social impacts span all elements of personal growth and development for members of our population who are presently undervalued and under-deployed in our workforce. The Nehemiah and Beacon of Hope models will elevate these individuals’ personal positions, self-esteem, capacity to contribute, and provide stability that will reap benefits throughout their familial and social relations. Additional outcomes are expected to reduce dependency on social services to these individuals and within the neighborhood.
Environmental contamination and justice concerns were addressed by the City’s proactive acquisition and cleanup of Metro West, without which a safe redevelopment could not occur. Previous industrial users earned years’ worth of environmental violations and bore the ire of neighbors. To make matters worse, in 2004 a five-alarm fire erupted at an industrial barrel recycling facility located on the site, further complicating the environmental conditions requiring cleanup. Cleanup efforts at Metro West involved asbestos abatement, soil excavation and disposal, remediation of impacted soil & groundwater, and continued vapor mitigation. These are among the most complex regulatory issues to navigate, and, with assistance of our state EPA, the City achieved No Further Action status and received a liability release for future users.
Project partners and collaborators:
This project was completed with the help of multiple partners/collaborators including: Regional Economic Development Initative (REDI) Cincinnati, JobsOhio, Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Ohio Development Services Agency, and US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
What makes your project unique?
This project represents the best aspects of what can be achieved when positive, proactive steps are taken by both the City and private industry. The culmination of the efforts made throughout the prior decade have made this project possible, and brings about a new era of opportunities for success for residents, the community, the City, and our private-sector partner.
In addition to the creative solutions to the site’s environmental issues, this project is unique because of the end user: “We want to have a positive impact on lives and on the community,” says Meyer, CEO, of his mission in founding Nehemiah, named for the old testament prophet who helped rebuild Jerusalem. “We have the experience and now we want to take that and do something more than just make money.”
Today, Nehemiah is a thriving “Second Chance Employer” and has expanded into design, manufacture, marketing and sale of various household products such as Downy Wrinkle Releaser, Febreze, and Dreft, and its own brands: Saline Soothers and Boogie Wipes. Nehemiah is a $50MM enterprise where profit has a purpose.
As indicated earlier, the founders of Nehemiah also established Beacon of Hope Business Alliance, an organization designed to help and support other employers working to hire the hardest to employ. Beacon of Hope Business Alliance now has more than 50 members representing industries in construction, manufacturing, service, and nonprofit segments.
This project, and the Nehemiah and Beacon of Hope organizations, are catalyzing private investment and development in a critical neighborhood, and bringing about socially-conscious workforce development models that will catalyze new hiring practices and training methods.
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