While the pandemic led US national unemployment to stand at 6.5% last December, some parts of the country have proved more resilient than others. The Cincinnati area had among the lowest unemployment of all major US metro areas, joining several Midwest cities, such as Columbus, Indianapolis and Minneapolis, in faring relatively well during the crisis.

Kimm Lauterbach, the chief executive of Redi Cincinnati, shares the region’s developmental strategy, its success in food and flavouring projects and how diversity and inclusion must permeate economic development organisations (EDOs).

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Q: What underpins the resilience seen in the Midwest labour market?

A: The Midwest has always had the reputation of being home to really hard working people. Part of that legacy has been resilience, but above and beyond that, for us specifically in Cincinnati, it’s the diversity of our economy. 

Having that diversity of industry and ability to pivot, particularly in the midst of a pandemic, has really helped us to be much more resilient than some of our counterparts.

Q: What is Redi Cincinnati's current focus?

A: When we’re spending our time promoting the region, we are booking in four focused industry sectors.

Advanced manufacturing, which harkens back to our history as a manufacturing city, is a focus. We’ve had a lot of recent success in food and flavouring projects, but even pre-pandemic, we had a base with the headquarters of Kroger — a Fortune 500 company.

During the pandemic, our focus continues to be in logistics and distribution — we are within about 60% of the North American and Canadian manufacturing supply chain from our location. We have seen a big increase in biotech, enhanced by the pandemic. Our fourth is professional services, where we are blessed to have more than our fair share of Fortune 500 companies. As we already had areas of expertise in those four areas, this made it much easier for us to ramp up our focus during the pandemic.

Q: What lessons you have learnt during the Covid-19 crisis?

A: The most obvious lesson is that you shouldn’t wait until the pandemic started to develop a plan. We were very fortunate to have gone through an eight-month exercise in 2019 that released a five year strategic plan.

The beauty of that plan was our business community, or civic leaders, had already bought into it and knew where we were going to go as we started to move forward.

We have a history of really big civic and business engagement in the community, particularly when times are tough, and this was a great reminder to us that we come together as a region.

Q: Did you adjust your strategies as part of this plan?

A: It helped us as we shifted our tactics, but our strategies for economic development promotion didn’t change. We continue to look at the sectors we knew were our strong suit, such as food and flavouring.

Last year, we secured the Nestlé Purina project, worth more than $500m in capital investment and 300 new jobs. It was the first ground-up constructed plant that Nestlé has invested in since the 1970s.

Q: What helped you secure that mega project? 

A: First and foremost, the availability of a site drove them to the Cincinnati region. We had spent years working with Clermont County — where Nestlé is located — on a site that was certified ready to go. It was the right size, it had all the utilities in place and we had a really willing partnership. 

We were able to go in very quickly and assure Nestlé that they would be able to have speed to market and low risk involved in that site. That was number one — and then a close number two was conversation with most of our institutions around talent attraction, to make sure that they would be able to find at least 300 workers for the plant.

Nestlé’s other project in North Carolina — a revitalisation of a former brewery — was on a parallel path, whereas this Cincinnati project will be a ground up build. The greenfield site is helping Nestlé to build a really technologically advanced plant that allows them to really focus on the research and development component of their operations.

How do you integrate diversity and inclusion into your economic development practices?

This piece of the work is critically important, and I don’t believe — at least personally — that it’s a separate line of work. Diversity and inclusion should be wrapped into all we do. 

One of the underpinnings of our strategic plan is that diversity and inclusion is wrapped through all of our work, and it’s not a single focus area. We’re always working hard to advance that mission.

Kimm Lauterbach is the president and chief executive of Redi Cincinnati, which covers the three-state, 16-country Cincinnati region of the US MidWest.

Follow the links to find the full archive of the fDi Diaries and Virus Diaries series. 

If you are a member of the economic development and investment promotion community and would like to be part of the next iteration of the fDi Diaries series, please reach out to fDi@ft.com.