Just the Facts

> BIG BUSINESS: Of the 370 Fortune 500 companies with offices in Greater Cincinnati, eight are actually headquartered here: AK Steel, American Financial, Ashland, Cinergy, Federated Department Stores, Fifth Third Bancorp, Kroger, and Procter & Gamble.

> GROWTH: According to Site Selection magazine's New Plant Database, Cincinnati ranks eighth in the nation in terms of new industrial facilities being constructed "” as compared to all U.S. metropolitan areas.

> SMALL BUSINESS: Greater Cincinnati is ranked among the top-five "best bets for small-business growth" by Entrepreneur magazine. The magazine also ranks Cincinnati 16th in the U.S. for entrepreneurship and first for "best bets for lowest failure rates."

> TECH-SAVVY: Yahoo! Internet Life ranks Cincinnati the "most wired city in Ohi' and No. 25 in the nation.

When Think3 relocated its corporate headquarters from sunny California's trendy Silicon Valley to a downtown Cincinnati high-rise last year, the company was thisclose to relocating in another American city.

What swung the pendulum in Cincinnati's direction? The word "proximity." Proximity to corporate customers. Proximity to population. Proximity to such vital elements as transportation, available talent, opportunities for higher education. And "” frankly "” a proximity to a healthy blend of culture and the arts, comfortable lifestyle, community pride "” all those intangibles that make up "quality of life."

Top executives who are intimately connected with company relocation and employee expansion issues "” land developers, home and commercial construction execs, economic development officers, company recruiters, even the CEO of Huff Realty "” echo this same thought in interview after interview. Proximity. In almost every sense, Southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky, and Southeast Indiana inherently benefit by their very geography, by their place on the road map.

As the Realtors would say, Location, Location, Location.

"It mostly has to do with being close to the customer base," observes Daniel Meyer, vice president of Think3, of the decision to move his 380-employee firm, which assists manufacturing companies with a variety of engineering and software services. "Being close to your customer is the most important thing."

The list of companies that have chosen to relocate or expand here in recent years is lengthy: Think3 is joined by United Health Care, Dunnhumby Limited, Ethicon, Toyota, Cornerstone Brands, Children's Hospital Medical Center, Intelligence, Fujitec, Sara Lee, Mitsubishi, SEI Brakes, Kohl's, Corning Precision, Fidelity, Citigroup, Interlott ... the list goes on.

What have all the CEOs seen in our region? Our survey suggests ...

THE TOP 7

1. Proximity to Client Companies:

"We wanted to build a lot of success within 100 miles of our headquarters. It gives us a focal point," says Meyer of Think3. Meyer clarifies that, in the case of Think3, he's talking as much about potential clients as existing ones. "We didn't move here because we already had customers here. We have 70,000 potential customers," companies that are located within a few hours of the city.

In fact, statistics show that some 53 percent of the nation's manufacturing establishments are located within 600 miles of the city. Yes, in a B-to-B situation, this is critical. But what about when you are selling directly to the consumer? Then, it's ...

2. Proximity to the Consumer Population:

"Certainly location matters. We are within very easy reach" of the majority of the American population, observes Peter Strange, president of Messer Construction Co. in Bond Hill.

More than half the nation's population is within a 600-mile radius of downtown, a huge base of potential consumers. Of course, being located in a city within easy flying, rail, or driving distance of so many people wouldn't matter nearly as much if not for ...

3. Proximity to Transportation:

"The No. 1 attraction [for relocating companies] is the airport," notes Jim Huff, CEO of Huff Realty in Fort Mitchell, Ky. "You can go a good many places nonstop. That's a big factor with everyone who comes here to look."

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is ranked No. 1 in the United States for efficiency by the International Air Transport Association. Some 600 flights a day connect directly to 160 cities around the planet, including London, Paris, Frankfurt, Rome, and Amsterdam. The airport is also home to DHL Worldwide Express, the world's largest air courier, and Airborne Express, FedEx, and UPS also have hubs. Corporate jets fly in and out of the city's municipal Lunken Airport daily.

Strange, president of Messer Construction, echoes Huff's thought about transportation. "Be it the hub airport, the interstate highway system, the river system, railroads ..."

The area is served by five Interstate highways: I-75, I-71, I-74, I-471, and I-275. Some 20 major cities are within one day's truck service, and another 30 are within two days'. The Port of Cincinnati is the nation's fifth largest for domestic barge traffic, and the CSX computerized rail yard is ranked one of the most efficient in the United States. In total, four railroads serve the region: CSX, Amtrak, Conrail, and Norfolk Southern.

The Big Need, say many execs: A mass transit line that would connect the airport to downtown and to Paramount's Kings Island.

4. Proximity to Work Force Talent:

CEOs interviewed for this story couldn't say enough about the necessity for a quality labor force. "We're a growth company," says Think3's Meyer. "That takes talent." CEOs cite the Midwest work ethic as breeding "passionate" employees, a unique potential work force waiting to be tapped.

More than 1.5 million workers "” including 40,000 scientists and engineers "” live within 50 miles of downtown Cincinnati, and many studies have shown the work force is more stable and committed to living in Greater Cincinnati than other metro areas.

5. Proximity to Higher Education:

Strange, Messer's president, stresses "the diversity of higher education." Other executives agree: To recruit a highly educated talent pool, and retrain them for new jobs as the future evolves, it's critical that there is convenient access to a variety of colleges, universities, and technical schools.

"I do believe we have a truly wonderful work force [that is] flexible in terms of learning," Strange says. More than 840,000 students are enrolled within a 200-mile radius, adding 140,000 young professionals to the work force each year. (For a complete list of area colleges, universities, and technical schools, see page 36.)

6. Proximity to Incentives:

"Certainly, we looked at what kind of incentives were available, the cost of doing business," says Think3's Meyer. (To compare taxes and abatements, see the chart on page 38.)

7. Proximity to Culture and Quality of Life:

Richard Stanley is hiring "” big time. The vice president and general manager at GE Aircraft Engines in Evendale knows he'll hire 166 new engineers by the end of this year to fulfill new aerospace contracts. "Most of them will be from out of town," says Stanley, each earning in the $100,000 range.

For Stanley to recruit, it's helpful to have a wonderful community and lifestyle to pitch to his prospects.

Other CEOs "” either ones who have had to convince their work force to relocate from Denver, the San Francisco Bay area or other posh communities "” repeat the thought. "Be it Newport on the Levee or the Aronoff [Center for Performing Arts]," Strange says, "we are creating the kind of place we like to raise our families."

Culture and the arts are key, as is affordable housing, safe communities, easy commutes (on average: 24.3 minutes), major league sports, and all the benefits of living in a mid-sized city "” "Not too big, but not small-town," is how one CEO puts it. (For a complete guide to community life and cultural attractions, see page 30.)

"It's just an exciting time for us," observes Stanley on the recruitment issue. GE Aircraft Engines will be developing the government's Joint Strike Fighter program over the next couple decades. "It will keep a lot of people busy here. On the commercial side, we have just as much, with the Boeing 7E7 coming at us" using the state-of-the-art GENx series of engines.

"It just doesn't get any better than this. ... Engineering and developing these engines is very complex, and will require the best and the brightest. We are bringing the best and brightest to Cincinnati."

And aren't those the most wonderful words a region and its economy can hear?