In the shadow of its energetic restaurant and entertainment scene, Newport is quietly establishing itself as a hub of high-tech businesses in a bid to diversify its economy.
The little river city that could has added 15 high-tech businesses within the last five years, punctuated by the recent announcement of two companies specializing in health-care technology setting up their U.S. headquarters there.
Meaningful Use Technologies and Korean-based Arcron Systems Inc. are moving into a 5,000-square-foot facility in Newport to serve their North American markets. They will create 20 new jobs and invest more than $1 million in Northern Kentucky, according to state officials. Both companies work with hospitals to help them meet new requirements for electronic record keeping that were laid out in the 2010 health-care reform legislation.
The two new arrivals follow a dozen other companies within the last five or so years, including Global Business Solutions, Guardlink, Purple Trout, I-Wireless, System Support Associates, Advertical LLC, Red Hawk Technology, Innersync Studio, Intelligent Phone Systems, Defender Direct, Eclectic Studios and Interactive Learning Systems.
"Being in an urban area, with Newport on the Levee, it's certainly helpful for providing the quality-of-life-elements that entrepreneurs and their employees want to take advantage of," says Dan Tobergte, president/CEO of Northern Kentucky Tri-ED, which works to recruit and retain businesses in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties.
Tobergte says all of Northern Kentucky will have the opportunity to attract high-tech businesses thanks to Northern Kentucky University's expanded College of Informatics, which moves into a newly constructed building this fall. The college integrates multiple disciplines "” communications, arts, medicine, science and entrepreneurial programs, among others "” in a facility that emphasizes the use of digital technology to advance all of those interests. With that expertise in the neighborhood, the region has a competitive advantage over others, he says.
Success should beget success, too. "Once you get one or two good companies coming, the powers that be recognize that. And after they do their due diligence, they're more likely to locate here," Tobergte says.
The introduction of high-tech companies follows the dramatic reinvention of the city's riverfront in the previous two decades with development of Newport on the Levee, the relocation of BB Riverboats and other new business development, most of which focuses on food and fun.
City Manager Tom Fromme says the tech businesses have brought in more than 200 jobs, which has had a very positive impact on the city's economy. Newport is actively seeking more companies like them, he says.
Global Business Solutions, one of the granddaddies of Newport's tech community with a nine-year tenure on Monmouth Street, found the city to be a perfect fit. Founders Nael Mabjish and Gaby Batshoun live in Northern Kentucky and  wanted a location close to home, downtown Cincinnati and clients. Proximity to Interstate 471 made Newport's main strip accessible for clients, and a plethora of restaurants and entertainment made it a good place to work.
"To seal the deal, we found a nice building right by the city hall," says Joe Robb, a Global Business Solutions business developer and consultant. The company, which provides information technology consulting, support, and managed services to Tristate businesses, has grown to about 24 employees. It was founded in Covington before moving to Newport.
"We've grown in growth, profit and employee size almost every year since we started in 1996. We grew by three employees this year," Robb says.
He says the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has been an invaluable resource for promoting the region and establishing business connections and that the Newport Business Association has offered "fantastic" support.
Just down the block from Newport on the Levee, Purple Trout has found a happy home for its search engine optimization business. President and Founder Steve Phillips cast a wide net when looking for a location two years ago in the height of the recession.
"We had our pick of the litter," he says, with property owners eagerly marketing high-quality, vacant spaces.
Phillips wanted to be near downtown Cincinnati to serve clients there but outside of the business district so that they could park more easily and cheaply. He wanted interstate access for clients farther afield and he wanted a reasonable commute from his Fort Thomas home. After scouting locations in Covington, Highland Heights and Cold Spring, Phillips settled on a former restaurant space adjacent to Newport on the Levee "” close to food and fun, lots of foot traffic, and a short drive to the interstate.
He has enjoyed being neighbors with Red Hawk Technologies, a website design and application development expertise, and interacting with other tech companies nearby.
"We can share information, clients and resources," he says, adding that he liked "The fact that Newport is a small town and you walk down to Newport on the Levee and run into owners in the tech business like you are.
Phillips has a dozen employees and contractors.
Meaningful Use Technologies had high praise for the location when it announced its choice. "There is incredible opportunity in the healthcare industry, and we know that Northern Kentucky "” Newport, Kentucky "” is strategically positioned to support the national headquarters for both companies," says Mark Morgan, chief executive officer of Meaningful Use Technologies. "The strong outpouring of support we received from the Northern Kentucky community and the enthusiasm our project received from the Commonwealth of Kentucky demonstrated an extremely strong business environment that will surround us with success."
The influx of tech companies has brought a new energy to the business community, according to Larry Weber, president of the Newport Business Association. "There does seem to be a budding group out there. I've worked closely with people from Global Business Solutions," which helped the association set up its Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Weber cited the recent announcement of Trauth Dairy cutting jobs in Newport as evidence that the city benefits from diversifying its economy. "The whole country is gravitating toward a service-oriented environment, and I think bringing in more of these tech companies will help to diversify the business community," he says.