The intense commercial and residential development radiating from Interstate 75 in West Chester and Liberty townships is obvious, even to casual travelers.

Less well known — except to its members — is the crucial role of the West Chester Chamber Alliance in contributing to the boom in Butler County.

From Children’s Hospital to IKEA, a broad mix of business and retail operations are planting roots here, thanks in part to the wide net cast by the chamber and its “open for business” attitude.

“I reached out for them and, boy, they grabbed me,” says Chris Waugh, owner of The Wine C.A.R.T., located on Muhlhauser Road in the ever-expanding Union Centre Boulevard retail and office park area.

Waugh compares her chamber involvement “to getting my MBA from experienced educators in a business setting, in real time, for minimal investment. They connect me to people and places that are important for the sustainability and growth of my business.”

The chamber’s motto takes note of this: “Connecting People and Possibilities in Butler County and the I-75 Growth Corridor.”

GRANDER VISION
Back in the 1970s, the Pisgah Businessman’s Association was formed in what was still mostly farm country. Later it became the Union Township Chamber of Commerce. In the 1990s the name changed to the West Chester Chamber Alliance to incorporate the larger area of the two townships (Union was officially renamed West Chester Township in 2000) — and to project a grander vision of the area’s potential for economic growth.

A key part of that transformation happened 10 years ago, when Joseph Hinson and Kathy Rambo were hired as president and events coordinator, respectively — the chamber’s first paid staff. Today, with Hinson as CEO and Rambo as vice president of events, the organization claims to be the fastest-growing chamber of commerce in the Tristate, with more than 800 members, 11 employees and an executive board of 14 members. The group’s bustling calendar of networking, social and informational events have gained a reputation for drawing good crowds and stimulating people with interaction. Seldom will you see people nodding off while a speaker drones at a breakfast or lunch session.

In August, the chamber surprised Hinson and Rambo with a party honoring their 10th anniversaries. The party was held at the Savannah Center, the large conference and event facility that is yet another symbol of the community’s growth.

Bob Wiwi, a retired senior executive with the Cincinnati Gas & Electric Co. (now Duke Energy) and a small business advocate for the chamber, says what the organization does is as straightforward as its motto. “The repertoire of services they provide, the quality of speakers they attract, the positive ongoing buzz in the business community along I-75 ... people who come into my office are enthralled with the activity,” he observes.

Wiwi, who is also West Chester Branch Manager for SCORE (the organization of retired executives who counsel small businesses), says unprecedented cooperation between the public and private sectors is what moved Union Centre Boulevard so quickly from concept to reality.

Developer Carlos Todd, a longtime mover and shaker in Butler County, would have liked to see it happen even sooner.

“I had three governors down here before we were able to get it going,” Todd recalls.

Today, West Chester-Liberty is one of the fastest growing regions in Ohio, a far cry from when Todd founded the business group that became the chamber, and served as its president. Back then, he says, the community was “just crawling and beginning to walk.”

Under the current leadership, the townships are “climbing stairs and up and running,” Todd says. “Joe has taken it to another level.”

BJ Wiberg, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Executives of Ohio, calls Hinson one of the top chamber leaders in the state, and also credits the group’s strong board.

Hinson is proud of the community and his organization — and keenly focused on the chamber’s connections with Liberty Township — yet is modest about his efforts. He says the opening of Union Centre Boulevard in 1997 is what propelled the massive changes from I-275 in Sharonville north to I-675 near Dayton, or what he likes to label The I-75 Growth Corridor.

“It’s become a connector and has spurred development in these rural areas,” Hinson explains about Union Centre Boulevard.

“It’s a hub for future growth for our region and the state of Ohio for the next 25 years,” Hinson adds. “We like to think that we play a part. We put in place resources that will sustain future growth.”

EMPLOYMENT BASE GROWS
“It’s almost overwhelming to see how people here just reach out to help you,” says Karen Mueller, a chamber board member and partner with Horan Associates Inc., an employee benefits consulting company based in Kenwood that opened a satellite office on Union Centre Boulevard in January.

That’s one of many examples of another change that excites chamber leaders: The area’s transformation from a “bedroom community” as more West Chester and Liberty residents work locally instead of commuting around the Tristate.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and UC Physicians wanted new suburban facilities where growth is strong. Officials with both of those institutions say West Chester-Liberty community and county leadership provided outstanding support for their plans.

“We had a lot of help getting our Children’s Liberty campus opened and promoting its use,” says Char Mason, vice president of outpatient services for the new facility and an involved chamber member.

Adding to the area’s employment base is the newly opened Lindner Center of HOPE, a regional mental health center in nearby Mason, the new Atrium Medical Center near I-75, and the West Chester Medical Center, which The Health Alliance is building near the Tylersville Road exit.

And now GE Aviation is moving to consolidate its 1,400 office workers in Hamilton County into a new $55 million facility in West Chester.

Lonnie Rodgers, store manager for the area’s newest and most talked about retailer, IKEA — with 400-plus workers and measuring 344,000 square feet — says the Chamber Alliance, township officials and Butler County Visitors Bureau not only rolled out the red carpet for the Swedish home furnishings store, but helped him personally with his move and getting acclimated.

The community partnered with IKEA on everything from traffic flow logistics to grand opening details, Rodgers says.

“Awesome. That’s the only word I can use to describe it.”