Power 100 Re-Cap: Facing Cincinnati’s Poverty Challenge

Power 100 panel sees multiple factors requiring varied solutions Winning Cincinnati’s War on Poverty won’t be as simple as passing a law, launching a program or finding jobs for the poor. That was made clear by the panel at Cincy Magazine’s seventh annual Power 100 Leadership Forum in February.

The year’s breakfast forum, presented with the Carl H. Lindner College of Business at the University of Cincinnati and held at the Hilton Netherland Plaza, examined what Cincinnati needs to do to solve one of its most pressing issues: child poverty.

“In 1970 the number of children in the city below [the federal] poverty level was 20 percent. Today it’s 50 percent,” says Dave Herche, chairman of Enerfab Inc., and one of the panelists. “In 1970 in the region, that number was 18 percent, today it’s 70 percent. The trend is not good. We have to deal with it.“

Panelist O’dell Owens, president and CEO of Interact for Health who has worn many different hats from Hamilton County coroner to president of Cincinnati State Technical & Community College, offered another measurement.

“The life expectancy of someone living in South Fairmount [one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods] is 20 years less than someone living in Mt. Lookout, one of the city’s richest. It’s all about economics,” he says.

Karen Bankston, recently named executive director of the Cincinnati Child Poverty Collaborative, a coalition of business and community leaders who’ve focused on reducing child poverty, says finding jobs for those in poverty is only part of the solution.

“How do the structural systems that are in place add to the state of the condition?” she asked. “Housing, transportation, justice, the socio-economic environment all of those things add to this condition we call poverty.”

The fourth panelist, Rob Reifsnyder, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, says the agency has made dealing with the issues around poverty a priority.

“Our focus is on helping 10,000 families move out of poverty over the next four years,” he told the audience. “It’s a very ambitious goal.”

One of the programs the United Way is supporting is the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, funded through a 2016 voter-approved tax levy, to expand access to preschool for children in poverty.

He says about 46 percent of low-income children in Cincinnati are ready to learn when they come to school, versus 89 percent of higher income children. “That has to change,” he says.

One of the major strategies of the Child Poverty Collaborative was the creation of an employer’s roundtable of local companies, which meets regularly to share ideas about how to help their low-income employees become self-sufficient.

For example, Reifsnyder says Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, a member of the roundtable, determined that about 4,000 of its more than 15,000 employees had incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four.

One area the hospital looked at was educational reimbursement for employees. Many employees couldn’t take advantage of the program because it reimbursed after they completed a program and many can’t afford the upfront costs of education.

By changing the reimbursement program, he says, “They opened that up for certificate programs and for upfront payment of education costs. They made it possible by paying upfront for many more of their employees to get further education and move to the next level.”

Herche serves as chairman of Cincinnati Works, a nonprofit that’s helped put hundreds of unemployed people into jobs that have lifted them out of poverty.

“We find them a job and a coach, who helps them deal with issues like transportation, child care, legal issues, health issues and housing,” he says. “Seventy percent of those people who come to us and make it through a year… are able to move up to the next step on the ladder.”

Herche and the other panelists challenged those attending the forum to do more.

“This is not about talk, this is about action,” he says. “We have to get the business community to step up. Frankly, human capital is the biggest concern every business has in this room.”


The Carl H. Lindner College of Business, a leader in research and teaching excellence, has earned national acclaim in several academic areas across its undergraduate, graduate and online programs. In 2019, the college will move into a new state-of-the-art $120 million building, which will serve as a 21st century hub for students, faculty and the Greater Cincinnati business community and provide a collaborative space for education, research and innovation to thrive. business.uc.edu

A Columbus-based accounting firm and consultancy with more than 165 associates in five offices in four states, GBQ expanded its presence in Cincinnati two years ago when it acquired the firm of Ernst & Rabe, one of the city’s top 25 accounting firms. GBQ says its size allows it to serve the most complex organizations while its independence allows it to keep decision making in one place. gbq.com

The law firm of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP has a rich history dating to 1885. Its partners have included former U.S. Senator Robert A. Taft and former Cincinnati Mayor Charles Taft II, both sons of former President William Howard Taft. Through a series of successful mergers, Taft has become a premier regional firm with more than 400 attorneys in eight Midwestern cities and Phoenix, Ariz. taftlaw.com

Truepoint Wealth Counsel offers integrated wealth management services that deliver clarity and confidence to its clients. In-house teams dedicated to the financial disciplines of investment management, financial planning, tax management, estate planning and risk management work together to deliver unbiased advice and customized service. Founded in 1990 as one of the first fee-only advisory firms in the greater Cincinnati area, Truepoint is 100 percent employee-owned. truepointwealth.com

Located in the heart of downtown Cincinnati, the Hilton Netherland Plaza is a National Historic Landmark and one of the finest examples of French Art Deco. It offers more than 40,000 square feet of meeting and event space including three ballrooms and 28 flexible rooms. Orchids at Palm Court is the hotel’s AAA Four-Diamond and Forbes Four Star fine dining restaurant. cincinnatihilton.com

Since 1982, ITA Audio Visual Solutions has been providing best-in-class audio-visual services and integrated technology to Fortune 1000 companies, universities, health care institutions, small businesses, hotels and meeting facilities. ita.com

Community Partner

One of the nation’s largest chambers of commerce, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber provides services to members across 15 Tristate counties. The chamber serves its members and the community through leadership and professional development programs, government advocacy, festivals and events, regional vision and collaboration, money-saving benefit programs, networking opportunities and educational programs. cincinnatichamber.com

Nonprofit Beneficiary

DePaul Cristo Rey High School in Clifton is part of the national Cristo Rey Network that provides quality Catholic, college-preparatory education to young people who live in urban communities with limited educational options. All Cristo Rey Network schools use a rigorous academic model supported by effective instruction to prepare students with a broad range of academic abilities for college. depaulcristorey.org

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