New partnership will nurture creation, growth of Black-owned businesses

Members of a new partnership in Covington pose in the space it will use in “Innovation Alley.” Crouching in front is Cheniece Wilson of the African American Chamber of Commerce (AACC). Otherwise, from left to right, are James Pullins from the AACC; Meg Stephenson of the NKU Collaborative for Economic Engagement; Henrietta Sheppard, Annette Smith-Tarver, Jill McCauley, and Gregory Parker from the AACC; Susan Smith from the City; Briston Mitchell from the AACC; Covington Commissioner Ron Washington; and Eric Kearney, president/CEO of the AACC.

City joins with African American chamber, NKU Collaborative

COVINGTON, Ky. – A new partnership in Covington will help nurture the creation and growth of Black-owned businesses by making available meeting space for free, consulting services, and other resources needed by entrepreneurs.

Partners include the City of Covington, the Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce (AACC), and the Northern Kentucky University Collaborative for Economic Engagement, which operates out of 112 Pike St. in Covington’s “Innovation Alley.”

“This is another win for our city – a chance for people to understand what’s involved in opening a business,” said Mayor Pro Tem/City Commissioner Ron Washington. “One of the great things about being an entrepreneur is being able to control your destiny.”

Right now, the City doesn’t track the exact number of minority-owned businesses in Covington, but it wants to encourage more.

One tangible way it does that is to award “bonus points” to minorities, women, and veterans who apply for grants or loans through the City’s Small Business Program, which helps with rent in a business’s critical first year or with exterior improvements to a building. This new partnership – which grew from discussions initiated by the City – will provide even more help, officials say.

“Covington is a diverse place, and we want to make sure that that diversity extends to our business community, with opportunities and support for all,” said Susan Smith, the City’s business attraction manager. “This partnership is new, but you can already sense the energy and excitement surrounding it. The African American Chamber is already doing a lot of strong work in and around Cincinnati, and we think Covington and its innovation hub is the perfect place to expand that work into Northern Kentucky.”

Resources at the ready

The AACC will have use of the Collaborative for Economic Engagement space in Covington to meet with potential entrepreneurs and existing business owners. For the AACC, the physical space establishes a visible presence to implement the resources it will bring to Black entrepreneurs and Black-owned businesses in the region.

“I’m really excited about this partnership as it involves a lot of different people with a lot of different perspectives,” said Eric Kearney, the AACC’s president and CEO. “My experience has been (that) when you have people with different ideas, and different perspectives, it creates a synergy and stronger ideas and better ideas. I think it’s going to be explosive for Northern Kentucky.”

Among the range of resources the AACC will provide is Pivot, a program created during the pandemic to help shift businesses toward recovery. The program continues to provide help and tools for established businesses as well as entrepreneurs.

“Not everyone can complete an application, or is tech savvy, and we can offer our assistance, whether it’s helping develop business narratives, navigate Zoom, or offer our copier,” said Jill McCauley, business counselor for the Pivot team. “We’re so excited to bring our resources here. The impetus for coming here is to learn what is going on in Northern Kentucky and what resources we can connect people to.”

A new flier, seen HERE, advertises the partnership and those resources.

An ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’

The collaborative (originally announced HERE, under the NKY-HUB name) works on a shared-services model that allows businesses and entrepreneurs to benefit from the expertise of a variety of agencies as well as NKU’s specialized programs, co-located in a central hub.

“These partnerships help stabilize the resilience of existing businesses, and allow resources, education, and mentorship to launch new ones,” said Meg Stephenson, Innovation Office director for the Collaborative.

By facilitating connections, Stephenson said, the Collaborative helps increase entrepreneurship and innovation in the region, including among minorities and other underserved entrepreneurs and investors, with the goal of driving job creation.

Eric Kearney said he thinks entrepreneurship is at an all-time high, both because of COVID-19 and because he believes young people are willing to take chances now. He’s excited to establish new connections with entrepreneurs south of the Ohio River.

“This will be our first physical presence in Northern Kentucky,” Kearney said. “We’ve done events here but nothing where we’ve put down roots, so to speak. I’m excited about this, it’s an expansion of our presence here and we want to continue to develop that relationship.”


Covington Economic Development Director Tom West said the partnership will complement the character of The Cov’s economy, given the emphasis on unique startups, local-owned businesses, and personal attention here.

“The City believes that our homegrown enterprises are more sustainable in the long run than chains or satellites,” West said. “We provide financial support to groups like the NKU collaborative, Aviatra, and others because we know that businesses that get their start and grow here are more likely to stay here, reinvest their profits in the community, and hire residents.” 

About the AACC

The AACC works to increase business opportunities, aid in professional development, and assist in developing strategic partnerships and alliances for the purpose of strengthening and growing the African American business community in the region. Its website, seen HERE, advertises the organization as the No. 1 chamber in the United States advocating for African American businesses in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region.

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