Northern Kentucky: Where Innovation Flows
Companies and startups are making waves, thanks to a region powered by a great talent pool and collaboration.
From a distance, the Northern Kentucky region, nestled among rolling hills dotted by farms and factories, appears quaint. But come just a little closer, and you can feel an energy – one of creation and change, that is. This area has become a hub for technology and innovation, and a number of Northern Kentucky companies here are making waves.
One company, for example, blends high tech with its agrarian surroundings. From its beginnings in 1902 as the Daniels Linseed Co. and then as the Archer Daniels Midland Company in 1923, ADM has transformed into a global leader in human and animal nutrition and is the world’s premier agricultural origination and processing company.
“Our Erlanger office is centrally located and can be easily accessed by Interstates 71, 75 and 275, so a commute is typically short. From a family standpoint, both Northern Kentucky and the Cincinnati areas boast highly rated public and private schools. And we’re just minutes from the airport, making it easy for travel plans.”
Kristy Folkwein | ADM
“We unlock the power of nature to provide access to nutrition worldwide,” says Kristy Folkwein, senior vice president and chief information officer for ADM and a member of the company’s executive council. “Our breadth, depth, insights, facilities and logistical expertise give us unparalleled capabilities to meet needs for food, beverages, health and wellness, and more.”
In 2014, ADM acquired WILD Flavors Inc., which has operated in Erlanger since 1994. The company then formed a new business unit in 2015, WILD Flavors and Specialty Ingredients. Not only did this acquisition of an 80-year-old food science company align with ADM’s nutritional portfolio, but its location in Northern Kentucky brought advantages to help attract top talent to the global firm.
Northern Kentucky Startups Shine
Global companies aren’t the only businesses thriving here. Startups find the region highly attractive, as well.
Entrepreneurs Ron Dunlevy and Matt Strippelhoff, for example, established Red Hawk Technologies in 2008 after a decade of working as colleagues in Cincinnati’s burgeoning tech startup and digital marketing industry.
Their involvement in the early years of developing, designing and marketing web applications and system integrations helped position their company to become a leader in the development of SaaS and PaaS (types of cloud services) products, as well as custom apps and system integrations for a variety of other companies. Red Hawk has experienced an average growth rate of 56% each year, and a 450% growth between 2008 and 2015.
“Proximity to excellent educational institutions has been huge for us. We find that the talent in this region, along with the Midwestern work ethic and values, has aligned extremely well with our mission and values as a business.”
Matt Strippelhoff | Red Hawk Technologies
“Proximity to excellent educational institutions has been huge for us,” Strippelhoff says. “We find that the talent in this region, along with the Midwestern work ethic and values, has aligned extremely well with our mission and values as a business.”
Folkwein also praises the region’s talent pool. “At ADM, we value diversity, equity and inclusion, and Kentucky’s culture is diverse, with rich heritage and deep multicultural roots,” she says. “We believe that bringing together people from different backgrounds with different-lived experiences can produce innovation.”
Business Relationships and Resources
Success doesn’t happen in silos, and Northern Kentucky’s high-tech companies recognize that. The Midwestern spirit of community permeates all levels of business, according to Strippelhoff.
“We have excellent relationships with other tech businesses in the region,” he says. “We often refer business to one another when appropriate. Relationships are king; our best clients always come from referrals.”
Red Hawk embodies that attitude through its community support, from active involvement with charitable organizations to its scholarship at Gateway Community & Technical College. “While this is a very competitive market, it’s also a very friendly place to call home,” Strippelhoff says. “We look forward to continuing our investment in the region.”
As for ADM, Folkwein says access to rich amenities in the region are a huge driver for ADM’s investment. Employees have the ability to enjoy rural, suburban and urban lifestyles, not to mention “museums, historic sites, professional sports, amusement parks, golf courses and an exciting performing arts scene,” she says.
And local restaurants, in particular, stimulate those with food science backgrounds. “It’s a great place to live and work, no matter what you’re passionate about,” she says. “Northern Kentucky’s history is filled with trailblazers and pioneers, from Daniel Boone to Muhammad Ali. We’re excited to develop the next set of innovators.”