Celebrating 40 Years and Beyond
West Chester and Liberty Townships are two unique communities ideally positioned between Cincinnati and Dayton, offering a different side of the Queen City experience – a side of which many residents might not be aware. Although the outward appearance of these communities might seem like typical suburban refuges, there’s a buzz of commerce, township planning and many business connections just below that surface.
It’s no secret that the opening of Union Centre Boulevard has forever changed the face of West Chester, Liberty Township and our region. Now more than ever, the area has become a hotbed for economic growth, providing services for the surrounding communities and a deeply rooted professional landscape. Startups are increasing, nationally established companies are moving to West Chester and Liberty Townships and the local community is thriving. Much of this enhancement to economic growth can be attributed to the long-standing efforts of the West Chester • Liberty Chamber Alliance.
The History of the West Chester • Liberty Chamber Alliance
This year, The Chamber Alliance celebrates 40 years of helping the community and businesses along the I-75 growth corridor to expand and succeed. The organization started out as a small group of individuals, but with ambition and goals. In 1976, a group of 12 entrepreneurs who led the Pisgah Businessmen’s Association came together to form the Union Township Chamber of Commerce with local developer and entrepreneur Carlos Todd as the first president.
“The feeling was that a community that wanted to support local business needed a Chamber of Commerce,” says Joe Hinson, president and CEO of the West Chester • Liberty Chamber Alliance.
At the time, the West Chester and Liberty areas were dominated by farmland and residential districts, with only a small sector of businesses. However, the Chamber still worked to serve the businesses that existed while working to expand commerce as best as it could. In 1986, the organization changed its name to reflect the fact that the entire region was being served by the Chamber. Donning the title of the Southeastern Butler County Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber officially included Liberty Township into its Chamber family.
“At the time, Liberty’s business district was not as vibrant as it is today,” says Hinson. “But it was determined by the Chamber’s board of directors that they should support Liberty businesses also. Liberty has been mostly residential, without a large business sector.”
In 1997, everything changed. Union Centre Boulevard opened, creating a distinct central business district for the community and surrounding regions. “It created a gathering place for the community and opened up opportunities for impactful economic growth,” says Hinson.
Prior to Union Centre Boulevard and the explosion of business that has located there in the last decade, West Chester faced a disconnect from most amenities. When residents needed groceries, restaurants or banks, they would often travel to outlying areas. From a financial standpoint, this was an obvious issue – West Chester could not grow if its residents weren’t spending their money locally, and the Union Centre Boulevard district would be integral in changing this issue.
In 2009, Liberty Way opened up 600 acres of commercial development in Liberty Township, which created the start of Liberty’s central business district. And, in 2010, the organization underwent a final name change and became the West Chester • Liberty Chamber Alliance. Although the Chamber had supported Liberty Township in its district for more than 25 years, few people were aware, due to Liberty’s limited business sector. In an attempt to bring more attention to the potential within Liberty Township’s developing central business district, the Chamber made the decision to change its branding to more aggressively showcase Liberty’s future growth and development.
“At the time, West Chester had a strong developing infrastructure in place, but Liberty was just beginning to increase commerce,” says Hinson. Although the Chamber had worked to represent and support Liberty Township businesses, changing the branding efforts by including Liberty’s name was another step in working to support growth, not just in West Chester, but in Liberty as well.
Managing a Sustainable Growth
The creation of Union Centre Boulevard helped to remediate the disconnection of West Chester from Cincinnati and Dayton, and it has now, along with Liberty, become a strong anchor for businesses both large and small. An excellently-rated Lakota School District with an outstanding reputation brought in more and more families, who began to embrace the expansion of commerce within their area, no longer travelling outside West Chester and Liberty for their goods and services.
But Union Centre brought something more important than an expanded business district. It connected West Chester Township to I-75 – finally achieving a goal the community had been working towards for quite some time.
“Originally, we had a large population of residents, but if they wanted to go to the bank, out to eat, or shop at a store, they had to travel to surrounding areas,” says Hinson. “Since we’ve connected the business district with I-75, the reverse has occurred; we now see families travelling here for our amenities, and our own residents can stay here to get the things they need.” And, when people travel, they can now stay in one of our many hotels, adding a new kind of growth to the region that was once little more than truck stops along I-75.
It’s no secret that with growth and migrations, the cities in Ohio are steadily expanding outward – particularly Cincinnati and Dayton. Hinson says the growth of West Chester and Liberty was visionary and has had outstanding master plans. The two Townships have a unique opportunity few areas have – to serve two major metropolitan areas.
“Dayton and Cincinnati are growing together,” he says. “The Chamber’s vision was to become a conduit, to bring the markets together. With Liberty and West Chester’s location near the interstate, we are able to leverage our location and accessibility of the I-75 growth corridor. Our goal is to use this to help market West Chester and Liberty Townships along I-75 to support their continued growth and maintain a vibrant, sustainable infrastructure.”
Because I-75 is one of the most heavily traveled interstate highways in the United States, it is an ideal location for sustained economic growth. Because of the highway’s reach from Florida to Canada, West Chester and Liberty sit in the unique position of being able to bring in the businesses of a far larger population.
Union Centre Boulevard and now Liberty Way was integral to transforming the region in to a traveler-friendly stop along I-75, including a plethora of restaurants, hotels and community-based activities. This added commerce helped to propel the region’s growth as well. “It didn’t take us long to recognize that, with Union Centre Boulevard completed, West Chester and our region were undergoing an overnight change,” says Hinson.
With an influx of more consumers and more businesses, the region needs an active Chamber more than ever, and the West Chester • Liberty Chamber Alliance has provided that support. The Chamber Alliance works to bring the businesses of the region together as often as possible with regular events and networking potential for all members.
Mary Russell, executive director of Character Council of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, has been a member of the Chamber since 2009. “I believe that the West Chester • Liberty Chamber Alliance is a beacon of positivity, professionalism and encouragement in the community – for businesses certainly, but also in the larger community,” she says. “In 2009, the Chamber made the commitment to be the first ‘Chamber of Character’ in the region, and for six years, they have been promoting character and integrity to its employees and members … the Chamber is a pacesetter and leader in a regional call to character.”
Russell and her team attend many Chamber functions regularly and participate in programs, as do many other members. Tom Farrell, president of Alternative Computer Technology, says that in the 23 years his company has been a member, he has seen substantial change and growth in the organization. “It has absolutely changed for the better,” he says. “You can always count on change every year, and every event and networking opportunity gets better, even when you think it can’t get any better.”
It is through these programs that the Chamber hopes to foster not just expansion and change in the community, but sustainable growth. With a major healthcare hub in Cincinnati, successful industrial parks and multiple Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the Greater Cincinnati, West Chester and Liberty are positioned to be the economic epicenter linking Cincinnati and Dayton.
Looking to the Future
“According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Cincinnati and Dayton could merge into a metroplex as early as 2017, with West Chester and Liberty Townships acting as the central hub between the two areas,” says Hinson. As the 15th largest metropolitan region in the United States, this has staggering implications for business owners throughout the area, but especially in West Chester and Liberty.
“We currently have a 98 percent occupancy rate in office buildings in West Chester,” says Hinson. “We really couldn’t build them fast enough. This is a new major market – corporate office space – that’s existing right in between two other, more established markets.”
The growth of West Chester and Liberty, however, isn’t simply a chaotic explosion of commerce that occurred because of Union Centre Boulevard or Liberty Way or its unique geographical location. The growth is something the Chamber has been supported since the Pisgah Businessman’s Association formed. The Chamber Alliance has worked diligently behind the scenes to ensure the proper economic and social climate for a thriving business sector. After studying many different Chambers across America, particularly in cities that bore resemblance to Cincinnati’s internal structure, the Chamber has strategically been helping the process of making West Chester and Liberty a booming economic hub.
“We’re not growing just to grow,” says Hinson. “It’s strategic growth. Everything is planned.” One thing the Chamber is acutely aware of moving forward is the culture of West Chester and Liberty Townships. Although the region has grown substantially in several business sectors, there is still no shortage of the original charm that brought residents to Liberty and West Chester in the first place.
“We still have plenty of the green space and farmland that were here in the beginning,” says Hinson. “There’s still a certain quality and interest in preserving that. Not all land needs to be developed – our community likes seeing the green spaces – our residents and businesses like seeing the green spaces and that there is a balance to live, work and play.”
This is the present that the West Chester • Liberty Chamber Alliance is looking to preserve for the future, while continuing to grow in a sustainable manner. Though commerce and business is important, addressing the needs and wants of the local community is equally as crucial. Because the growth in West Chester and Liberty started with a residential boom well before the business sector exploded, residents are still interested in living in the quiet and calm region West Chester was when they moved there.
“One of the reasons people moved here was to enjoy the green spaces and get out of the hustle and bustle of a big city,” says Hinson. “We’re just working towards a future where residents can enjoy the fruits of both the commercial power of the I-75 growth corridor alongside the beautiful green spaces. West Chester and Liberty have unique cultures, and that’s certainly something we want to preserve.”
In the meantime, as Liberty and West Chester continues to grow and Greater Cincinnati and Dayton grow closer to each other, the Chamber will be provide guidance, insight and support to any business, entrepreneur or professional.
“It’s our desire to continue the culture of continual education,” says Hinson. “We’re working to continually provide amenities that will bring the best talent to the region. We’ve learned that young professionals typically look at a location and its amenities before they look for a specific company or job in the region. We’re thinking very hard about our future leaders, and making sure we provide what they’re looking for. In a very transient area, we also have to understand, embrace and support what’s going on across all generations and cultures.”
The West Chester • Liberty Chamber Alliance is working to ensure that, as demographics grow and change, it will accommodate the region’s unique needs. Hinson stresses the importance of articulating, supporting and promoting the region’s brand, particularly about the growth corridor and the promising future it provides. There is an importance to understanding a region, particularly to join it in riding on a wave of opportunity for a sustainable future.
The West Chester and Liberty Chamber Alliance is located at 8922 Beckett Road, West Chester, OH 45069. You can reach them at 513.777.3600 or visit their website at www.thechamberalliance.com.