by Nick Swartsell
73 days ago
Posted In: News
at 10:31 AM | Permalink
$3 billion for friendlier flushing; Cleveland Browns wide receiver on Rice/Crawford shirt; state gun laws changing
All right. Since today is a bit of a slow news day and because I’ve spent the past few days working on this week’s cover story and news feature along with several blogs and the trusty morning news, let’s play catch-up today and go through the week’s stories I didn’t get to earlier. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.• What costs more than $3 billion and smells awful? No, it’s not the amount of sauerkraut Cincinnati consumes annually. It’s the city’s sewer system, which is facing a court-ordered upgrade. After a lawsuit by environmental group the Sierra Club and area homeowners tired of sewage in their basements, the city was ordered to revamp its aging sewer system over the next 20 years. That’s going to cost more than the streetcar and the two stadiums. The system is owned by Hamilton County but administered by the city. Upgrades plus normal annual operating costs are expected to cost ratepayers $395 million this year alone. Rates have gone from $250 in 2000 to a projected level of more than $800 in 2015. All that for a bunch of pipes.• The fastest growing startup in Ohio is right here in Cincinnati. Ahalogy, a firm that helps companies market themselves using Pinterest, has gone from two employees in 2013 to more than 50 today. San Francisco-based Mattermark, which rates startups, gave Ahalogy the top spot in the state for the second year in a row due to its rapid growth. Local startup hubs like The Brandery and Cintrifuse helped the company rise so quickly. Ahalogy founders say the company is a good fit for Cincinnati because of the city’s strong consumer marketing scene.• On Sunday, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a controversial t-shirt during warm ups before the team’s home game shellacking by the Bengals. The shirt said simply, “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” on the front and “The Real Battle for Ohio” on the back.Cleveland Police Union President Jeff Follmer slammed Hawkins later that day, calling the shirt “pathetic.” Follmer demanded Hawkins apologize. "He's an athlete. He's someone with no facts of the case whatsoever," Follmer said. "He's disrespecting the police on a job that we had to do and make a split-second decision."A very similar situation played out with St. Louis Rams players last month who ran out onto the field while imitating protesters’ “hands up, don’t shoot” pose in solidarity for activists. The St. Louis Police Union demanded an apology, while the team stuck behind its players.Hawkins seems to have gotten the last word in the dispute. The Browns are standing behind him, and he gave this very thought-provoking interview Monday in which he stressed he respects the police, but couldn't stay silent against what he saw as injustice. Hawkins, who was visibly choked up, said he was motivated mostly by the thought of something similar happening to his two year old son.“The number one reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me. And my heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality,” he said. • It’s official: former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper is the Ohio Democratic Party’s new chairman. The state party’s executive committee elected Pepper last night after his main competitor, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race. Pepper has indicated he’ll be asking another former statewide candidate, Nina Turner, to join the state’s leadership. Turner ran for secretary of state. The two will have a big job ahead — rebuilding after resounding losses statewide for the party.• Here’s another catch-up story for you: the Ohio General Assembly has passed some important changes to the state’s gun laws. A new bill passed by both the state house and senate last week would recognize other states’ concealed carry permits without additional permitting, allow silencers on some hunting rifles, give a six-month grace period for military service members’ license renewals and disallow those with non-immigrant visas and dishonorable discharges from the military from getting handgun licenses. The bill does not include an earlier provision that would have set up a “stand your ground” type law in Ohio. The changes are currently awaiting Gov. John Kasich’s signature. • 113th Congress, we hardly knew ye. Wait, yes we did, and we hated you. One of the least productive and lowest rated congressional sessions in the country’s history came to end yesterday when Barack Obama signed the body’s controversial $1 trillion “CRominubs” spending plan. At least they got something done. Over the last two years, Congress has passed just 200 laws, the least amount of legislating done in recent memory. For comparison, the last time that number was anywhere near that low was the infamous “do nothing” Congress of 1948-1949, which passed more than 900 pieces of legislation. Way to go guys!
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 09:53 AM | Permalink
Cincinnati startups, downtown grocery and income inequality
So I'm a bit late with news this morning, or the morning was a bit early, one of those. It probably has something to do with CityBeat winning six Cincinnati SPJ awards last night. Though I wasn't part of the team in 2013 when those awards were earned, I did my part by putting in extra hours celebrating. Anyway, enough about us. Here's what's going on in the world.Cincinnati’s startup community got some love yesterday when America Online cofounder Steve Case rolled into town with his Rise of the Rest tour, which celebrates entrepreneurs in American cities. Case praised Cincinnati’s progress in bringing vitality back to its downtown area and credited that renaissance at least in part to the city’s startups and young entrepreneurs. U.S. Chamber of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzger, who is riding shotgun on the tour, also praised the Queen City for the level of access startups have to the large corporations in town. She said what the city needs now is a big hit — a startup that really makes it big and shows the world that Cincinnati is a great place to start a business. Mayor John Cranley was in the mix as well, touting Cincinnati’s strengths as a marketing town. He called the city “the best place in the world” for marketing entrepreneurs. While that’s kind of like your parents talking about how awesome you are to their work colleagues (of course he’s going to say that), Cranley’s point holds some weight — with so many big companies in town needing all sorts of fresh ideas, it can’t hurt to be living at their doorstep if you’re hoping to do some business with them.One Cincinnati startup, called Frameri, got $100,000 from Case and an invitation to pitch their business in Washington, D.C. Frameri, which makes high-style glasses with interchangeable frames and lenses, beat out seven other local businesses in a pitch competition. The company is an alum of OTR’s business incubator The Brandery. No word from Case yet on my business idea, which involves a food delivery service that launches burritos from those pneumatic tubes you see in old bank building drive-thrus. Still waiting for that call, Steve…• In other downtown news, Kroger is adjusting its ideas about starting a grocery store in the Central Business District. The Business Courier reports that Kroger CEO Roger McMullen discussed the chain’s plans for a downtown store at yesterday’s annual shareholder meeting, revealing that less may be more in the company’s eyes. Kroger had been mulling a full-size store here but is now considering something smaller and more specialized.• Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and other Democrats held an event this morning near UC criticizing Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature for the low level of funding for higher education in the state. Democrats also gathered in Columbus to protest dwindling education spending, which they say make college unaffordable for many Ohio families. One talking point — Ohio’s budget spends less than 10 percent on higher education for the first time in four decades. Gov. Kasich has acknowledged that college affordability is a problem but says schools need to do more to cut costs and make sure degrees lead to good-paying jobs.• The Associated Press reports that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office is having a difficult time documenting how it goes about choosing law firms for special assignments. DeWine says there’s a rigorous process used to vet firms and decide who gets the lucrative state contracts, but public records request by AP found… nothing. It’s entirely possible that the AG’s dog ate the records or that maybe DeWine just keeps all that info in his head. The revelation comes as allegations are being made that these kinds of contracts are often awarded to firms who donate to the state Republican party. DeWine’s opponent for the AG post, Cincinnati-based lawyer David Pepper, has said DeWine’s office is engaged in a “pay to play” arrangement. DeWine, however, says his office’s choices are transparent and fair.• A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that political polarization, which is at an all-time high, contributes to income inequality. This is kind of like a two-for-one in the “hot political topics” world. The study doesn’t go so far as to nail down why the gap between America’s political ideologies tracks so closely with the gap in rich and poor Americans’ incomes, but it does make a couple guesses, which are worth reading about. Basically, it may have to do with the country’s rightward shift toward policies that tend to benefit more wealthy citizens. Or heck, maybe it’s just a big crazy coincidence and the tea party really will make everything great for everyone if we only embrace their Mad-Max style dreams for a government-less future. Could be.
by German Lopez
Mayoral candidate hopes to continue Cincinnati’s tech startup momentum
Cincinnati mayoral candidate and ex-Councilman John Cranley today
announced his two-part innovation plan, which he said would boost government transparency and help continue the
nationally recognized momentum Cincinnati has recently gained as a tech
The plan would take $5 million over four years from the
capital budget and ask local startup incubators Cintrifuse, The Brandery
and CincyTech where they would like to see the money going. As one
example, Cranley said the money could help host an annual “hackathon” in
which savvy innovators compete to create apps that could better connect
residents and city services.
When asked specifically where the money would come from,
Cranley said it would be part of the $30 million the city allocates each year to capital projects. Cranley also remarked that the city will
have more capital funds if he dismantles the streetcar project, which he has long opposed.
Cranley’s innovation plan also calls for hiring a chief
innovation officer (CIO) and creating “CincyData,” a transparency
initiative that would gather and publish city data to create “a more
efficient, effective and user-friendly City government.”
“This is about improving customer service for city services,” Cranley said.
The CIO and CincyData would also help find new ways to
carry out city services in the hopes of running the local government
Cranley said he’s in preliminary talks with Cincinnati
Bell to see what it would take and how much it would cost to establish
As for the CIO, paying for the position’s salary would cost the city about
$50,000 to $60,000 a year, according to Cranley. That’s about 0.01 to
0.02 percent of the city’s operating budget.
Cranley said he currently has no one in mind for the CIO position.
Cranley is running for mayor against fellow Democrat Vice
Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who has publicly supported Cincinnati’s startup
incubators during her time in City Council; Libertarian Jim Berns; and
Independent Sandra “Queen” Noble.
Cincinnati recently gained national recognition for its tech boom in Entrepreneur and CNBC, with Entrepreneur calling the city “an unexpected hub for tech startups.”
City Council on Aug. 7 approved using $4.5 million to help
move Cintrifuse, The Brandery and CincyTech to new Over-the-Rhine
headquarters. Cintrifuse claims the new home will make it easier to
attract and keep businesses in Cincinnati, especially since
Over-the-Rhine is currently undergoing its own economic revitalization.
An Aug. 14 study
from Engine and the Kauffman Foundation found high-tech startups add
jobs more quickly than new businesses in other sectors, but the startups are also
just as likely to fail as other businesses in the long term. The study also found that tech
startups are more likely to cluster, so establishing a city or other
location as a hub can help bring in more similar businesses.
0 Comments · Wednesday, August 14, 2013
The city of Cincinnati is suspending its relationship with SoMoLend, the local startup that the city partnered with in December to connect small businesses and startups with up to $400,000 in loans.
by German Lopez
Pension amendment to appear on ballot, city cuts ties with SoMoLend, heartbeat bill returns
A tea party-backed pension amendment yesterday cleared the hurdle of 7,443 petition signatures required to appear on the November ballot. Cincinnati
for Pension Reform, the group behind the amendment, had previously paid
nearly $70,000 to petitioners to gather signatures. The amendment
would privatize pension plans so the city and city employees hired after
January 2014 would contribute to individual retirement accounts that
the employee would then manage by independently selecting investments.
That’s a shift from the current system in which the city pools pension
funds and manages the investments through an independent board. But
unlike private-sector employees, city workers might not qualify for
Social Security, which means they’ll lack the safety net that typically
comes with risky 401k-style plans. If workers do qualify for Social
Security, the city would have to pay into the federal entitlement
program, which would cost the city more money, according to an Aug. 5
report from the city administration.
Cincinnati is cutting ties with SoMoLend,
the local startup that had previously partnered with the city to
connect small businesses and startups with $400,000 in loans. SoMoLend
has been accused of fraud by the Ohio Division of Securities, which says
the local company exaggerated its performance and financial figures
and lacked the proper licenses to operate as a peer-to-peer lending
business. The Division of Securities won’t issue a final order until
after a hearing in October. SoMoLend’s specialty is using crowdfunding
tactics to connect small businesses and startups with lenders.
Ohio Republicans are considering bringing back the “heartbeat bill,”
the controversial anti-abortion bill that would ban induced abortions
after a heartbeat is detected, which could happen as early as six weeks
into a pregnancy. The bill could be reintroduced next week. That would
come just a couple months after Republican legislators and Gov. John
Kasich approved a slew of anti-abortion measures through the two-year state budget.
The Ohio Senate will today hear testimony
from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio about projections that show
the state could save money if it takes up the Medicaid expansion. As
part of Obamacare, states are asked to expand their Medicaid programs to
include anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. In
return, the federal government will pay for the expansion for the first
three years and wind down to paying 90 percent of the costs after that.
The Health Policy Institute previously estimated the expansion would
save Ohio roughly $1.8 billion and insure nearly half a million Ohioans in the
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan is touting Cincinnati Safe Student Housing,
a website that allows university students to pick from housing options
that passed a free fire inspection. The website was unanimously approved
by City Council following several university students’ deaths to fires,
which council members argue could have been prevented with stronger
The new owner of the former Terrace Plaza Hotel says he will reopen the building as a hotel.
Alan Friedberg, managing principal of the company that bought the
building earlier this year, says the process of bringing back the
building will take a lot of time and work, considering it’s now been
vacant for three years.
Four Greater Cincinnati hospitals have been recognized for protecting the LGBT rights of patients and employees by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation: Bethesda North
Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital, the Veterans Affairs Cincinnati
Medical Center and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected a ballot initiative that would have legalized marijuana in Ohio. DeWine claims the summary for the ballot initiative is untruthful and leaves out various important details.
Mason, a Cincinnati suburb, was ranked one of the top 10 places to live by CNNMoney. Maybe CNN really likes Kings Island.
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown was in Cincinnati yesterday to
call on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to expedite processing
on benefit claims. The VA currently has a backlog of 500,000 veterans,
according to a press release from Brown’s office.
Introducing Elon Musk’s Hyperloop,
a proposal for a railway system that would use high-pressure tubes to
shoot passengers around the country. It’s estimated traveling from Los
Angeles to San Francisco, which normally takes about five and a half
hours, would only take 30 minutes in the tubes.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 09:55 AM | Permalink
Local startup accused of fraud by state
The city of Cincinnati is suspending its relationship with SoMoLend, the local startup that the city partnered with in December to connect small businesses and startups to $400,000 in loans.
The broken partnership comes in response to
accusations of fraud from the Ohio Division of Securities that have
forced SoMoLend to stop giving out loans in the state and could
lead to the business’s shutdown.
City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat in an
email that although the city partnered with SoMoLend in December, it
has yet to give out any loans through the crowdfunding incubator.
The Ohio Division of Securities says SoMoLend failed to
gather the proper federal and state licenses for a peer-to-peer lending
business and falsely inflated its performance and financing figures.
SoMoLend gained local and national recognition for
supposedly helping foster startup and small businesses by linking them
to loans through crowdfunding — a particularly promising proposition
given the state of the economy and research from the National Bureau of Economic Research that shows startups are the best drivers for economic and job growth.
But with the extent of the charges, it’s questionable whether SoMoLend had any success to begin with.
Candace Klein, CEO of SoMoLend, told The Cincinnati Enquirer
on Sunday that the company is currently in talks
with the state. She stressed that the Ohio Division of Securities won’t
issue a final order against SoMoLend until after a hearing scheduled for
SoMoLend, which stands for Social Mobile Local Lending,
was founded in 2011. The business’s specialty is using crowdfunding
tactics to connect small businesses and startups with lenders. It then
packages the loans to sell them as notes and charges a fee or commission
for its services.
by German Lopez
Voting begins for mayoral primary, Cintrifuse to get OTR home, The Banks moves forward
Early voting for the mayoral primary election begins
today. The top two winners of this round of voting will go head-to-head in the
Nov. 5 election. The candidates: Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat who supports the streetcar and parking lease; ex-Councilman John Cranley, a Democrat who opposes the streetcar and parking lease; Jim Berns, the Libertarian who attempted to withdraw from the race but changed his mind a day later; and Sandra “Queen” Noble, an eccentric Independent candidate who sent an F-bomb-laden email to debate organizers.
Cincinnati Council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved the construction of Over-the-Rhine headquarters
for Cintrifuse, the startup incubator. The company has been working
from a temporary location downtown, but it claims it needs a better space
to continue attracting businesses, particularly those in the tech
field. Cintrifuse will be joined in its new home by CincyTech and the
Brandery. Although all council members voiced support for Cintrifuse,
Councilman Chris Seelbach disputed using Focus 52 funds to build the new
headquarters. The city administration previously told Seelbach that the
Focus 52 money wouldn’t be used to further develop Over-the-Rhine,
which has received a disproportionate amount of city funding to spur the
The committee also approved changes for the next phase of The Banks,
which will include retail space and a nine-story apartment building with about 305
apartments. The first phase of The Banks filled
up fast and won a top award
— two big positives the city and county obviously hope to replicate with the next leg of the project.
It’s now up to the development team behind
the project and the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners to approve the next phase.
Council members and city officials voiced opposition yesterday to a tea party campaign to change Cincinnati’s pension system.
Council members acknowledged the current pension system has problems, but they
called the campaign, which is currently gathering petitions to get a proposal
on the November ballot, misguided and flawed. The proposal would change
the city’s pension system to use a defined contribution model similar to
401k plans that are common in the private sector. But just like private
sector plans, the new system might require paying into Social Security, which would
make the plan more expensive for Cincinnati.
Ohio House Republicans are being asked to hold oversight hearings
for JobsOhio, the state-funded, privatized development agency that has
been mired in controversy in the past few weeks. Most recently, Dayton Daily News
discovered that some members of the JobsOhio board are employed by, on
the board of or stockholders in companies that are receiving state aid
through JobsOhio. Republicans say JobsOhio’s privatized and secretive
nature allow it to move faster with deals that attract businesses and
jobs to the state, but Democrats argue the agency is too unaccountable
and might be wasting and misusing taxpayer money.
Billy Slagle, the convicted murderer who apparently hung himself over the weekend, died without knowing of a plea deal that could have prevented his scheduled execution. CityBeat wrote about Slagle’s case in further detail here.
The Ohio Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is upset that charges have been dropped against an allegedly abusive Amish dog breeder.
The group had pushed for charges against Jonas Beachy, the breeder,
after 52 dogs were pulled from his central Ohio farm with dental disease, feces-smeared coats and paws mangled by wire mesh
cages. Circleville Law Director Gary Kenworthy conditionally dismissed
the charges because of problems securing veterinarian records for the
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS)
announced in a statement today that the Ohio Human Trafficking Task
Force, the Ohio Department of Public Safety and ODJFS will be working
with the Ohio Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers to help minors who
are victims of human trafficking. The new collaboration is seen as
another step to stop human trafficking in Ohio, an issue that has haunted the state in the past.
Metro’s bus service is adding routes and changing connections on Aug. 18.
BuzzFeed has a list of “31 Ways To Tell You’re From Cincinnati,” but the list reads like something from 2001. Who’s avoiding Over-the-Rhine with all its new restaurants and after LumenoCity?
Popular Science has a rundown on how 3-D printing body parts will revolutionize medicine.
by Hannah McCartney
Posted In: Culture
at 10:51 AM | Permalink
Voting on local progressive, transformative ideas ends July 15
There's $100,000 on the line waiting to be handed out to 12 ambitious groups of Cincinnatians with big ideas, and every applicant is hoping to earn your vote. They're all contestants in Cincinnati Innovates, a
contest designed to support Cincinnatians with progressive,
transformative ideas of any kind — and sometimes they're pretty quirky. This year there's an entry to raise awareness about how to steep tea, one for a woman named Mickey who wants to expand her CheeseSicles (frozen cheesecake on a stick) biz, another proposal that wants to develop a local indoor shrimp farm and one that wants funding to make "Bitch Bras" for dogs. But go look for yourself...there are plenty more, including the folks behind the Please and Carriage House Farm outdoor dinner series, recently profiled in a CityBeat cover story here.Some of the proposals have a potential to impact not just Cincinnati, but also the great, big world outside us. Voting ends July 15, so there's still time to shake up the rankings; the proposal with the most votes when the polls close will win $2,500, but the rest will be doled out by judges after deliberation. Last year the top winner was "Skinny Mom," spearheaded by Brooke Griffin. Griffin won $25,000 to support her network of mom bloggers who share info on food, fashion, fitness and family trends. The applicants who've earned the top 5 votes so far are as follows: 1.) 3DLT.com - These guys want to create an online database based off the iStockphoto model, instead for 3D designs that can be purchased and printed at home, online or at a local 3D print shop. If you haven't heard about 3D printing, you probably will soon — it's what gave Buttercup the duck a new leg and it can also be used to print things like eyeglasses, jewelry, casts and tons of other things. Their website is already up and running, but they're looking for support to work on making 3D printing more accessible to the public. 2.) Fly Up Fitness - Applicant Brent Kruithof's inspiration for Fly Up Fitness, the portable fitness device, arose from his frustration with his busy schedule that made it difficult to make trips to gym. His "Fly Up" device uses body weight as resistance to exercise chest muscle, but the video shows a bunch of other ways to get your fitness on that don't look too terribly intimidating. 3.) Perfect Pass - This one's targeting a pretty specific market: quarterbacks. Pat McLaughlin, football coach at Moeller High School, developed "Perfect Pass" to train quarterbacks to throw a football properly by building muscle memory. 4.) Please & Carriage House Education Kitchen - CityBeat last month covered Please & Carriage House Farm's dynamic outdoor dining series taking place this summer, and now the duo is looking for funding to grow its system into a full-scale facility offering "education kitchen" classes and workshops to encourage the community to use and appreciate local, healthy foods. 5.) Fit Mommies - There is apparently a humongous and very active community of moms trying to get rid of their pooches. Fit Mommies is a local workout program designed specifically for prenatal and postnatal fitness. They're hoping to win so they can expand the business into a mobile app and an online workout platform.
by German Lopez
Cincinnati to work with SoMoLend in lending plan
The city of Cincinnati will be pairing up with a web-based
lending platform to help out small businesses and startups. With the approval of the
Small Business Advisory Committee, the city and SoMoLend will give up
to $400,000 in loans to stimulate economic
growth and job creation.
The partnership will aid small businesses and startups
through crowd funding, which connects multiple potential lenders so no
single investor, including the city government, is carrying the a bulk
of the burden. Since crowd funding gets more investors involved, it can
also raise more money for promising startups and small businesses.
Businesses will be picked through SoMoLend’s typical
application process, which emphasizes startups and small businesses.
Successful applicants usually have 15 or fewer employees, meet a few
standards regarding business and personal finances and prove they
actually need a commercial loan. In the past, businesses have raised as
much as $1 million in loans with SoMoLend.
Applicants will also have to go through the city’s
application process. The city government will look at how many jobs are
created, what’s the capital investment involved, how much the city will
give relative to private lenders and other similar metrics.
Even as the economy recovers, small businesses and
startups are having a tough time getting loans in comparison to bigger businesses. So the focus on small
businesses and startups is in part to bring beneficial fairness to the
system, says Meg Olberding, city spokesperson. “Access to capital at all
levels has to happen. And the city government feels like small
businesses are key to growth in our local economy.”
The partnership’s focus on startups is economically sound. Governments and politicians love to herald small businesses as the drivers of economic
growth, but studies suggest startups are more deserving of the praise. A paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that young small businesses, or startups, are the key drivers to economic and job growth.
As for why SoMoLend was picked over other platforms,
Olberding says location and history played a role: “It’s a local small
business, so it’s … demonstrating what we’re talking about. It’s also a
demonstrated success in terms of bringing viable businesses to the
The partnership is part of an ongoing effort to spur small
businesses and startups in Cincinnati. SBAC was created in 2012 to pave
a clearer, better path that encourages such businesses in the city.
SBAC reviewed, gave feedback and approved the new partnership earlier
today.Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, head of SBAC, praised the
partnership in a statement: “I am excited that the SBAC approved the city’s new partnership with SoMoLend today. By making city lending more
efficient and expanding the network of small businesses receiving city
assistance, this new partnership fits well into the SBAC’s goal of
making Cincinnati a better place for small business.”