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Upward and Onward… Rallying a region!

Collaboration is one of Greater Cincinnati’s defining characteristics. It’s a place where “wit meets grit,” and where a tradition of hard work and dedication to regional growth and development creates a community where anything is possible.

As REDI celebrated its annual meeting in early March, we kicked off a new tradition of recognizing someone who possesses key attributes needed to help Greater Cincinnati continue to thrive:

  • Regionalism – supporting REDI’s mission to unite the region to compete globally
  • Activism – serving as a tireless champion of economic development
  • Spirit – living with enthusiasm and passion for the progress of our three-state region
  • Optimism – jumping into action regardless of the challenge

The Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III Upward and Onward! Award is inspired by a man who embodies these qualities. We are excited to share his story with you.
Bill Robinson at REDI's 2017 annual meeting

One man, one region

If you need experienced advice about economic development, Bill Robinson is your man. With over 30 years as a volunteer leader in the business, Robinson experienced and tackled just about every challenge any seasoned economic developer could – and he continues to face those challenges with grace and optimism.

Why does he keep pushing the region forward instead of taking a well-earned retirement? Bill Robinson understands his story isn’t just about his successful legal career, it’s also about the success of an entire region.

Catalyzing change

In 1967, Robinson enlisted in the U.S. Army following graduation from Thomas More College, where he had met Joan (his wife of 46 years). After receiving an Honorable/Medical Discharge resulting from serious knee swelling, Robinson immediately started at the University of Kentucky College of Law. He married Joan in the summer of 1969 after his first year of law school and soon they were expecting their first child.  

Needing to support his growing family, Robinson then completed law school over the next two years, working the night shift (11 p.m. – 7 a.m.) as a watchman so he could study all night, five nights a week. Each day in law school was spent in class or pursuing research in the law library. He has been multi-tasking ever since, allowing him to both succeed as a lawyer (he was elected president of the American Bar Association in 2011) and as a regional volunteer leader in a wide variety of civic initiatives, including economic development.

“The annual development of additional jobs in our regional community gives our fellow citizens the opportunity to earn a better living for themselves and their families and to determine their own destinies,” said Robinson. “The more jobs we can help cultivate, the more life, employment and advancement opportunities we can provide.”

Building bridges

Tri-ED president Dan Tobergte and Bill Robinson

In the late 1980s, Robinson’s legal career and civic leadership were in full swing – and included serving as chair of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. It was during this time that Robinson realized the region needed a new entity to ignite economic growth. He determined that to create lasting growth, Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties would work better together as one economic development organization – this 1987 initiative came to be the Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development Corporation (Tri-ED).

As it celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, Tri-ED president Dan Tobergte recognizes just how important Robinson’s leadership has been to Tri-ED and to the Greater Cincinnati region.

“Bill has always been a guiding hand in our region’s economic development initiatives,” said Tobergte. “Our organization would not be where it is without Bill Robinson.”

Robinson remains Tri-ED’s only founding leader currently active in Tri-ED’s leadership, serving since 1987 as Secretary/Treasurer and on its Executive Committee.

Sparking growth

Having served four years as vice chair of economic development for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and as chair of the Cincinnati USA Partnership, Robinson played a key role in creating REDI Cincinnati. Today he remains an active, inaugural, executive board member of REDI – as he has been since REDI’s inception in 2014.

Bringing together stakeholders’ business and political interests – Robinson was asking regional leaders to take a leap of faith. His collaborative spirit and positive attitude again helped to unite community leaders.

“Bill Robinson is the kind of person who gets things done,” said Johnna Reeder, president & CEO of REDI Cincinnati. “When others walk away from a challenge, Bill shows up.”

Due in part to Robinson’s hard work and volunteer leadership, REDI continues to be named among the top economic development organizations in the U.S., landing in the Top 5 for the past three years.

Changing a community

REDI president & CEO Johnna Reeder presents award to Bill Robinson

Robinson attributes his successful career to the generous support of his law firm, Frost Brown Todd LLC, and to his volunteer leadership experience in the communities he helped build.

In receiving the new award named in his honor, Robinson said, “The best measure of one’s success involves one question, ‘How do we make a positive difference in the lives of those we have the privilege to serve?’ Staying focused on this all-important question has repeatedly rewarded me and my family with countless opportunities to enhance our lives and the lives of others in our regional community.”

Robinson continues to cultivate change in his regional community by inspiring a new generation of economic development professionals and volunteers to be part of something bigger than themselves.

“Never simply accept what someone else may be telling you about your ‘limitations’ – that you should be satisfied with where you are – if your intuition tells you that you can stretch to even higher levels of success and rise from a local to a regional or even to a national level of achievement,” said Robinson.

“Continuing to stretch for higher levels of success for others ensures that all of us together will continue to go ‘Upward and Onward’!”

Recognizing a career of service

Of Robinson’s many motivational phrases, REDI chose “upward and onward” because he includes it in nearly every correspondence, including email – whether he’s responding to bad news or “just because.” Robinson adopted this phrase while he was chairing the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG).

“I’m a born optimist,” said Robinson. “Many people use the phrase, ‘onward and upward.’ But when I joined the CVG board back in 1998, I instead adopted the phrase, ‘upward and onward,’ because with [airplanes] you have to get upward before you go onward. I thought it better suited what we were doing at the airport, in economic development and in so many of our initiatives in the civic and professional arenas.”

For Robinson’s friends and colleagues, this motivational phrase is and will be a frequent reminder of strength, optimism and hope – qualities that make “upward and onward!” the perfect phraseology to characterize this unique award that will recognize future Greater Cincinnati regional change makers.

Bill Robinson after his award was announced at REDI's 2017 annual meeting

(Photo credits: Steve Ziegelmeyer/REDI Cincinnati)