The Port Board of Directors Approves Plan to Acquire and Improve Property that Creates Path Forward for Kao, Inc. USA Expansion in Camp Washington

The Port Board of Directors today approved a plan to acquire and improve a site key to retaining operations of Kao, Inc. USA (Kao), a leading beauty care brands manufacturer that has had a major footprint in Cincinnati for decades. The Port’s agreement to acquire the property directly adjacent to Kao’s research, development, and manufacturing operation on Spring Grove Avenue is the culmination of months of discussion led by The Port leadership with Kao and its neighbor, Powell Valves, a legacy manufacturer representative of Cincinnati’s renowned industrial heritage. The ability to expand onto the Powell Valves property retains in Cincinnati Kao and its workforce of 525, which represents more than $51 million in annual payroll, and will result in 45 additional jobs. To finance the acquisition, The Port board today passed a resolution allowing The Port to issue up to $8 million in tax increment financing bonds through the Southwest Ohio Regional Bond Fund.

According to Port CEO Laura Brunner, keeping Kao and Powell Valves engaged through months of negotiations and planning while The Port helped create an expansion plan for Kao and simultaneously located and secured a new site for Powell Valves has been “a monumental effort inspired by true public-private collaboration to achieve a vision that works for all parties.” Brunner said The Port is using several of its revitalization strategies and an innovative financing tool to acquire the 3.3-acre property and redevelop it to make it shovel-ready for Kao.

Manuel Chavez III, board president, said the Kao/Powell Valves deal represents a significant “win” for The Port’s industrial strategy for Hamilton County that brings underutilized properties back to their highest ability for job creation. “Under Melissa Johnson’s leadership, The Port has ably demonstrated the value of a proactive land development strategy to attract and retain manufacturing jobs in this region. Melissa’s guidance and expertise leads us to today’s exciting announcement that underscores the diligence of a broader economic development partnership at play focused on the region’s strong manufacturing sector.”

Johnson, promoted to executive vice president in 2019, gave a presentation to The Port Board outlining the numerous negotiations and partnerships that have been required to move the Kao/Powell Valves developments forward, which included assistance from JobsOhio, the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. She said Powell Valves’ willingness to relocate made the plan possible, and credited Powell Valves President and CEO Randy Cowart for his continued efforts to advance regional growth. Johnson said The Port will manage the property redevelopment project, including demolition and remediation, for Kao. She called the company a committed corporate partner to the Cincinnati region and to the Camp Washington neighborhood.

Jeff Aluotto, Hamilton County Administrator, said today’s announcement is a reason to celebrate the collaborative effort that has helped bring it about.

“Finding innovative solutions to retain jobs and help companies expand here is a top Hamilton County economic development priority,” Aluotto said. “This project is valuable to our region and its future, because both companies are global leaders in their respective industries.”

Hamilton County and The Port led the 2011 site remediation and demolition of the former Kahn’s/Sara Lee site, where Powell Valves will relocate on four acres. Rhinegeist Properties, LLC purchased the site in 2017.

The Port learned of Kao’s interest in expanding through a 2017 site inquiry.

For Kao, an expansion in Camp Washington represents its continued commitment to grow in the Cincinnati region. In 1988, Tokyo-based Kao Corporation acquired the Andrew Jergens Co. in Cincinnati and made Cincinnati its headquarters of the Americas. Since then the company has grown steadily, recently opening a downtown headquarters that houses marketing, sales and administration employees.

The Port, JobsOhio, REDI Cincinnati, and the City and County governments have been committed to ensuring the success of Kao. Through immense collaboration, they have worked over the past year to design a customized roadmap for the company’s expansion, identifying resources to help Kao make smart, sustainable decisions.

“Kao’s investment is an example of how partnerships and site development can assist companies’ growth in Cincinnati and all of Ohio,” said Dana Saucier, JobsOhio vice president and head of economic development. “JobsOhio worked very closely with Kao, REDI Cincinnati, and the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to identify solutions to help the company expand their existing footprint.  The JobsOhio revitalization program played a significant role in supporting Kao’s growth within a significant manufacturing corridor in Cincinnati.”

Kimm Lauterbach, REDI Cincinnati president & CEO, said Kao’s expansion represents an opportunity for the region to continue to demonstrate to the world its influential presence in consumer products development, product research, and marketing innovation.

“I am proud of how the Cincinnati region is able to mount a full response to meet the business needs of companies like Kao and Powell Valves,” said Lauterbach.

Brunner said The Port expects to close on both the purchase of 2503 Spring Grove Avenue for the Kao expansion, and the sale of 3261 Spring Grove Avenue to Powell Valves in May 2020.