In the beginning, there was Campbell County, established in 1794, just two years after the commonwealth of Kentucky itself. Five years later came Boone County to the west, also along the Ohio River; chronologically later but geographically in between, Kenton County arrived in 1840, carved out of original Campbell County land

Northern Kentucky’s three primary counties share much more than a river as their northern border. In the intervening years, it has become that spirit of sharing that sets the region apart.

“What we sometimes take for granted is the tremendous cooperation between local governments and entities that we have in our region,” says Steve Stevens, president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s really not what you find from place to place, but others coming here see it immediately. They say, ‘I didn’t know people could do that.’ ”

One of the earliest examples of regional cooperation for economic benefit is the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Officials from Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties threw their support behind U.S. Rep. Brent Spence’s interest in bringing Greater Cincinnati’s primary airfield across the river. With plenty of flat, suitable farmland available, Boone County in 1941 agreed to support the project, provided Kenton County finance it – which is why the airport, completed in 1944, is in Boone County but to this day is overseen by the Kenton County Airport Board.

The Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission and Northern Kentucky Area Planning Council followed in 1961 in an effort to streamline planning efforts. Mergers of the Kenton and Boone and Campbell chambers of commerce followed, Stevens says.

“Subsequently, you have a sewer and water district, a transit authority, a convention and visitors bureau, any number of different agencies all the way to Tri-ED (the non-profit Tri-County Economic Development Corporation),” Stevens says.

Today:

• Sanitation District No. 1, in Fort Wright in Kenton County, is the second-largest public sewer utility in Kentucky. Managing storm water and collecting and treating wastewater, SD1 serves more than 30 municipalities and unincorporated parts of all three counties, a service area of 220 square miles.

• The Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK), now in its 40th year of service, operates more than 130 buses and serves 27 routes throughout the three counties, and also connects nearly every Boone, Campbell and Kenton suburb to downtown Cincinnati.

• The Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau promotes “The Southern Side of Cincinnati,” extolling not only the 204,000-square-foot, 15-year-old Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington, but also the region’s convenient access, abundant hotel rooms (at a lower tax rate than Cincinnati’s) as well as dining and entertainment options.

• Tri-ED, established in 1987 by the fiscal courts of the three counties and the chamber of commerce, markets and promotes the counties nationally and internationally to new or expanding businesses, helps local companies in expansion efforts and works with communities to secure needed infrastructure and resources.

Dan Tobergte, Tri-ED president and CEO, says collaboration is a major plus when recruiting new or expanding existing businesses.

“To the prospective client for an office, a manufacturing operation or a data center, it projects a cohesive, regional effort that shows we’re all intertwined,” he says. “Northern Kentucky can be bewildering to the uninitiated, but this cooperation helps cut through all of that.”

Business decision-makers aren’t the only ones who benefit from Northern Kentucky speaking with one voice on such matters, Tobergte says. Politicians do as well.

“I know it’s appreciated by leaders in Frankfort and folks in the economic development cabinet,” he says. “They know they can have only one central entity to deal with in covering multiple sites and building opportunities. It streamlines the process.”

Stevens says, “You don’t just go around anywhere and find that, and sometimes guys like me can forget that.”

But that may be changing. “We hear that (regional cooperation) is becoming more prevalent throughout the commonwealth,” Tobergte says, “because it works.”

Ultimately, any coordinated marketing effort can only succeed if the area being marketed is worthwhile, and Tobergte says Northern Kentucky succeeds on that score as well for a number of reasons – not the least of which is Northern Kentuckians.

“It’s a tremendous location for manufacturing operations,” he says. “We have proximity to their customers and their markets. We’re blessed with multiple modes of transportation in a world-class manner – road, river, rail, air. We have abundant and reliable and relatively inexpensive forms of power. We have an overall business climate that is fair and equitable to businesses.

“And we have on overall work ethic that continues to impress what we call primary-industry employers.”