NKY 200—Circa 1960-Something

In preparation for this column, I recently wandered into the periodicals section of the Kenton County Public Library in search of a 1960s version of the NKY 200. I needed to see who created jobs in the region when I was a kid. My only real memory of job creation back then was when Mr. Goodpaster hired a second butcher for his store on Elm Street in Ludlow.

After hours spent reviewing musty old paper files and combing through dusty microfiche archives, I suddenly realized a NKY 200 didn’t exist back then. Of course to some degree, neither did Northern Kentucky.

No one tracked regional employment figures in the ‘60s because we weren’t really a region. A parochial collection of small towns, we identified ourselves by where our parents lived in their youth and our high school mascot. OK, so not much has changed, but we do call ourselves Northern Kentucky now.

Job growth and regional identification came later. Northern Kentucky’s economic boom was a latter-day movement fueled by an expanding airport and relocations of Fortune 500 headquarters.

In the ‘60s, with the exception of a few large employers like the Southern Railroad, job growth was more of a local thing fueled by Cincinnatians who treated the land to the south as their guilty pleasure.

Back when Al Schottelkotte was our number one source for news—“it’s eeeeeeeleven o’clock in the Tristate”—the largest employer in Northern Kentucky was the Cleveland syndicate. Blackjack dealers, bartenders, prostitutes and various other nefarious characters found gainful work in places like the Lookout House and Pete Schmidt’s Glenn Rendezvous.

The mob economy was local in nature. Local officials were paid bribes, which were spent at local shops, which went into the pockets of local citizens, which ended up in local collection plates on Sunday. It was a microcosm of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, minus the moral underpinnings.

And it was hard to determine exactly how many people were employed by the mob. Jimmy Brink and Frank “Screw” Andrews didn’t exactly keep precise employment records. What with the Kefauver Commitee and all, quarterly FICA filings were not their primary focus.

When Cincinnatians weren’t visiting the slots, tables or brothels, they were wandering across the river to eat at Walt’s Hitching Post, the White Horse Tavern or Clyde’s Steak House, employing a whole generation of support staff. There are few top executives in NKY today who do not know how to bus a table.

The most important Northern Kentucky jobs in the 60s were Green Line bus drivers, shuttling our parents back and forth to Cincinnati as a rite of economic passage. And now past is prologue as TANK carries Cincinnatians to their jobs in Northern Kentucky and us to the casinos in Cincinnati.

RICK ROBINSON IS a FORT MITCHELL LAWYER, AUTHOR AND POLITICIAN. HIS BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM.