Northern Kentucky Economic Development Award

The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce announced a new award to be presented each year starting in 2017 at the Chamber’s Annual Dinner. The award’s founding coincided with the 30th anniversary of BE NKY, then Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development Corporation, and is named for Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III, chair of the NKY Chamber Board of Directors from 1986-87 and co-founding member and continuous Secretary/Treasurer of BE NKY since 1987.

The Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III Northern Kentucky Economic Development Award is presented annually to the individual, entity, company, or organization demonstrating significant advancement of economic development efforts in Northern Kentucky.

2017

William T. Robinson

Member-in-Charge, Frost Brown Todd (Florence, Kentucky office)

Founder and visionary of Northern Kentucky Tri-ED (now BE NKY Growth Partnership), Bill Robinson was the first recipient of the award, which was presented to him posthumously. The award is named in his honor in recognition of his impact on economic development in Northern Kentucky. Bill was an outstanding community leader and served many years on the board of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and as Chairman from 1986 to 1987. He served as chairman of the Kenton County Airport Board and was named by the Kentucky Department of Aviation as Kentucky Airport Board Member of the Year. He was also appointed to the Kentucky Economic Development Partnership Board in 2015.

Bill was deeply involved with the American Bar Association and served as its president from 2011 to 2012. Throughout his life, Bill was presented with numerous awards including the Themis Award from the Cincinnati Bar Association, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Northern Kentucky Bar Association, and was named to the Northern Kentucky Business Hall of Fame in 2014. Bill saw an opportunity for growth in Northern Kentucky, establishing and participating in some of the most prominent economic development efforts in the region. Bill passed shortly before receiving the Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development award that now bears his name.

2018

Jeanne Schroer

President/CEO, Catalytic Development Funding Corp. of Northern Kentucky

With over 35 years of professional real estate experience, Jeanne is the President and CEO of the Catalytic Development Funding Corporation of Northern Kentucky, a mission-driven financial institution that provides non-traditional investments and real estate services to revitalize local communities and creates economic development opportunities in Northern Kentucky’s river cities. Its impactful work includes influential projects such as Hotel Covington, Kent Lofts, Skypoint, and the Life Learning Center and Kentucky Career Center. Since 2013, The Catalytic Fund has deployed more than $33 million in the form of loans, grants, and equity investments and provided development services that executed or advanced over 90 projects.

Jeanne is active in numerous community planning efforts and real estate organizations. She was Co-Chairman of the Urban Centers Task Force for Quest – Northern Kentucky in 2020 and is currently a member of the board of advisors for Real Estate (BEARE) for the University of Cincinnati’s Real Estate Center. Due to her dedication and commitment to revitalizing key property and buildings in Northern Kentucky, Jeanne has earned numerous awards. These include the Friends of Covington Award in 2018, the Legacy Impact Award in 2017, and the Trailblazer Award from Boy Scouts of America in 2017. The Cincinnati Enquirer named Jeanne one of the “Twenty Businesswomen to Watch in 2012.” More recently, Jeanne was named a 2022 YWCA Career Woman of Achievement and a 2024 recipient of Kenton County Fiscal Court’s Pioneer Award. Through the Catalytic Fund, Jeanne works to advance development in Northern Kentucky’s river cities.

2019

Dan Tobergte

President, Tobergte Economic Development Consulting LLC

Former President and CEO of Northern Kentucky Tri-ED (now BE NKY), Dan Tobergte led the organization from 2004 – 2018, after previously serving as the company’s Executive Vice President and Senior Vice President. During his time as CEO, Dan was able to grow Northern Kentucky through numerous economic development projects. In 2017, Northern Kentucky Tri-ED reported 27 new market entries and expansion projects, representing 4,000 new jobs and $1.75B in capital investment for Northern Kentucky. Notable among those was a $1.49B investment by Amazon Prime Air for the location of its cargo hub at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG).

Dan was instrumental in the location and expansion of many other major companies in the Northern Kentucky region, including Safran Landing Systems and DHL. He is currently the President of Tobergte Economic Development Consulting LLC. Dan is also actively involved with various organizations in the Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati region. He has served as Chairman of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Foreign Trade Zone, as a Trustee for Thomas More University, the Secretary and Treasurer for the Northern Kentucky Port Authority, and as a board member for the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and REDI Cincinnati. He was inducted into the Northern Kentucky Business Hall of Fame in 2019. Dan has played a critical role in driving Northern Kentucky’s economic success.

2020

William P. Butler

Owner / Chairman of the Board, Corporex

Bill Butler is Owner and Chairman of the Board for Corporex Companies, which has built more than 25 million square feet of buildings in 22 states and Washington D.C. Bill has been a critical leader in real estate development in Northern Kentucky. Some of his notable projects include Circleport Business Park near the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, RiverCenter office towers, and the Ascent, a major residential tower located in Covington. To give back to the community, Bill founded the Butler Foundation and Life Learning Center.

Bill was also the chair for Quest, a visionary process for Northern Kentucky that provided a community road map for the next twenty years. Bill has served on many boards, including the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, the Dan Beard Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Thomas More University, The Lindner Center of Hope, the Metropolitan Club, the Catalytic Development Funding Corporation of Northern Kentucky, Bexion Pharmaceuticals, the OneNKY Alliance, and the State of Kentucky, Greater Cincinnati, and Northern Kentucky chambers of commerce. Bill was inducted into the Northern Kentucky Business Hall of Fame in 2017. Bill is a leading figure in real estate development and philanthropy in the Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati region.

2021

Ralph Drees

Chairman of the Board, The Drees Company

Carrying on a family legacy of more than 95 years, Ralph Drees led The Drees Company from 1965 – 2000, serving as CEO, president and later as chairman.  In 2021, at the time of his passing, The Drees Company was the 11th-largest private company in Greater Cincinnati, according to the Cincinnati Business Courier, with 850 employees and 2019 local revenue of $1.05 billion. Drees is one of the largest home builders in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky and was named one of the top 25 home builders in the nation. Under Ralph’s lead, Drees was awarded “Builder of the Year,” “America’s Best Builder,” and the “National Housing Quality Award.”

Ralph was also actively involved in the community. He was Judge/Executive of Kenton County from 2004 to 2010, Chairman of the Kenton County Airport Board from 1990 to 2003, Chairman of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce from 1991-1992, President of the Home Builder’s Association of Kentucky from 1985-1986, and a Councilman for the City of Erlanger. Ralph received numerous awards in his lifetime. He was recognized as Northern Kentucky “Business Person of the Year” in 1990 and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Spirit of Construction Foundation. In 2000, he was inducted into the Greater Cincinnati Business Hall of Fame, and in 2016, he was inducted into the Northern Kentucky Business Hall of Fame. Ralph passed away in 2021 at the age of 86 and left behind a lasting impact on Northern Kentucky.

2022

Representative Sal Santoro

State Representative, Kentucky House of Representatives (2007-2023)

Sal was a Kentucky State Representative for the 60th House District from 2007 to 2023 and served as chairman of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation. As chairman, he was the primary author of the state’s biennial road plan. During the 2022 Regular Session, he helped rally support for a companion bridge to the Brent Spence Bridge and successfully supported a toll-free option. The new bridge, which will create a second Ohio River crossing for I-71, I-75, and local traffic, is just one of multiple projects making up the “$5 billion mile” along the Covington and Newport riverfronts. In the Kentucky General Assembly, Sal also served on the Appropriations and Revenue, Banking and Insurance, Licensing and Occupations, and Transportation committees.

Sal is a former Kentucky State Trooper. He later became an electrical contractor and is experienced in utilities distribution, serving as president of Santoro Electric Company Inc., which has remained within his family. He has been involved with many civic and non-profit organizations, including the board of the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau (meetNKY), the board of the Florence Fire Protection District, OKI (Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana) Regional Council of Governments, the association of Builders and Contractors, and the Knights of Columbus. Sal continues to serve and advocate for the residents of Northern Kentucky.

2023

Paul Hemmer Jr.

CEO, Paul Hemmer Companies

Paul Hemmer has been President and CEO of Paul Hemmer Company since 1982. Paul instills building trusting relationships with clients and working hard with his team in order to ensure success and growth within Northern Kentucky. Paul Hemmer Company is the general contractor for the OneNKY Center in Covington, the future home of the Covington Life Science Lab and ten Northern Kentucky growth organizations, including BE NKY Growth Partnership.

Paul Hemmer Company has been named a Top Workplace by the Cincinnati Enquirer two years in a row (2023 and 2024). Paul is very involved in industry and community organizations and serves on numerous boards, including OneNKY Alliance, Spirit of Construction Foundation, NKU Construction Management Program, and the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Paul has also received the Wilson Wyatt Award, Outstanding Leader, from Leadership Kentucky and was named Boy Scouts of America’s Citizen of the Year. Paul continuously works to grow and expand Northern Kentucky as a successful and prosperous region.