Veteran chamber president notches 25th year helping West Chester, Liberty boom

Joe Hinson is a low-key leader in busy Butler County townships.

Dozens of local leaders have come and gone during decades of the on-going business boom times for West Chester and Liberty townships, but one steady hand has now been on the area’s steering wheel into the future for a quarter of a century.

The two townships were just beginning to blossom in 1998 from their agricultural roots with undeveloped farmland still surrounding much of the spanking new Interstate 75 and Union Centre Boulevard interchange that opened a year earlier.

At that time, Union Centre Boulevard stretched no farther than a quarter of a mile west to the new Lakota West High School where the roadway abruptly ended West Chester Twp. farmland.

Surrounding pastures were plentiful in 1998 West Chester.

New businesses weren’t.

But just-hired West Chester-Liberty Chamber Alliance President and CEO Joe Hinson was among those who saw the explosive potential for both West Chester and its neighboring township Liberty to the north, both strategically located along I-75 in Butler County.

Opening the first new interchange on I-75 in two decades and creating Union Centre Blvd. launched 25 years of unending business and residential growth — first for West Chester and later with another new interchange for Liberty — and together the two communities now have more than 110,000 residents.

“That (Union Centre) basically became a (I-75) exit where we said ‘we are somebody,’” said Hinson as he reflected with the Journal-News on his 25th anniversary as chamber leader.

“But before we opened this up, it was all farmland and we had to put a road infrastructure in place. Once that was done, it was like (the movie) ‘Field of Dreams,’ if you build it, they will come.”

Now his gaze from the rooftop of the eight-story Kemba building along the now busy Union Centre Boulevard draws in a sweeping array of business offices, restaurants, movie theatres, condos, more than a half-dozen, national brand hotels, a popular and rare Swedish-based IKEA store and region-wide entertainment attractions such as Top Golf and soon the largest Bass Pro Shop in southwest Ohio.

What was once a sleepy, farm-based township now is a major economic engine pushing the I-75 growth corridor between northern Greater Cincinnati and the Dayton area that many, including Hinson, contend will someday rival the famous and booming Dallas-Fort Worth business connector region in Texas.

In 2021, Hinson saw the latest capstone in his long career as he was inducted into the Greater Butler & Warren Counties Business Hall of Fame.

But Hinson is inclined to deflect any credit or the spotlight, and the long-time West Chester and Liberty township leaders said there’s no mystery as to why he is the most veteran chamber president in the region.

Former West Chester Twp. Administrator David Gully, who later was administrator for Warren County, oversaw the township for 15 years of historic expansion, working often with Hinson.

“He has been there when everybody else has come and gone. He has been the rock. Joe is the host and face of West Chester,” said Gully.

“He was our connection to the business community and he was in the middle of everything and in many ways we couldn’t have done it without him.

“Joe was born for that job and he has the right sort of personality. He never met anybody he didn’t like.”

Caroline McKinney, economic development director for Liberty Twp., echoed the praise for Hinson’s long career.

“Joe has been a great champion of the Liberty/West Chester community. He’s been an invaluable partner to our efforts to maximize business opportunities throughout Liberty Township,” said McKinney.

“Anyone who has interacted with Joe can attest to his incredible passion and dedication to this part of the region. Liberty Township … is very grateful for the contributions he’s made to our community.”

Liberty Twp. growth

Hinson said much like the Union Centre and I-75 interchange was a game changer for West Chester, so too has been the Liberty Way highway interchange for that township once it opened in 2010.

“What we saw was the opportunity for commercial growth in Liberty Twp.,” he said of the largely residential community with a smaller commercial tax base than West Chester.

In 2015 the $250 million Liberty Center mixed use mini-community opened thanks to the new highway connector. In its wake has been rocketing commercial development, including just off the interchange the opening last year of Butler County’s first Costco, which is anchoring the coming $139 million Freedom Pointe project on the surrounding grounds.

The Liberty Center, which is the most expensive development in the community’s history, “really started to build the business engine for Liberty Twp.”

The center has also attracted businesses, hotels and new home construction across Liberty Way, which is the border for the two townships.

Liberty Center “has grown the other side of Liberty Way … so both townships have benefited from Liberty Center,” said Hinson.

Both townships share one school system and the most veteran member of the governing school board for Lakota Schools said Hinson understands the importance of foundational community institutions like schools.

“I have known and worked with Joe throughout the years on many initiatives that have positively impacted our community,” said Lakota Board of Education President Lynda O’Connor. “One of Joe’s favorite statements is ‘as Lakota goes, so go our townships.’”

“The entire West Chester and Liberty township business community has benefitted from Joe’s leadership at the Chamber Alliance. He is a visionary who works tirelessly to attract and grow our businesses not only locally, but throughout our region,” said O’Connor.

Hinson said his enthusiasm for the job has only grown over the 25 years.

“This has been tremendous. I mean how often do you get into a career that every day you come to work and it’s something different. And you’re part of the growth and development of something that is special and unprecedented for our entire region?”

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