Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

Rhonda Whitaker Hurtt: Driving Economic Growth with Duke Energy's Site Readiness Program


Rhonda Whitaker Hurtt possesses a remarkable ability to articulate the essence of her role, whether addressing a room of community leaders or engaging in casual brainstorming sessions over coffee. For her, the core of her job can be summarized in a few heartfelt words: "A strong, vibrant community and economy is the backbone of success for all the businesses and families in our region," she emphasizes, grateful that her company shares this vision.
Her dedication to her work transcends mere employment; it's a genuine calling. With 32 years devoted to Duke Energy, she has spent the last six as vice president of community relations for Ohio and Kentucky. As we celebrate Women's History Month in March, her story stands as an inspiring testament to positivity, optimism, family values, and the belief in collaborative efforts.
In her current role based in Cincinnati, Whitaker Hurtt focuses intently on community outreach in northern Kentucky and southwestern Ohio. She has become the recognizable face of Duke Energy in civic engagement, a sentiment echoed by her colleagues who unanimously agree that there's no better fit for the role.
Colleagues such as Brent Cooper, who has known Whitaker Hurtt for two decades, praise her as the "best boss" they've ever had, highlighting her consistent kindness and egalitarian treatment of everyone, regardless of their position. Marvin Blade, Duke Energy's vice president of community relations in Indiana, marvels at her ability to accomplish tasks through relationship-building and trust.
Amy Spiller, the state president of Duke Energy in Ohio and Kentucky, commends Whitaker Hurtt's inclusive leadership style and her propensity to celebrate the achievements of others. Spiller expresses the company's pride and privilege in having Whitaker Hurtt as part of their team.
Throughout her career, which spans 17 years, Whitaker Hurtt has been deeply involved in government and community relations, alongside various other responsibilities such as economic development, investor relations, and strategic planning. She finds working for Duke Energy particularly fulfilling, as the company has long been committed to being an active partner in the economic development of the communities it serves.
“Economic development is a team sport,” Whitaker Hurtt said, “and we are the voice of energy on these projects that require substantial investment and bring jobs and tax benefits to the community.”
She played a pivotal role in establishing the Duke Energy Urban Revitalization Initiative, which has allocated over $3.2 million in grants to support more than 100 projects in Ohio and Kentucky. These funds have facilitated various endeavors such as architectural planning, environmental assessment, engineering services, and consulting.
Whitaker Hurtt emphasizes the significance of these investments by stating, "These communities express to us the critical importance of these funds." She highlights the transformative impact witnessed in cities and neighborhoods, which is a source of excitement for her and her team.
This initiative aligns seamlessly with Duke Energy's broader economic development efforts, including the Site Readiness program. This program aids in identifying and evaluating potential sites for industrial development in communities served by Duke Energy. To date, it has contributed to the creation of over 5,000 jobs and attracted $2.6 billion in capital investment in Ohio and Kentucky.
Among Whitaker Hurtt's notable accomplishments:
  • During her tenure as chair of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, she spearheaded the launch of GROW NKY in 2018. This regional initiative aims to enhance the talent pool in high-demand job sectors, fostering growth, attraction, and retention of a globally competitive workforce.
  • As the first woman to chair the Northern Kentucky United Way Campaign over a 50-year period, Whitaker Hurtt led a dedicated team of community leaders in raising over $4 million in 2011. This campaign saw a 5% increase in results compared to the previous year, benefiting the region's less fortunate citizens.
  • She has actively supported vital organizations and causes in the region, including ArtsWave and the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati, contributing to their missions of promoting the arts and empowering women while combating racism.
Jeanne Schroer, president & CEO of The Catalytic Fund, lauds Whitaker Hurtt's contributions, crediting her with elevating Duke Energy's presence in the region and bringing millions of dollars in economic development. Schroer also highlights her dedication as a Catalytic Fund board member, making Northern Kentucky a better place to live and work.
Reflecting on her journey within a Fortune 150 company, Whitaker Hurtt acknowledges the importance of qualities beyond hard work. She emphasizes the significance of community involvement, mentorship, respectful treatment of others, maintaining relationships, embracing challenges, and boldness in pursuing opportunities.
Whitaker Hurtt's connection with Duke Energy traces back to her childhood home in Franklin, Ohio, which received gas and electricity from a predecessor of Duke Energy. Her grandfather's legacy as a lineworker for Cincinnati Gas & Electric Co., now part of Duke Energy, further strengthens her bond with the company. She carries his retirement plaque proudly.
A valedictorian in high school, Whitaker Hurtt pursued her education at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, earning degrees in Political Science and Public Administration in just 3 1/2 years.

Equally inspiring is the path she took to earn those degrees. At one juncture, she juggled two jobs to put herself through college. On Friday and Saturday evenings, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., she waited tables at a Bob Evans restaurant. Merely six hours after wrapping up her weekend shift, she would start her next job at the Sycamore dress shop, reporting for duty at noon on Sundays.
Five years post-graduation, she embarked on her career journey at Duke Energy, a journey that continues to flourish.
Reflecting on her achievements, Whitaker Hurtt acknowledges the pride her mother, father, and grandfather would have felt. "They would have been proud of that, right?" she muses.
Residing in Crescent Springs, Ky., with her husband, Dave, Whitaker Hurtt commutes each weekday morning, making the brief 15-minute drive to her office in downtown Cincinnati. Regardless of the day's tasks, her primary objective remains consistent: "It's about how I can serve."
Her dedication to service extends to Duke Energy's Site Readiness program, which plays a pivotal role in stimulating economic growth by assisting communities in enhancing the competitiveness of their sites. Through the identification, assessment, and improvement of industrial sites within Duke Energy's service areas, the program raises awareness and competitiveness, ultimately leading to the creation of new jobs and tax revenue in these communities.
Amy Spiller, Duke Energy's state president in Ohio and Kentucky, underscores the significance of the Site Readiness program, describing it as an essential tool for the regions it serves. By guiding communities through the process and facilitating major economic development projects, the program fosters prosperity for residents.
Since its inception, the Site Readiness program has evaluated over 370 sites, attracting more than 144 companies and resulting in $48 billion in capital investment and the creation of 48,600 jobs across North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky.