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NewsMakers 2023: Julie Kirkpatrick, meetNKY’s extraordinary leader, inspires through positivity

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

Chaos, sweet chaos, your name is Julie.

Make that Julie Kirkpatrick, the ball of energy and intellect and enthusiasm unleashed on the region as president and CEO of meetNKY, the region’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. It’s a match that was meant to be.

This “kid of the Commonwealth” who loves NKY and Kentucky, who grew up in Lexington, who started in the hotel hospitality industry right out of college, and joined meetNKY 10 years ago – yes, that’s the Julie Kirkpatrick we mean.

She’s a force of nature – full of goodwill and great ideas — who took her dad’s advice seriously as she headed off to college: “I don’t care what you do as long as you’re happy doing it.”

Consider Julie Kirkpatrick the happiest person on Earth. That’s how she sees herself.

Because her enthusiasm, devotion, and amazing talent for her job impacts the region’s tourism industry in such a positive way, with provable results, because she is a terrific role model for others, and because she is a caring leader others want to follow, Julie Kirkpatrick is a Northern Kentucky Tribune 2023 NewsMaker.

Julie at the 2023 meetNKY annual meeting. (Photo provided)

Julie attended the University of Kentucky where she focused on biology and Northern Kentucky University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership. She has earned her Certified Destination Marketing Executive certification and is an adjunct professor at Cincinnati State.

Just as Julie took the reigns of meetNKY in 2020, she had an immediate challenge – to make chicken salad out of chicken-COVID as the tourism industry came to a grinding stop, visitors disappeared, and the landscape changed dramatically.

She accepted the challenge – and the reality – without missing a heartbeat.

“There were lessons to be learned,” she said. “We were flexing on a dime, got quicker and leaner.

“It gave me an opportunity to be very thoughtful – and to think about what meetNKY 2.0 would look like.”

(Click for larger graphic)

With that thought in mind, the organization took a hard and honest look at NKY with destination consultants, Streetsense, and developed a “Tourism Master Plan” for the region. The plan guides the strategy for meetNKY and the actions the organization takes.

It turns out that meetNKY 2.0 looks very good, thanks to the team of partners determined to make NKY a more vibrant community.

“What we have going for us,” she says, “are people who really love where they live – and want the best for their community.” Among those she counts public officials, including the Judge-Executives and Mayors and state legislators, and leaders like Brent Cooper of the NKY Chamber and Lee Crume of BE NKY, who are devoted to building a place where people want to visit, want to live, and want to invest in.

She also credits “an amazing” team at meetNKY itself who are “passionate about the work” and who, with Julie, look at our region through the visitor’s eyes.

Retooling to that mind set was heavy on her fertile mind.

Julie was inspired to start the B-Line and brand it as Kentucky’s starting place for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. It lead her to think about wayfinding and placemaking and bikes and outdoor activities, and making Northern Kentucky part of the Commonwealth – the part that takes every advantage of a great airport and the river and all the terrific restaurants in the region. Have you heard about the landing of Clive and the emphasis on public art that energizes a sense of place? None of that can be done by one person – but it does require leaders, like Julie Kirkpatrick, who are transformative, understand that ideas take time and hard work, and are collaborative.

“I’m a big believer that the rising tide raises all boats,” says Julie, who has instilled that philosophy into her organization.

As a leader of that organization, she meets regularly with each member of the staff and asks, ‘What’s in your way?’ and ‘How can I help you?’ and ‘What if?’ And she asks herself, everyday, “What is MY leave-behind? How will I leave Northern Kentucky better?”

Julie with her ‘home team’ (Photo provided)

That’s where the Julie embrace of ‘chaos’ comes in. She believes that NKY is on the “precipice” and that its best days are ahead – and within reach. She embraces her role as “change agent,” aims to take something that works and make it “awesome.”

She has “fun everyday.” works into long nights and weekends, and goes to bed every night “happy.” She is just a can-do individual, full of “uber positivity,” who loves her life and isn’t afraid to make the most of that.

Making her full life possible is her incredible home team: “amazing partner” Brad and their two children, Lily, a student at UC, and Logan, a 6th grader. They live in Union.

All in all, Northern Kentucky is better, richer, and on the right track with leaders like Julie Kirkpatrick on the job.

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