Working together: County consortium holds tour for state economic development secretary

A tour of Madison County’s land and available opportunities was given Thursday to Kentucky’s Economic Development secretary as part of an initiative by the three local governments in the county to come together to increase economic opportunity.

The three governments — the cities of Richmond and Berea and the Madison County Fiscal Court — have created the Madison County Economic Development Consortium.

Madison County Deputy Judge/Executive Colleen Chaney said the consortium began to take shape a while ago with a conversation between county officials and State House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell, who showed interest in helping the county create partnerships.

When Madison County Judge/Executive Reagan Taylor took office, he and Chaney began looking at how the county could work toward economic development, and the two quickly realized that the county never really worked with either of the city governments. That needed to change, Chaney said.

“We decided we would really try to work in tandem with each other,” Chaney said.

The tour with Kentucky Economic Development Secretary Terry Gill came at an opportune time, with an announcement earlier this month that Kentucky is one of 11 states Toyota and Mazda are considering for a new plant.

“We thought we could show the secretary all we have,” Chaney said. “We have land for sale. If a Toyota plant is on the block, why not us?”

So, what would have been merely an informational tour turned into a dry run for the consortium to sell all the county has to offer.

“The goal was show unity and cohesiveness,” Chaney said.

The tour was the first time all three local governments have united in such an event, Chaney said. It began at the Blue Grass Army Depot, where community leaders talked about public and private partnership possibilities for that land.

It continued at the Central Kentucky Regional Airport, where discussion centered on how aviation is a big opportunity for Madison County, with the airport and EKU’s aviation programs. The group then looked at land on Duncannon Lane before making its way to a luncheon at the EKU Centre for the Arts, where Gill spoke on the state’s goals and achievements in economic growth.

Kentucky has already greatly surpassed its goal for the year in new domestic and foreign investments, having passed the $7 billion mark as of last week, he said.

Until this year, the highest dollar amount in new investments in Kentucky for a single year was $5.1 billion, and that was in 2015, Gill told the attendees.

Some of the businesses making big investments in the state include Toyota, which has said it will invest more than $1.3 billion to upgrade its Georgetown plant; Braidy Industries, which plans to build a $1.3 billion aluminum mill in Greenup County, creating 550 manufacturing jobs; and Amazon, which announced in January it would build a $1.5 billion Prime Air hub at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Gill said one initiative being undertaken at the state level is red tape reduction. His office has spent the last 15 months reviewing regulations on business, and will likely repeal or amend about half of them, he said.

What is going to attract business is having a good workforce, Gill said.

“It’s not going to be incentives,” he said.

Places that have a ready workforce, who have partnered with local education institutions in tailoring programs to fit the area’s needs, are going to be the ones who are successful, the economic development secretary said.

But the statement by Gill that likely made the most impact, Chaney said, was that two of the huge business deals for the state, including the one with Amazon, took just 120 days from start to finish.

“That’s 120 days from the day of initial interest to the day the ink was signed,” Chaney said.

She said that fact highlights how important it is for communities to be ready, and be quick, in landing economic deals.

Which is why the three local governments working together is so important.

“People looking at coming here don’t want to have to talk to three different people, and do three different tours, and so on,” Chaney said. “They want to be able to talk to one person who can speak for everybody.”

Chaney said she is happy with how the tour went.

“It was really a good day all in all,” she said.

The consortium is still feeling out how its members will work together, and will be looking at what steps to take to grow the area economically.

Ultimately, the consortium’s goal is to help create more educational opportunities and good-paying jobs that will lead to better lives for Madison Countians, Chaney said.

Presenters Thursday included the Blue Grass Army Depot, the Central Kentucky Regional Airport and EKU president Michael Benson. The event was attended by Gov. Matt Bevin’s chief of staff Blake Brickman, Kentucky Sen. Jared Carpenter (R) and Shell. U.S. Congressman Andy Barr (R-Ky.), Kentucky Senate president Robert Stivers and Kentucky House Rep. Wesley Morgan (R), attended some of the day’s events. Local elected officials, including Taylor and the two mayors also attended various events.

Reach Kelly McKinney at 624-6626; follow her on Twitter @kellymckinney18.

Leave a Reply