As Trollinger departs, a look back on 20 years of local economic development

By JODY LASSITER

Guest columnist

The December meeting of the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership Board of Directors will be the last over which Dr. Richard W. Trollinger presides as its chairman. Dr. Trollinger will pass the gavel after three years of respected leadership at the partnership’s helm.

Prior to being elected chairman, Trollinger served as vice chairman and director at large on the partnership’s board since 2010. He is an unassuming, wise, courtly and quintessential southern gentleman who has had an immeasurable impact upon our partnership.   

This was not Dr. Trollinger’s first tour of duty in the interest of our community’s prosperity. He previously served as chairman of the partnership’s predecessor, the Boyle County Community Development Council (CDC), from 1998 to 1999.  It was on the council’s foundation that today’s partnership was built.

Trollinger’s unique record of having chaired our organization in its previous and current forms presents an opportunity to celebrate our community’s ongoing experiment with collaboration.

The roots of the council reach back to early 1995. It was at first a voluntary, unofficial network among community and government leaders to share information and coordinate efforts to spur local economic development. Rather than being limited by the idea that organizational and governmental boundaries divide us, the council’s founders recognized that those same boundaries also connect us together as one Danville-Boyle County community.     

The council was created in response to changing economic dynamics of the late 20th century.  The building that now houses The Hub Coffee House was empty and downtown was at a tipping point. The bypass was burgeoning with big-box development that potentially threatened independent merchants. Industrial development had slowed as more communities competed for fewer projects and companies were moving to Mexico. The late 1990s were a wake-up call that Danville-Boyle County’s future prosperity could not be presumed as a certainty.    

The council’s first initiative was to create a strategic plan for economic development with help from consultants. The plan, entitled “What’s Next? Choice not Chance,” was unveiled in June 1995. The first issue addressed by the strategic plan was how to improve the economic development service delivery system when multiple, separate organizations shared a part of that system.

The plan’s three recommendations were to designate clearly-defined roles and responsibilities of those organizations, to streamline the process by which these organizations would work together, and to designate the council as a tax-exempt, nonprofit corporation to coordinate that effort.

The plan even envisioned that “ideally, the current multiple economic development agencies … would be melded into a single organization, with the current agencies becoming divisions or departments of that organization.”

The council was officially incorporated on Oct. 23, 1996. Early-stage efforts were made to implement the plan’s recommendations over the next decade. One lasting achievement of the council’s collaboration during Trollinger’s first tenure as its chair was the successful retention of Danville’s post office facility downtown.   

However, the council’s leaders determined that a stronger organizational structure and dedicated public funding were necessary to be successful. As a result, the council was molded into the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership in early 2006, becoming official on Nov. 21, 2006.

The partnership formed “a more perfect union” of nine economic development organizations and local government partners. With funding commitments from the Boyle County Fiscal Court and the Danville City Commission, the partnership hired its first full-time economic development professional, Jim Crider, in spring 2006.  

The EDP has just observed its 10th birthday, but its roots reach back 20 years.

Our model has been and continues to be regularly studied by many other Kentucky communities as a best practice for economic development organization structures.  Public-private partnerships like ours are cutting edge because they can align and coordinate the missions, resources, expertise, and initiatives of multiple organizations and governments in common purpose for economic growth.   

Collaboration is hard and often messy work. It takes courage and commitment for a community’s leaders to continue the course of collaboration. As Thomas Jefferson stated in his first inaugural address, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.” Today, thanks to many civic and governmental leaders past and present, collaboration is ingrained as the key principle for our economic development team.

We are again engaged in a strategic planning process that will guide our path for the near future. We are excited about the opportunities that our new plan may yield. In any event, the EDP’s collaborative spirit is fertile ground for the seeds of future innovation and growth.

Thank you, Richard.  And happy birthday to our community’s collaboration!

Jody Lassiter is the president and CEO of the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership.