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‘Long and winding road:’ Boyle will soon decide what to do about economic development efforts

By BEN NELSON

Guest columnist

It has been a long and winding road, but soon our community will have a new economic development strategic plan and make some important decisions about creating and recruiting jobs to Boyle County.

Hopefully, the divisive public behavior that has our community considered by some as “business unfriendly” will give way to more constructive ways to debate our future as we attempt to come together.

I co-own Maple Tree Gallery and have gotten involved in our community’s economic development efforts to help us be stronger. I have no agenda, nor am I an expert. But I do have over a decade of working “hands on” as a volunteer within the Economic Development Partnership.

Central to some of the most immediate decisions is how best to organize to drive economic development for Boyle County. While some in our community advocate economic development is best as a function of government, those working on the issues have reaffirmed a private-public partnership is the way to go. In fact, it would cost the community more money than the current approach, since the private entities contribute over $231,000 — almost half — of what our community invests at present. According to most experts, more concerning is how a public-only approach can politicize economic development.

In July 2015, the EDP board formed a working group to facilitate the creation of a strategic plan for Boyle County’s economic development. The working group members are: now-retired Farmers National Bank executive and former chair of Heart of Danville Tom Poland; Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney; Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Jennifer Kirchner; Warrenwood Manor owner and CVB Vice Chair Brittney Mills-Adams; Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Paula Fowler; Danville City Manager Ron Scott; Danville Mayor Mike Perros; Caldwell Stone CEO and Industrial Foundation Chair John Albright; Heart of Danville Executive Director Nick Wade; Main Street Perryville Executive Director Vicki Goode; and me.

Please note that this is a group of both public and private civic leaders voluntarily working together, who have affirmed maintaining a private-public partnership is best for Boyle County.

In March 2016, we issued a request for proposal that sought “a prioritized listing of strategic issues that can serve as the basis for formulating goals, objectives and strategies for the Boyle County area. It will identify constraints and opportunities for economic development, e.g., economic development organization, funding resources, regulatory processes/barriers, developable land, infrastructure capacity, development financing and incentive constraints, business climate issues, workforce availability, customer service/satisfaction, hazards and threats, etc.”

We received proposals from 13 firms. Their breadth and depth of experience was impressive. All confirmed that a private-public partnership is the best approach to economic development.

In July 2016, after an extensive evaluation process, RKG Associates was selected based on their track record and strong expertise. By many accounts, they are one of the most respected economic and real-estate advisory consulting firms in United States.

For more than seven months, RKG has been coming to town, interviewing hundreds of citizens, helping conduct a survey of local businesses, bringing strong analytic data, and facilitating a strategic plan that will be delivered at the end of this month.

So now, we must decide how much are we going to heed this independent “expert” advice — or say we know better and the $83,000 investment was a waste of money. We can adapt and adjust our course, but together we must decide how boldly we will go forward.

Without a strong investment in economic development in Boyle County to create jobs, the alternatives are to continually raise taxes to pay for services; or cut services. The choice is pretty clear.

According to RKG, when considering the current local debate, “sitting on your hands is not an effective (or cost effective) method of attracting new businesses. Now, if your argument is transition from recruitment to retention/expansion, then there is a valid argument from a cost-effectiveness-per-job perspective. Our recommendation is to do both internal and external economic development, which requires more resources than you’re investing.”  

In the most recent Kentucky New And Expanding Industry Report, since the beginning of 2017 through the end of April, 57 projects have been reported, creating 8,668 jobs and more than $5 billion in capital investments. None of these projects chose Boyle County. We know in today’s markets, the opportunities are less and the competition for them is increasing. It is not “the good old days” anymore.

Our community will soon decide how strongly economic development fits into our future. Please let your voice be heard as we consider how best to work together to support Boyle County.

Ben Nelson is the chairman of the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership Board of Directors.