EDP committee narrows focus on what projects could benefit Boyle’s economy

Published 9:14 am Tuesday, November 21, 2017

What do broadband internet, aviation training, sports tournaments, Constitution Square and bourbon have in common? They’re all things Boyle County could focus its economic development efforts on.

Those items and several others were all mentioned as possible paths to successful economic development in recommendations released this month by an “ad hoc” committee of the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership.

Danville Mayor Mike Perros and Ephraim McDowell Health CEO Sally Davenport headed up the committee, which began meeting at the end of August and held its final meeting Nov. 8. The group of about 12 looked at the broad “target industries” from the county’s strategic economic development plan and tried to narrow and fine-tune what exactly Boyle could accomplish.

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Here’s what they came up with:

• Boyle County needs better support and possibly incentives for workforce development. “Manufacturing firms currently compete with each other for capable and motivated workers,” the committee’s final report reads. “… Financial incentives may support the provision of affordable and temporary housing, the development of technical training opportunities and scholarship support for such training that is ‘paid back’ by a requirement to work for a specified period. Obviously, the issue to overcome is where to obtain the needed funds.”

• Improved access to “high-speed, enterprise-level bandwidth” for existing businesses would make them more competitive and help attract new businesses to the area. “A subgroup of the ad hoc committee recommends an initial focus on core concentrated businesses (downtown and industrial park areas),” the report states. “This initial investment should be targeted and well-defined to minimize total costs of delivering ‘the last mile’ (final piece of broadband connection) while deriving the largest economic benefit.”

• New businesses that could be supported by improving internet access include small-scale IT services firms; a “small-scale video productions company;” and a health-care-by-phone (“telehealth”) provider.

• Thanks to the presence of the Danville-Boyle County Airport, Boyle County is a “potential location for postsecondary aviation training programs and aviation-related businesses.”

• “Consumer experience” businesses that provide something customers can’t get online would also do well in Boyle County: an “artisan” retail outlet “for local artisans to sell glass, pottery, metalwork, etc.;” a “small-scale Dave & Buster’s;” and “expansion of temporary retail opportunities” such as craft fairs, public markets and farmers markets are listed as possibilities.

• Boyle could benefit from a “small-business incentive package” and the “creation of an incubator” for entrepreneurs. “Given the Danville population makeup, there may be a good opportunity to market Danville as an ideal ‘test market’ to attract new entrepreneurs with bigger business ideas,” the report states.

• Boyle could try to get a slice of the sports tourism pie with a new sports complex. “If prioritized, the sports tourism would be a solid market and kids’ tournaments are a constant and enduring business,” the report reads. “… It would be important to perform an analysis of other regional cities to determine how much business is left for Danville to capture.”

• Boyle should “update” and “visually expand” Constitution Square Historic Park so more people will view it as a place to visit on its own merits. “It is imperative to establish a ‘reason’ for visiting Constitution Square that is enhanced by installation of sculptures for children to play upon or adults to use to relax, programming using headsets or other media, and general improvement in lighting and trees,” the report reads. “Small retail businesses would cluster around and between (Constitution Square and Weisiger Park, three blocks away) to attract the public.”

• Boyle is primed to bring in bourbon and bourbon-related business. “The first obvious advantage is the expanded water treatment capabilities,” the report notes, explaining that access to water from Herrington Lake gives Danville a much higher ceiling for water capacity — needed for bourbon production — than other communities. “Additionally, Boyle County is blessed with many adjacent farms, most of which host a historic home,” the report reads. “These lands would provide acreage for warehouse and distillery construction. The historic homes become natural sites for ‘visitor centers.'”

Perros and Davenport presented the report to the full EDP board last week; board members were given until next month’s meeting to digest the report before the EDP takes any action on it.

“Let me make sure everybody gets what the importance of this body of work is,” EDP interim Chair Ben Nelson said during the report presentation. “This community has had some dissonance around ‘what should we be trying to attract?’ … This strategic plan creates an opportunity for us to unify as a community and have better consensus about what our targets in terms of attracting new employers to our community should be.

“What you have in front of you is the outstanding work of a diverse group of citizens that gave that question their best thinking.”

Nelson told board members that “if y’all are smarter than the average bear, which you are, you will use that to direct the staff’s energy.”

Danville City Commissioner and EDP board member Denise Terry said she thinks “we need to prioritize” further.

Davenport said there is still room to narrow the focus further, and noted everything in the committee’s report is still too much to tackle all at once.

EDP President Jody Lassiter said the specific targets should not be exclusive of other business opportunities — “I don’t think we’re going to say, ‘no, automotive supplier of 100 jobs, you can’t come here because you’re not on this specific list.'”

Nelson said he’s attempting to schedule a retreat for the EDP board in early 2018, when board members could spend more than 90 minutes together working on economic development plans.

“Ultimately, this is about us … coming together and having alignment,” Nelson said. “That’s where I think this is a larger conversation that after you’ve had a chance to look at the outstanding work of this working group, we’ll come back and talk more about it.”

Perros, Lassiter and Steve Hunter, director of Danville-Boyle County Planning and Zoning, mentioned possible target industries that didn’t make it in the report.

“For years, I’ve advocated about the hemp industry,” Perros said. “Has that party moved passed us? Are we too late at the game? I don’t know, but I think industrial hemp is going to continue to be a business of the future.”

Lassiter noted distribution and warehousing is an important industry for Boyle County and it’s not in the report.

Hunter, a former planning director in Bowling Green, said in that Kentucky city, they view the housing market as a target sector for economic development.

“In a year’s time, if I was involved in 300 development projects, 90 percent of them were housing-related,” Hunter said of his time in Bowling Green. “… When we realized we could target outside developers to come in and build different housing — condos and town homes and patio homes and assisted living facilities — it was amazing how that market opened up to us and was our biggest investment I think in the community. So housing as a targeted initiative is interesting; it’s kind of strange how you get there sometimes.”