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Strong community pillars essential for economic success

By KATHY MILES

Guest columnist

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce recently released a comprehensive report outlining the chamber’s vision for a more prosperous Kentucky. “4 Pillars 4 Prosperity” are listed as necessities for our commonwealth to achieve in order to move forward in economic growth.

Those four foundations include:  a healthy, educated, and skilled workforce; quality, knowledge-based jobs; an infrastructure matching the needs of the 21st century; and effective and efficient local and state government.  The chamber’s recommendations are based on what has been learned from its first “4 Pillars” report, released in 2015.

Our Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership (EDP) has paid attention to this report.  In fact, the EDP’s current strategic plan is in line with the chamber’s vision. In the past few months, targeted actions EDP has been taking in Boyle County in workforce development are consistent with that vision. The EDP is not only continuing to focus on the more obvious economic development activities, such as recruiting and attracting new employers and assisting in the growth of currently existing employers, but collaborating to address fundamental problems affecting Boyle County’s workforce and overall quality of life. 

The Workforce Development Committee of EDP recently sponsored a resource fair at the Boyle County Public Library, to acquaint community members with such resources as job training, adult education, and housing.  A few years ago, it might have been said that these kinds of issues are not the responsibility of the EDP.  Today, most experts would say digging below the surface of what supports and builds a workforce must be addressed in economic development. In the same way that the infrastructure of roads, water, and energy, must be in place, we must have a human infrastructure of healthy and educated workers who have the resources to solve life problems which interfere with job performance.

The EDP has supported the work of the recently formed Danville Boyle Early Childhood Alliance (DBECA).   Some might say that early childhood education is a far cry from attracting a business based in another state. On the contrary, it’s actually an issue that’s critical to the backstory of economic development.

Quality child care is truly a basic need for working families. And early childhood education is the foundation for later learning necessary for our next generation of workers. We simply can’t afford to ignore the fact that so many of our children are not ready for kindergarten. And, true to a theme which runs through the EDP’s strategic plan, this problem requires community collaboration and communication, rather than one organization addressing the issue.

EDP recently sponsored a presentation by Brad Thomas, Manager of Economic Development for Touchstone Energy Cooperatives, on how Boyle County can best “tell our story” to facilitate progressive economic development. In emphasizing the importance of widespread community participation and extensive collaboration, he made a simple, but powerful statement: “Everyone in your community is an economic developer.”

Yes, indeed, he said “everyone.” That spreads the responsibility far beyond the EDP. It means that all of us have the opportunity to own the economic future of our community. It means that an improved quality of life is everyone’s work. And quality of life is on the Kentucky Chamber’s list of top factors considered by companies before making a new investment in a community.

The EDP is working to strengthen our local “Pillars for Prosperity.” Much collaboration, cooperation and creativity is required to do the work that is needed. Good strategic plans are intended to help organizations and communities move forward and adapt to a changing world, without giving up the history and core values.

Watch for more initiatives that may lead you to stop and wonder if there is a new definition of economic development. The answer is “yes,” and all of us are invited to do our part. In partnership with the public library and the local chamber, the EDP is hosting the Kentucky Chamber to speak on the “Pillars” at 11:30 on July 10, at the library. 

Kathy L. Miles is an at-large member of the EDP Board of Directors.