Louisville combining community and economic development to accelerate investment, placemaking

Louisville’s economic renaissance is in full swing with $13 billion in new capital investment from global company attraction and internationally known hotels – like the newly opened $300 million Omni Hotel and Residences – to urban living options and tourist experiences. In 2014, the city created a new holistic approach to economic development to harness and accelerate growth; Louisville Forward, the city’s organization dedicated to economic and community development led by Chief Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, is home to all the city’s functions for economic, real estate and talent development, providing a one-stop-shop for doing business in Louisville and a unified vision for quality of place for the heart of a region that 1.5 million people call home.

Omni Louisville Hotel

“Our project managers in economic development work daily with opportunities around the world and right up the street for business attraction, retention and expansion; you can start a small business here, and we’ll help guide you through business and financial planning, financing opportunities and education, connect you to an experienced mentor, and really get your business moving forward,” said Wiederwohl. “Finding the right property, the process for rezoning, or obtaining a license or permit are easily navigable processes here in Louisville Forward.”

Celebrating its fourth anniversary in 2018, Louisville Forward has been recognized as a top economic development organization by Site Selection magazine each of those four years. And it’s easy to see why Louisville Forward’s approach is winning – in 2017 alone, Louisville Forward landed 57 projects in Jefferson County, representing $1.68 billion in investment, and 5,096 new jobs.

The strategy of combining economic and community development brings enhanced benefits to Louisville’s employers and residents.

“Economic development is a very broad undertaking. You could fit just about anything you want to get done under the banner of economic development, but the daily work of economic development is the attraction and expansion of businesses,” said Wiederwohl. “Community development is a much longer-term, broader approach. Economic development is driven largely by the market and private business decisions. In community development, you’re working at the neighborhood level and impacting how the city looks and feels. The projects can take longer, but there are more policy levers for the city to use for improvement.”


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Louisville Forward’s economic development team focuses its work on five major business clusters – advanced manufacturing, business services, food and beverage, lifelong wellness and aging care, and logistics and e-commerce. To continue driving the momentum, the team partners with the regional workforce development board KentuckianaWorks to ensure employers have a pipeline of skilled workers.

“Workforce is the top concern for nearly every employer and a fundamental area of improvement across the entire economy. We need to keep growing our higher-skilled talent pool – both cultivating local talent in high demand areas and attracting new talent to the region,” said Wiederwohl.

“Our work has two constants – people and place. Every project needs workforce, and all of our economic and community projects focus heavily on real estate and quality of place.”

Louisville Forward focuses on development and placemaking across the city’s geography, but a lot of exciting redevelopment activity is underway in downtown and in the edge neighborhoods, including revitalization of some of the city’s more distressed neighborhoods.

“Many of our redevelopment efforts are focused in West Louisville, and that includes building new housing, supporting small-business creation, enhancing multimodal transportation options, improving the public environment – from streets to sidewalks to trees to parks – and attracting new investment,” said Wiederwohl.

The city’s initiatives have helped spur more than $800 million in new investment planned or underway in West Louisville, including over $220 million to revitalize the Russell neighborhood, a new YMCA , the campus for Passport Health Plan headquarters, and the Louisville Urban League’s track and
field facility.

The city is a place where everyone is welcome. Louisville is the International Model City of Compassion and holds an entire week of service that sets annual records for volunteerism. And Louisville is proud to proclaim its perfect 100 score for three straight years on the Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index.

Louisville is a dynamic city on the move with exciting new investments elevating its neighborhoods, reshaping its skyline, and helping all of her residents reach their full potential.

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