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Perspective: Better Quality of Life is Economic Development

Today’s primary competition is for people who can work from home from anywhere

By Mark Green

Kentucky businesses plotting their course for 2022 are doing so amid rising tides and fair winds. Challenges remain, of course, but all in all, the trends are positive. The commonwealth saw more than $11 billion in investments with 17,000 new jobs announced through official public economic development channels in 2021.

That’s a sweet new record, and the true total is far higher when you add “unofficial” investment, businesses, jobs and projects that went forward without state or local government programs providing recruitment, encouragement and incentives. Whether publicly supported or bootstrapped into existence by sheer determination, it all counts and makes an impact.

The good numbers make now—as plans are being calculated for 2022 and beyond—the best time ever to invest not only in your company but in your community. The result, indirect though it may be, will come back to your company in time.

As The Lane Report talks with and hears from leaders around the state, a recurring theme is the great benefit that comes from making a contribution to the greater good, from looking beyond your own bottom line to the community and its quality of life, from taking an intentionally positive and cooperative approach to business and civic life alike.

Local economic development agencies have traditionally spent much of their energy on convincing businesses looking to make expansion investments to come to their community. And they help local businesses grow, a reliable strategy to produce positive results.

Kentucky’s business community, like that in most of the rest of the nation, is emerging from more than a decade of focused, heads-down, belts-tightened effort to sustain operations and make payroll during what often have been minimally resourced years. The Great Recession was a financial trauma for many; more than 10 million U.S. jobs disappeared. And the recovery was a cautious slow-growth period—yet one that managed to produce an expansion that was the longest on record.

The painfully slow recovery did create stable conditions. It took a global pandemic that hit in spring 2020 to end more than a decade of growth. The pandemic response also created an acceleration of existing trends, especially the adoption of digital processes in business, health care, consumer behavior, and how we work. Digital tools mean many people can work from home, and—significantly—that home can be anywhere with good internet connectivity.

Currently there are disconnects in supply and demand, especially in the labor market. Communities the world over are competing for workers. Those who attract, train and keep workers, and best support individuals and family life will win the economic competition.

Improving the quality of life in our communities is how we will solve the issue of finding the workers our businesses and governmental service operations need to meet demand and grow revenue, income and wealth.

Economic development agencies around Kentucky increasingly are adopting strategies to improve the quality of life in their communities. They and business community members are working directly with local educators, supporting arts and parks and recreation infrastructure.

Plan to find your role in this effort in 2022. It will pay off for your business.