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It’s Not Bragging When It’s True

Next step in regional economic development is branding for others what we Kentuckians take for granted

By Mark Green

It’s taken Kentucky years to arrive at today’s favorable position of having a growing economy, business-friendly (and improving) tax policy, the best public revenue stream in history, growing college enrollments (as the nation sees decline), and better business-site development than other states.

The good news is this is likely to continue. A beneficial cycle is not just underway but building momentum, profiting our commonwealth.

And it proves the truism that if you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together. Kentucky is achieving the progress it long has sought due to the cooperative efforts of many.

State and local officials and organizations, leaders and team members, professionals and private volunteers all deserve credit and thanks. They understand this collaborative formula for winning and are working with intention to grow it.

So many elements have to mesh correctly: location, infrastructure, transportation and logistics assets, quality of life and place, cost of living, an ample skilled workforce, good education, a culture of problem solving, responsive public partners, business-friendly policies, marketing and outreach to prospects and site selectors—in addition to the hometown companies that always are where most job and wealth creation occurs.

Kentucky’s top economic development organizations are working to pull their multicounty regions more closely together, combining assets to increase strength in the changing national and international competitive environment.

The most effective regionalism, it turns out, requires not only those who consider themselves part of the ED community but of everyone. All residents are important members of the team.

Pop quiz: How do you describe where you live? What are its best features? Most of us likely haven’t considered the question and lack a ready reply. The answer, though, is significant.

A key element of regional economic development, as with any marketing, is having a brand, an identity. However, initial work in building better regional growth programs has included outside surveys that are finding Kentucky and its regions do not have a brand. When outsiders are asked what the commonwealth brings to mind, they mostly draw a blank.

The first step to filling in the blank has to be taken by … us. We Kentuckians have the opportunity to determine the answer. We live our everyday lives amid unspoiled nature and good people in a distinctive American culture and we aren’t braggarts. Maybe, however, we can find ways to celebrate what we have and share the message.

An example of this can be found with The Kentucky Wildlands organization based in Somerset. It is branding the largely untamed wilderness portions of the state that include Red River Gorge, Cumberland Gap and more. Its work includes creation of the Kentucky Wildlands Waterfall Trail, a brilliant way of capitalizing on the commonwealth’s unique beauty and fulfilling quality of life.

It is exciting to consider what we will come up with to brand and highlight the rest of the state. Others already are finding us. Kentucky legitimately laid claim to being the EV battery manufacturing capital of the world. Imagine what happens when we tell them more.