RICHMOND, Ky. (May 2, 2014) — The cities of Richmond and Berea this week launched a joint economic development plan to help the area attract more businesses, capitalize on its intellectual assets and recover from the future closings of two programs housed at the Blue Grass Army Depot.
The Madison County Economic Development Leadership Committee, comprised of leaders representing business, education, government, utilities, banking, healthcare, industry and chambers of commerce, has been working with Ted Abernathy, the former executive director of the Southern Growth Policies Board, on the plan for the past couple of years.
Themes for the two-year effort for economic improvement include: the desire define the elements that make up Madison County’s economy, businesses, higher education, the city and county governments, schools, and medical facilities, and ways to work better together to leverage assets for greater impact; and recognize that jobs can be increased by improving the current innovation infrastructure to capitalize on the county’s intellectual assets, especially in entrepreneurship support and technology commercialization.
The economic development study found that college students make up a large part of Madison County’s population, but most students leave the area after graduation — a severe loss of intellectual capital. If the community could develop strategies to more fully capture these educated people, it would boost the county as an attractive location for the high-tech, arts and entrepreneurial economies engendered by young adults.
It also found that the closings of the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destructive Pilot Plant and the Blue Grass Chemical Activity, current tenants at Blue Grass Army Depot, represent a threat and an opportunity for the future of Madison County — an opportunity for private industries to partner with the Depot and take advantage of underutilized land, facilities, equipment and workforce skills. If the opportunity is not seized, it could result in a loss of thousands of direct and indirect jobs.
The Madison County Economic Development Leadership Committee, co-chaired by Betsy Bohannon and Marc Whitt, and guided by Ted Abernathy, developed 12 recommendations for competitive improvement and are listed under one of four action recommendations:
Diversity the economy
— Hire an agribusiness coordinator to increase the value of the county’s agriculture products
— Create a “one-stop” shop for entrepreneurial services and information, especially in traded industries
— Inventory potential meeting space facilities and availability in order to attract additional meetings, conventions and tourism to the area
— Market the region as an arts destination to increase the dollars spent by cultural tourists
Improve the human capital
— Establish a KCTCS campus
— Implement work-ready strategies to provide workers with skills that businesses need in order to retain and attract companies
— Develop and implement a substance abuse strategy to aid with manufacturing employment needs, to provide the healthy and productive workers businesses need
Improve the built product
— Develop the downtown areas with retail opportunities and upgrade buildings with the interest of college/university students, faculty, staff and alumni
— Expand airport facilities to increase its financial impact
— Plan to maximize the potential of the Blue Grass Army Depot to retain and grow jobs
Continuously assess the competitive position
— Conduct technology assessment of the human and physical resources in the county to be better able to market and develop resources inside and outside the county
— Survey chambers of commerce members to gain insight into the business friendliness of the area’s regulations, policies and practices
Funding for the $35,000 project was made possible by AT&T, Baptist Health Richmond, Berea Chamber of Commerce, Berea College, Blue Grass Energy, City of Berea, City of Richmond, Community Trust Bank-Richmond, Eastern Kentucky University, Kentucky Utilities, Madison County Fiscal Court, Richmond Chamber of Commerce and Telford YMCA. The project was guided by a leadership team that included these organizations along with Blue Grass Army Depot, Madison County Airport and Madison County Schools.
The title of economic development plan, “Madison County: The Center of Southeast Kentucky,” was the result of a vast amount of research which found that a business corridor is evolving between Richmond and Knoxville, placing Madison County at its hub for business, retail, arts and entertainment, healthcare, industry and higher education.
The leadership committee will continue to operate and monitor the progress of the plan.
Click here to download a copy of the report.