Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Woodford Tomorrow tells EDA it wants to balance county's development and preservation

By Courtney Kincaid
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunicatons

Woodford Tomorrow, a citizens' economic-development planning group, presented its goals on how to encourage economic development in the county, while preserving its attractive attributes, at the Woodford County Economic Development Authority’s monthly meeting Friday.

Woodford County has fought for 40 years over preservation and development. Like many other counties, it has tried to balance the benefits of rapid growth with the challenges it creates, and that is the concept behind Woodford Tomorrow. 

“It’s a cross-section of very strong opinions on both sides of the equation," Versailles City Council Member Ken Kerkhoff, a member of the group, told the EDA board.

Another member, Brett Butler, said the group agreed that “We’ve been at each other for too long” and need to examine “how Woodford County is going to approach the future as the economy starts to turn. . . . A house divided cannot stand.”
Brett Butler of Woodford Tomorrow speaks to the county EDA board.
The organization began forming in 2010, with the mission to lead and act as strategic facilitators and bring together neighbors and community leaders toward a shared vision that would improve and communicate the county’s attractiveness to residents, businesses and visitors, Butler said.

“We agree a lot more than we disagree,” he said. For example, all agree that “We don’t want Versailles Road to become Nicholasville Road.”

Woodford Tomorrow’s first objective is to create a “Uniquely Woodford” brand “to promote the positive, wholesome, ‘uniqueness’ of Woodford County, promote economic development, and to position Woodford County as a desirable place to live and locate new businesses,” Kerkhoff said. In its statements of purpose, Woodford Tomorrow says it desires development that highlights what is uniquely Woodford, rather than replicating what can be found in “Anytown, Anywhere.”

The group targets six clusters of economic activity that show promise for success in capitalizing on the uniqueness of Woodford County: agriculture, business and industry, health care, education, hospitality and the arts. Butler discussed business and industry, the cluster of most concern to the EDA because of its goal to create and retain jobs. 

Butler noted that Woodford Tomorrow’s description puts business before industry. “The industry is important and we do want the jobs to come here,” but the county should think about recruiting white-collar professional firms and consulting firms, he said, not only to create a diverse economic base, but to increase salaries.     

“Let’s recruit some destination businesses,” Butler said, adding said that when the group realized that the county has already rezoned 400 acres for business, “That was a big wake-up call. . . . Let’s get focused on that.”

Butler discussed the action items that are needed to continue this growth and development, beginning with hiring a director of economic development and the funding of a budget for multiple years.  The first priority on the list: Retain and expand existing business and industry.

Butler noted that Woodford County’s location provides a foundation for the growth of business in the community and offers all that a business or industry might be seeking: “a beautiful landscape; solid business infrastructure, quality health care, strong entrepreneurial spirit, and quality education system.”

Those things allow for the convenience and advantages of being in a major metropolitan area but with the quality of life associated with a rural agricultural community, Butler said.

“Employers are attracted this this sort of rural lifestyle with big-city convenience,” he said. “Woodford County is going to have to be competing for the jobs of the future.  The economy is starting to turn around and we have to see how we can position ourselves to win because there is a lot of communities out there competing for jobs and we know we have to come together to do that as a team.”

Asked where the group goes from here, Butler said the group’s function is “to help bring people together,” and it will make similar presentations to the local governing bodies. “We’re not trying to take over anybody’s job,” he said. “What we are trying to do is establish common guidelines.”

Chamber director wants Midway, Versailles to cooperate

The new executive director of the county Chamber of Commerce, Don Vizi, told the board that the chamber is trying to get back involved in economic-development efforts.  “The chamber has been kind of inactive for the last four to five months, and we want to be more active with the EDA and tourism and . . . try to bring Midway and Versailles together, which as you know has been kind of a problem, to get them working together,” he said.

The EDA developed the Midway Station former industrial park, but it attracted only a few jobs and has been rezoned for commercial and residential development. Representatives of local banks, who hold the debt for Midway Station, came to Friday’s meeting to discuss an appraisal of the property, but that discussion was held in closed session.

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