Monday, June 11, 2012

Woodford Tomorrow adopts vision statement to guide and enhance the county's development

By Al Cross and Alex Ruf
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Woodford Tomorrow, a community improvement organization focusing on economic development and natural resource preservation, adopted its vision statement tonight after almost two years of discussion and work.

"I just think it's amazing," Midway City Council Member Joy Arnold, the group's chair, said after the unanimous vote. "There have been times when we didn't think we would get anyplace."

Woodford Tomorrow is the latest in series of citizen groups that have tried to guide development and preserve the county's rural landscape in the last 40 years, starting with Woodford Save the Land and the Woodford Coalition. Some who were in those groups are in Woodford Tomorrow, but say it is less a preservation group than a strategic development group.

Woodford Tomorrow members at last month's meeting
"We just want Woodford County to succeed," said lawyer Hank Graddy of Midway, a leading preservationist in a county that is one of Kentucky's richest, but lacks assets and amenities that other successful communities have -- such as a hotel, an arts council, a full-time economic developer and a brand to identify the county and attract tourists and investors. All are goals in the vision statement and the summary of the group's analysis of the county's economic clusters.

"We're not saying we're against -- those are things we're for," farmer Hampton "Hoppy" Henton said at last night's meeting. "The whole thing is that we're positive. It's not same old over-my-dead-body" attitude.

The group's statement of purpose says, among other things, "We are pro-business (small, medium and large)" and "We are for eliminating Woodford County's reputation for being 'lawsuit-happy'."

The group has identified many short-term and long-term goals for the county, one that has already surfaced: a "Uniquely Woodford" brand for "destination industries, the arts, value-added agricultural products and all that is uniquely Woodford in the community."

Graddy compared it to the Kentucky Proud brand, which is given to qualified foods and products grown or made in Kentucky. The brand is used to encourage Kentuckians to support Kentucky agri-businesses. The Uniquely Woodford brand will be put on items that are made, grown, or manufactured in Woodford County.

UPDATE, July 6: For a story by Greg Kocher of the Lexington Herald-Leader about the brand, click here

Woodford Tomorrow plans to schedule events promoting the brand. The first event was to be the “Uniquely Woodford Local Food Fair,” April 29 at Equus Run Vineyard, but it had to be rescheduled due to too many conflicts, such as the Kentucky Derby, but likely will be held in the fall, said Woodford Tomorrow member Elizabeth “Libby” Jones. The food fair will feature free food and live music and allow people to meet growers and chefs.

“The simple act of restaurants informing the providers of other products they now purchase outside the county or area will assist the providers in knowing what others lines of products they may be able to sell locally.” said Dan Roller, a Midway City Council member who is supportive of Woodford Tomorrow.

The Woodford Tomorrow vision statement puts strong emphasis on cooperation and collaboration, and the first lines in the purpose statement say "We are a research and fact-finding organization, open to any citizen, organization or company. We strive to provide support and input to city and county officials to help in their decision-making process regarding the betterment of our county."

The group's next steps include taking the vision statement to other groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Woodford County Economic Development Authority, to get their comments and support, and then present it to the county Fiscal Court and the city councils of Versailles and Midway. A formal, uniform presentation will be developed by Lori Garkovich, a University of Kentucky rural sociologist who lives in the county and has been active in development issues.

Some members said other groups might not accept the vision statement as a whole, but could list their exceptions. Garkovich said one of the effort's great potentials is that individuals or groups will get excited about individual parts of the plan and make them happen.

The first three decades of battles over development and preservation in Woodford County are chronicled in "Land (and how it gets that way)," a documentary film by Walter Brock, which premiered in 2004. It will next air on KET-KY (the Kentucky channel) at 9 p.m. June 22.

Woodford Tomorrow meets every second Monday in Versailles at the Community Trust Bank at 6 p.m.

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