Tuesday, April 25, 2017

UK study for local groups finds almost 30% of jobs in county are directly or indirectly related to agriculture

Agriculture and businesses that support it account for almost 30 percent of the jobs in Woodford County, according to a study the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, Food and Environment released Monday.

Cover of study report
Alison Davis of the college's Community & Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky did the study for Woodford Forward, the Pisgah Community Historic Association, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and Kentucky Performance Products of Versailles, which sells horse supplements.

The study found that Woodford County has 9,478 jobs, 1,881 of which (19.8 percent) are directly attributable to agriculture and 2,783 of which (29.4 percent) are directly or indirectly related to agriculture.

"This is a very large number," Davis said at a press conference at the UK farm near Versailles. "It is a small county, but it is a very significant number."

Davis said the figures do not include jobs from industries that serve agriculture but may serve primarily other industries, such as fencing and painting. "We try to be as conservative as possible," she said. Later, she said the study cost about $15,000.

In addition to collecting data from proprietary sources, the researchers interviewed people at 15 varied Woodford County businesses, including the Holly Hill Inn and Heirloom restaurants in Midway, asking them what makes the city or county an attractive place to do business, how the horse industry and other agriculture-related activities influence their business, and how their views of it as a place to do business would change "if the rural landscape declined significantly."

Davis summarized the answers to the last question as: "Woodford County would lose its appeal as a place to do business and a place to live; recruitment and retention of employees would become more difficult; and Woodford County would lose its distinctive identity and brand." The study adds, "While some development is wanted, careful consideration of available labor and the impact of infrastructure is needed in the planning process."

Map from study showing commuters into and out of county
Davis said a significant issue for the county's economic development is a shortage of local labor. She said the study found that 4,400 people come into the county for work. That is outweighed by the 7,070 Woodford residents who work in other counties, but the relatively large inflow helps dispel the notion that the county is just "a bedroom community," state Rep. James Kay said.

Kay was among those who offered comments and questions after Davis's presentation. Another was Hampton "Hoppy" Henton, who said "what's missing in this audience" are people from the towns and the planning office, because there needs to be discussion about development, roads and so forth.

Davis replied, alluding to the study's sponsors, "There's a pretty significant divide between the two groups, and it's hard to get them in the same room together." She said one person from CEDIK is trying to get such conversations going.

Lexington Herald-Leader reporter Greg Kocher, who recently wrote a profile of Woodford County Economic Development Authority Chair John Soper, asked why Soper wasn't intervewed. (Soper told the Midway Messenger that he wasn't invited to the event.)

Davis said the interviews were limited to businesses, but "That would be the next step. . . . I think that's a conversation that needs to occur." Earlier, she noted that interviewees called for “stronger communication between the ag and non-ag sectors.”

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