Economic Growth Presented to Local Leaders…

By Bill Robinson Register Editor RICHMOND —

A plan to develop the Madison County economy is in place after two years of study. Now, local leaders need to work on making it a reality, tweaking it as they go.  That was the message Monday as leaders from business, education, government and the Richmond and Berea chambers of commerce received the plan created with help from the Southern Growth Policies Board.

Often, such plans end up sitting on a shelf, said Ted Abernathy, economic advisor for the southern governor’s association, who helped draft it.  He expects Madison County’s plan to be different, however, because it was largely done by local people, not an outside consultant.  It outlines a 12-point strategy that Mendi Goble, executive director of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, and David Rowlette, her counterpart with the Berea Chamber, said they will push to see implemented.

One point, earning work-ready status for the county, was achieved last year, they pointed out. Rather than consider that job done, the chambers are working to have adjacent counties also be designated work ready. Many employees of Madison County industries are drawn from surrounding counties, they noted.

Abernathy said when he advises some locales, he has to tell them they have very little working in their favor. That is not the case with Madison County, which sits astride one of the nation’s busiest highways, already has an industrial base and is home to two institutions of higher education.

The vast research conducted for the plan found that a business corridor is evolving between Richmond and Knoxville, said Marc Whitt of Eastern Kentucky University and a Richmond Chamber of Commerce leader.  With its existing business, retail, arts and entertainment, healthcare, industry and higher education assets, Madison County is in a position to maximize the benefits of all those.

A steering committee with 12 subcommittees is overseeing the 39-page plan. The 12 main points are divided into four areas: diversify the economy, develop human capital, improve the built product, and continually assess the competitive position.

Under the diversification goal, the objectives are:

  • Hire an agribusiness coordinator and increase the value of the county’s agricultural products.
  • Create a one-stop shop for entrepreneurial services and information.
  • Inventory potential meeting space facilities and availability to attract additional meetings, conventions and tourism to the area.
  • Market the region as an arts destination.

Improve Human Capital

  • Establish a Kentucky Community and Technical College campus here so that vo-tech education/training can be offered.
  • Implement work-ready strategies, providing workers with skills that businesses need to retain and attract customers.
  • Develop and implement a substance-abuse strategy to aid with manufacturing employment needs.

Improve the Built Product

  • Develop the downtowns with retail opportunities and upgrade of buildings bearing in mind the interests of college/university students, faculty, alumni.
  • Expand airport facilities.
  • Maximize the potential of the Blue Grass Army Depot.

Continuously Assess the Competitive Position

  • Conduct technology assessment of the human and physical resources in 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 came from a variety of public and private sources.

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