Locally based economic development going strong in Kentucky

Published on Oct 21, 2009

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Emsi Burning Glass

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As we mentioned earlier this week, Joel Kotkin of newgeography.com wrote a thought-provoking piece about Kentucky’s focus on grassroots economic development rather than looking for federal assistance. Communities like Bowling Green are working on diversifying their economies and boosting small businesses. Smaller towns, too, are diving into the development fray and seeking to enhance the skills of their workforce.

Here’s an excerpt from Kotkin’s article:

Russellville, a rural community of some 7,200 in the southwest part of the state, is looking at a “back to basics” economic development plan that stresses the export of local food products and crafts.

“You can ride down the highways and smell the hams smoking,” notes one local economic developer. “We are looking on how to export those hams to the rest of country.”

Mayor Gary Williamson of Mt. Sterling, a town of 6,000 located in Montgomery County, in the generally more impoverished east, has been pushing a different strategy. His region is dotted with industrial plants of varying sizes. The city is also 45 minutes from Georgetown, site of a large Toyota factory.

These employers require a steady stream of skilled industrial workers, particularly in such fields as machine maintenance. Williamson and other officials in the area see training such workers–starting at the high school level–as a way to not only keep people employed but to attract other firms to the area. “We want to keep people here, and they will do so if they have jobs after school,” he explains.

The work of these communities sounds much like what many of EMSI’s clients — from workforce boards, economic development groups to community colleges — have been doing to strengthen their regions. We encourage you to check out our case studies for many great examples.