Wednesday, March 31, 2010

EDC recognizing Owensboro Existing Businesses at April Chamber Breakfast

Healthy communities have strong, healthy businesses. The Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation is recognizing the role that existing businesses play in the local economy at the April Rooster Booster Breakfast. Two-thirds of the new jobs created nationally come from growth in existing businesses—that statistic holds true in Owensboro. A top priority at GO-EDC is the existing business program. It is a key strategy to creating wealth and opportunity for the region.

Sharla Austin Darnell serves as EDC’s single point of contact, a full-time staff person dedicated to the needs of existing businesses. She is available to work with local businesses to assist with expansion projects, identify incentives and workforce needs, and help increase competitiveness in the wider marketplace.

The regional economy has faced numerous challenges during the recent economic downturn. Despite these, the manufacturing climate in Owensboro remains healthy. Owensboro’s overall economic strength index is higher than it has been in five years. Manufacturing job retention in Owensboro is 94 percent over the past decade. In contrast, the nation as a whole retained less than 85 percent of manufacturing jobs over the same time period. During the recession alone the EDC worked 16 expansion projects totaling more than $90 million in new investment and 500 new jobs.

Talent is a major aspect of existing industry competitiveness. People are the most valuable natural resource in the 21st Century. Today we are highlighting several tools and partnerships focusing on helping companies attract, retain and develop talent.

One such partnership is with the Green River Area Development District. GRADD offers many services to employers through the Workforce Investment Act. On-the-Job Training assists an employer in hiring and training new employees efficiently and economically with wage reimbursement incentives. Incumbent Worker training for layoff aversion provides funds to businesses for the purpose of providing skill enhancement. EDC and GRADD also work closely with the Owensboro Community and Technical College on various workforce development programs, many of which come with significant state incentives.

Another “tool for talent” is These are web-based regional talent pool of more than 4,500 potential employees organized in an interactive, user-friendly database. Employers can search for potential candidates based on specific criteria, and job seekers post their experience all free of charge.

GO-iNTERN is an additional free “tool for talent” provided to local businesses. Employers can post internship opportunities free of charge. GO-EDC offers internship development assistance to interested companies.

For more information please contact Sharla Austin Darnell at GO-EDC at 270-926-4339 or

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Kentucky BioProcessing Wins $17.9 Million Defense Department Contract

Kentucky Bioprocessing LLC has been given a $17.9 million investment award from theDefense Advanced Research Projects Agency, according to a news release from the U.S. Defense Department.
The Owensboro, Ky.-based company was among 25 firms that bid on the federal contract.
The technology investment agreement calls for Kentucky Bioprocessing to develop “a proof-of-concept platform capable of yielding a purified vaccine candidate using a whole plant-based process,” the release said.
Work is expected to be completed in March 2011.
Kentucky Bioprocessing is a biotechnology company that uses plant-based proteins to develop scientific processes that can advance science.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Baby boomers returning to Owensboro

By Keith Lawrence, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Sunday, March 21, 2010 12:07 AM CDT
Thomas Wolfe was wrong.

You can go home again.

And many Daviess Countians who left home at 18 to find success in other cities are starting to find their way back home again as they retire.

No one knows their numbers yet.

It's probably closer to a trickle than a tidal wave.

But local officials are hoping the backward migration will pick up steam as baby boomers age.

In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau says, there were 3,921 Daviess Countians age 60 to 64.

By 2008, the census estimates, there were 4,919.

A decade ago, the census counted 6,701 people in the 65 to 74 bracket.

Eight years later, it estimated 7,007 in that category.

Part of the increase is just people who have lived in Owensboro for years growing older.

But part is the first wave of baby boomer exports coming home.

The Class of '64 was the first graduating class of the baby boom generation.

"There were 460 people in our class," says Tom Vittitow, executive director of the Elizabeth Munday Senior Center and co-chairman of the Owensboro High School Class of '64 reunions.

"Fifty have passed away," he said. "Roughly 200 stayed in Owensboro, and 200 took off after graduation. Several have moved back in the past few years. We asked them, 'what is the draw? ' "

Judy Dixon, who co-chairs the Class of '64 reunions with Vittitow, was one of those who left Owensboro.

But she didn't stay away long.

"I lived in Louisville from 1968 to 1970," she said. "My dad was devastated. He said he didn't know he raised me to move away."

Vittitow -- who says, "I've lived here all my life and I'll die here" -- said the most common answers from those returning are, "It's home. It's convenient to Nashville, Louisville, St. Louis and Cincinnati. The crime rate is low. And they've got good pensions and the cost of living is lower than where they lived before."

Baby boomers coming home

The baby boomers, he said, "are starting to come back home, and a lot of them are going back to work."

Vittitow understands that.

He retired from Kentucky Educational Television a few years ago, but decided he wasn't ready to do nothing.

So, he went back to work at the Munday Center.

Ed Burg was anxious to see Owensboro in his rearview mirror in 1964.

"I went to UK and never came back," he said. "I enlisted in the Air Force, came back to finish my degree, moved to Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; then Evansville and Princeton, N.J.," working for Bristol-Myers Squibb.

When Burg turned 55, he took the company's offer for early retirement.

"My mom was in Fern Terrace," a local personal care facility, Burg said. "My brother had always lived here. My son was living in Cincinnati then and I was divorced. So, I decided to come back to Owensboro."

Family is the common denominator for many of those who return.

"If it hadn't been for my family here, I wouldn't have come back," says Bill Cook, who enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after graduating from OHS in 1964.

"I started at Western (Kentucky University)," he said, "but after a couple of months, I decided that that wasn't what I wanted. I spent 20 years in the Army, retiring as a master sergeant."

Then, he went to work in New Jersey for a California-based company, moved to Washington, D.C., in 1990 and retired there in 2005.

"I have family here and I just felt it was a good time to come home," Cook said.

Sharon Rock graduated from Daviess County High School in 1969, went off to college at Murray State University, married Steve Knight, who lived across St. Ann Street from her, and never returned other than to visit family until November.

"It wasn't like I couldn't wait to leave town," she said. "It just happened. We went to Florida for about three years after college and then back to Kentucky. My husband retired as superintendent (of schools) in Marshall County last year and I retired as a high school principal."

The Knights, she said, "retired the opposite way. We moved from Kentucky Lake to Owensboro. Most people do it the other way. We have family ties and old friends here. As you get older, you start thinking about what's important. We thought about Nashville and other places. But this is home."

Didn't want to leave

Home was what brought Greg Black, OHS Class of '73, back to Owensboro.

"I really enjoyed my youth here," he said. "I always planned to come back some day. I had a football scholarship to Eastern Kentucky University. The sad part was that I had to leave home for college. After graduation, I worked for a couple of TV stations for about a year and a half and then I joined the Navy."

He served 21 years in the Navy, retiring as a commander (the equivalent of a lieutenant colonel) in 2005.

After retiring, Black ran a publication for minorities in the military until it folded, taught high school ROTC in Washington, D.C., and in Louisville and then went back to Washington to run the National Military Expo, which was celebrating the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of the military.

"And then, I decided to move back home," he said. "I had been here about three months when this job came open. It was a big break for me. A real blessing."

He was hired as executive director of the H.L. Neblett Community Center in October.

"I lived in 17 cities around the country, on both coasts, in the north and south and traveled to 27 countries," Black said. "But I had always planned to return to Owensboro at some point. My mother and sister still lived here and I didn't have family anywhere else. I just decided that it was a good time to come back home."

Community leaders are taking notice of the slowly rising number of retirees moving back home and want to see those numbers accelerate as more baby boomers retire.

The first boomers will begin drawing full Social Security benefits in 2012.

Targeting retirees

"We want to look at that market," Nick Brake, president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp., said recently. "They bring a nest egg, Medicare payments and a disposable income."

"Retirees who move to the community are a form of economic development," said Jody Wassmer, president of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce. "They bring perhaps a pension or retirement savings with them and that's new money coming into the community."

"Kentucky is going to be getting a lot of retirees from the rust belt states who want four seasons, but not quite as cold winters," Brake said.

Weather played a role in Cook's decision to come back home.

"My children and grandchildren live in northern Massachusetts," he said. "But it's too cold for me up there."

Brake said Owensboro's amenities include the new hospital being planned for Owensboro's east side, a good health care system, a low cost of living and cheaper real estate than many cities.

"Many retirees make good part-time employees because they have a good work ethic," Wassmer said. "Owensboro is attractive to them because of the low crime rate, low cost of living and access to quality health care."

Kentucky lets people who are 65 and older -- or who are disabled -- deduct $33,700 from the value of their home for tax purposes as an incentive to keep people in the state when they retire.

"Retirees want a vibrant quality of life and higher education where they can take classes at reduced prices," Brake said. "Our low crime rate is a big plus," he said.

He said, "We're exploring targeting military retirees since we're close to both Fort Campbell and Fort Knox. One of our marketing techniques for the future will be recruiting people, not just companies."

Military retirees don't pay a state tax on their retirement benefits in Kentucky, Cook said.

That's a plus.

But, he said, "When I came back home, my military insurance -- TRICARE Prime -- gave me free medical care within a 30- to 50-mile radius of a military base. Owensboro is just outside that. So, I had to start paying for health care."

"I think targeting military retirees is a great idea," Black said. "They've had successful careers and they're still young enough to have a second career."

Cost of living much lower

"I was making a lot more money (in New Jersey) than I could have made if I stayed here," Burg said. "But the cost of living here is about half what it was up there. It's nice to be able to sell a house up there and buy one here. The traffic was bad up there. It was starting to get on my nerves."

Cook served in Vietnam, worked as an investigator in military intelligence in Africa and Europe for years and lived in Boston for awhile before living in Washington.

"I never had any intention of moving back until I retired," he said. "If it wasn't for family, I probably wouldn't have come back."

Cook said the community needs to be more welcoming of newcomers -- and those who return.

"After six months, I started looking at property in Florida," he said. "I've lived most of my life in bigger cities. Owensboro was cliquish when I left and it's still cliquish. It's been very difficult to meet people. I've found friendlier places in the Northeast."

It took awhile, Cook said, "but I've met a lot of nice people at flea markets and bowling."

Knight is commuting to Madisonville three days a week, filling in as director of secondary education with the Hopkins County Board of Education until a new one is hired.

She and her husband plan to travel when she's through with that job, Knight said. "But we want our nest to be in Owensboro."

A lot has changed in Owensboro since the classes of 1964, 1969 and 1973 turned the tassels on their caps.

"I left just before Wesleyan Park Plaza and the bypass opened," Burg said. "I had come back to visit and I had lived in Evansville, so I had seen the changes taking place."

But, he said, "The thing I've noticed most is the amount of poverty, unemployment and drugs I'm seeing working with rental property. That bothers me. Owensboro has some really nice areas and some really poor areas."

"I love what's happening downtown," Knight said. "Owensboro has become better through the years. It's truly improved. It is a little bit cheaper than Marshall County, but that's not really a factor."

Wants to stay involved

She said: "I want to stay involved with the community in retirement. We're just loving being back in Owensboro. We're excited about it."

"Owensboro has grown quite a bit," Black said. "But this has always been a very friendly place. It's fairly safe with very little crime. It has great schools. The cost of living is a big factor."

The cost of living in Owensboro, he said, "is probably one-third of living in Washington, D.C. The quality of life is so much better here than it is in most cities. There are a lot of frustrated people in most cities."

"My mom had some rental property and my brother and I bought some more houses and got into the rental business," Burg said. "Now we have 18 buildings with 22 units. I work but I have time to play golf when the weather is nice. It keeps me busy."

He's glad he came back to Owensboro, Burg said.

"I got to spend time with my Mom before she died," he said. "I guess I had thought about coming back to Owensboro some day. But if I had stayed married, I might not have. I might have retired in North Carolina or someplace."

Burg said: "I don't think people will retire here unless they're from Owensboro or have family living here now. It's really not a retirement area."

"The population didn't change much while I was gone," Cook said. "They moved Main Street out to the beltline, but the community hasn't really changed. I think people want Owensboro to stay a small town."

He started a business buying and selling antiques after he retired to Owensboro.

"Overall," Cook said, "the cost of living is cheaper here. Whether Owensboro has something to offer retirees depends on what they're looking for. There's not a lot to do here for retirees. Hanging out in parks is for young people. Most retirees don't play ball or tennis."

But Black said for people like him, Owensboro has something no other city can match.

"This is the greatest place I've ever been," he said. "It's home. And there's no place like it."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Economic Leaders from Tri-State Region Join Forces in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C.-- (March 10, 2010)  - Economic development leaders from the Tri-State traveled this week to Washington, D.C. to discuss carbon legislation, more commonly known as cap and trade, as well as critical transportation issues, including the continued funding of I-69, with congressional leaders from Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. Chamber of commerce and local economic development organization leaders from Northwest Kentucky, Southeastern Illinois and Southwest Indiana were part of the three-state delegation who met with Senators McConnell, Durbin and Lugar along with Representatives Ellsworth, Johnson, Shimkus, Whitfield and Guthrie.

“Cap and trade legislation imposes potentially significant tax burdens on local energy-intensive industries, especially the aluminum industry, which is highly concentrated in the Tri-State region,” stated Kevin Sheilley, CEO and President of Northwest Kentucky Forward.  

 "Members of Congress from Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois are working together to not only defeat cap and trade, but to keep the EPA from regulating CO2 emissions that would negatively impact local industries,” said Nick Brake, President and CEO of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation"  

The group also met with staffers from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce working on the cap and trade legislation.  Regional transportation priorities discussed during the trip included the continued funding of I-69 in Indiana and Kentucky; and, the conversion of U.S. Highway 50 to four-lanes in Southeastern Illinois connecting to I-69 to I-57 in central Illinois. 

"Continued progress for I-69 in both Kentucky and Indiana will require significant federal support," said Jody Wassmer, President of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce. Both Indiana and Kentucky have made significant strides on the project, and we heard strong support for I-69 from the Congressional delegation."

During the 2-day Capitol Hill visit, the group had meetings with members of Congress and staff, including Dick Durbin (IL) Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (KY), the Senate's top ranking Republican, and Richard Lugar, Indiana’s senior Senator. Additionally, the group met with Representatives Brad Ellsworth (IN), Ed Whitfield (KY), Brett Guthrie (KY), John Shimkus (IL), and Tim Johnson (IL).  

“All the legislators we visited were impressed by the cooperative nature of our Tri-State delegation,” said Brad Schneider, President of the Henderson/Henderson County Chamber of Commerce. “Regionalism definitely registers on Capitol Hill.”

"We delivered a powerful message about how our region works together," said Matt Meadors, President and CEO of the Southwest Indiana Chamber of Commerce.  Added Greg Wathen, President & CEO of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana, “We achieved our goal of addressing regional issues with a unified voice but much work lies ahead for each of us as both legislators and their staffs made it clear that key legislation was on hold until the healthcare debate is settled.”

Members of the Tri-State delegation included: Matt Meadors, President & CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Southwest Indiana; Greg Wathen, President and CEO of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana; Kevin Sheilley, President and CEO of Northwest Kentucky Forward; Brad Schneider, Executive Director of the Henderson/ Henderson County Chamber of Commerce; Nick Brake, President and CEO of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation; Jody Wassmer, President of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce; Brandi Stennent, Executive Director of the Richland County, Illinois Development Corporation; and Chuck Hartke from the U.S. Highway 50 Coalition in Illinois.   
The visit to Washington by the Tri-State delegation is an outgrowth of the partnership created with the Regional Economic Summit, a gathering of economic leaders from a 26-county region of Southwest Indiana, Southeastern Illinois and Northwest Kentucky held in November 2008.

Groups fight cap-and-trade legislation

By Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Thursday, March 11, 2010 12:01 AM CST
Leaders of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corp. were part of a 26-county delegation from Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois lobbying congressional leaders this week about the impact that proposed carbon dioxide emission legislation would have on the region and the need for federal help with Interstate 69 construction.

The groups, which have been working together for about 18 months, delivered their two main messages in Washington on Monday and Tuesday with one voice, according to Jody Wassmer, chamber president, and Nick Brake, EDC president and CEO.

"This was a very positive trip that was very well-received by the legislative delegation," Brake said.

Wassmer said: "We wanted them to know that the carbon emissions or 'cap-and-trade' legislation would have a serious impact on our region. We have three aluminum smelters in our region that provide good, high-paying jobs and spinoff jobs, and if cap-and-trade is implemented, the electric rate increases would be devastating to them and all industries."
The group also cautioned that if the Environmental Protection Agency implements lower emissions standards without Congress acting, that could have a negative impact on industries, Wassmer said. "No one on the trip is against clean air, but we are against dramatic electric rate increases," he said.

Low-cost utilities are a regional draw for economic development, the Owensboro officials said.

"The carbon emissions issue is extremely important to our largest employers," Brake said. "We have about 30,000 jobs related to the aluminum industry in our 26-county area -- the highest concentration of these jobs in the U.S. Anything that would make these smelters noncompetitive would be devastating."

A cap-and-trade system refers to an attempt to limit the total volume of carbon dioxide emissions that companies can have annually by issuing permits for each ton. After companies get the permits, they would be tradable and could be bought and sold. Companies that emit carbon dioxide would have to get enough credits to cover it.

A similar system was established with the Clean Air Act of 1990 to limit sulfur dioxide emissions. As with any legislation, the details are the sticking points.

Members of Congress from all three states are working together to ensure that new CO2 laws and regulations will not negatively affect local industries, Brake said.

The regional leaders' other main message was that Kentucky and Indiana are making progress on the construction of I-69 but that federal help is needed.

In Indiana, 65 miles between Evansville and Crone are under construction, and Gov. Mitch Daniels has said 65 more miles will be done before he leaves office, Wassmer said. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear's proposed six-year road plan includes seven projects for I-69, he said.

"It's important for us to be here (in Washington) laying the groundwork for this," Wassmer said. "I-69 is important to all western Kentucky and is very big for our area."

When Interstate 69 is completed, Daviess County will be 15 to 20 miles from where it will intersect with the Audubon Parkway just three miles southeast of Henderson. Upgrading the Audubon to become an Interstate spur is part of that plan.

The collaboration within the 26-county region began at the Regional Economic Summit in November 2008. "We're recognizing that anything that benefits economic development for one of our counties benefits all of us," Brake said.

The leadership group also included economic development and chamber heads from Henderson, Evansville, northwest Kentucky and southeastern Illinois.

They met with the U.S. Senate's assistant majority leader, Richard Durbin of Illinois; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky; and Indiana's Richard Lugar, the state's senior senator.

They also held meetings with U.S. Reps. Brett Guthrie and Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, Brad Ellsworth of Indiana, and John Shimkus and Tim Johnson of Illinois.

Joy Campbell, 691-7299,