Thursday, April 29, 2010

Interstate 64- Interstate 65 Connector Corridor One Step Closer

Another link in a Kentucky-Indiana road project that spans more than 30 years will open Friday in Spencer County with the completion of a section of U.S. 231.

The section of the new four-lane highway set to open is from the I-64 interchange to State Road 162 east of Gentryville.

Drivers then would follow S.R. 162 to the existing U.S. 231.

All of the new 22-mile stretch of U.S. 231 connecting I-64 to the Natcher Bridge is expected to be open by summer 2011.

Jody Wassmer, president of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, said it's nice to see the fruits of a lot of work by numerous people over the years.

"Of course, the bigger picture is that this is part of the Interstate Corridor Connector," Wassmer said. "We're slowly getting to the day when we have a four-lane connector to I-64/I-65 coming through the heart of Daviess County. And there are economic development implications for us."

Phase I of the U.S. 60 bypass extension project east of Owensboro is under way with a 2.2-mile portion expected to be finished in 2013. Phase I goes from U.S. 60 East to Kentucky 144.

The timetable for Phase II is not confirmed since the state's road plan has not been finalized in the 2010-12 budget.

The tentative plan is for that stretch from Kentucky 144 to the existing U.S. 60 bypass near Kentucky 54 to be done by late 2011.

These two road projects -- the new, four-laned U.S. 231 in Spencer County and the U.S. 60 bypass extension -- along with the Natcher Bridge will complete the 100-mile corridor connecting I-64 and I-65.

"It was always intended that Indiana would eventually build a new U.S. 231, and it was hoped that would open about the same time as the Natcher Bridge," Wassmer said. "Now, eight years later, we are seeing major progress."

The Natcher bridge opened in August 2002.

"I've had several people in Indiana tell me that Owensboro will see a lot of activity from people driving here to shop, work and eat out," Wassmer said. "They said they just didn't want to deal with the winding, two-lane 231 to get to us."

The piece of U.S. 231 that will open Friday creates an opportunity for growth for Spencer County, said Nick Brake, president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp.

"I see Spencer County and Daviess County being more closely linked through this project," Brake said. "They could become part of our MSA (metropolitan statistical area), which would expand our population."

"I can tell you that the opening of that four-lane highway will help the commerce and the economy in Spencer County measurably," said Tom Nutter, executive director of Lincolnland Economic Development Corp.

Opening the four-lane to S.R. 162 will bring the millions of visitors to Holiday World/Splashin' Safari into the community more conveniently and more safely, Nutter said.

"It's a major enhancement, even to the state of Indiana," he said. "The fact that it brings the highway closer to completion to Owensboro is of extraordinary importance. Our community wants very much to see Owensboro become connected to I-64."

Nutter praised the cooperation between Spencer and Daviess counties for the corridor connector project.

Completion of the entire corridor will create more opportunities for the region, Brake said.

"This is our interstate," he said. "We're creating a four-lane road between I-64 and I-65, and the main center between this is going to be Owensboro. The area around the hospital will grow with retail and good commercial development much like what you would see around an exit from an interstate."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Flight from Owensboro to Las Vegas Coming Soon

Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport expects Allegiant Air to add nonstop jet service to Las Vegas by the end of the year, Airport Manager Bob Whitmer told Daviess Fiscal Court on Monday.

Fiscal Court approved an 83 percent increase in its allotment for the airport -- from $55,429 a year to $101,429 -- to help with the airport's increased operating costs as traffic improves dramatically.

Last year, with Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air offering two nonstop flights a week to Orlando, Fla., the airport reached the 10,000 passenger mark for the first time in a decade and qualified for $1 million in federal funding for capital projects.

That money cannot be used for operating expenses, however.

Already this year, Whitmer said, the airport has boarded more than 5,000 passengers and is on track to reach the 15,000 mark for the first time since 1993.

Allegiant will have three flights a week to Orlando this year.

Next year, with direct flights to Las Vegas twice a week, Whitmer said boardings could top 20,000.

Last summer, Allegiant shut down its operations locally between Aug. 8 and Oct. 14 because of slow late summer traffic. This year, Whitmer said, Allegiant will continue to fly during that period.

"When you look at the potential," County Commissioner Bruce Kunze said, the extra $46,000 "is a good investment."

"Allegiant is the most successful airline in the country," Whitmer said. "We're the envy of a lot of communities."

Because of the increased service, he said, the airport qualified for $3 million in stimulus money last year, which included $675,000 for a large fire and rescue truck that could help attract cargo planes at some point.

Before Allegiant can add the Las Vegas flights, Whitmer said, the airport has to move utility lines that are in the takeoff path for large planes that need the entire 8,000-foot runway.

Fully loaded 150-passenger jets with enough fuel to fly to Las Vegas will need that extra room, he said.

The runway was finished two years ago. With Allegiant wanting to use the runway, the Federal Aviation Administration has made moving the lines a priority and will pay for the work, Whitmer said.

He said the airport has successfully negotiated with one of the two property owners whose land is involved in moving the power lines and is working with the other.

The airport also needs to secure a 5,000-gallon fuel truck before the Las Vegas flights can start.

But Whitmer said he expects the power lines to be moved this fall and the Las Vegas flights to begin by the end of the year.

Keith Lawrence, 691-7301,

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Airport, riverport, EDC explore opportunities

Joy Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Sunday, April 25, 2010 12:04 AM CDT
Owensboro has been saddled for years with a reputation of having no interstate highway within its transportation system.

The region has boasted the other major ingredients for economic development -- river, rail and air -- but that one infrastructure handicap could often be an automatic disqualifier for some companies scouting Kentucky for a new site.

Now, two key players in the regional logistics industry and the leader of the region's economic development efforts are taking a closer look at infrastructure changes on the horizon -- including new connectors to interstate highways -- that might strengthen Owensboro's position for economic growth in what is called the logistics industry.

Ed Riney, president and CEO of the Owensboro Riverport Authority, Bob Whitmer, manager of the Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport, and Nick Brake, president and CEO of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp., have begun regular meetings to explore those opportunities.

"The three of us understand that this could be good for the community, but we've just begun and have a lot to do," Riney said. " ... I think this potentially is one of the few economic drivers in the community other than the hospital."

Report shows opportunities

The collaboration among these three has led to a new report, "Growth Opportunities for Greater Owensboro in the Logistics Industry," which was prepared by Brake.

"We wanted to profile the logistics industry and see what's here; to study our employment base to see what opportunities there might be and what future prospects we have," Brake said.

Logistics companies primarily provide services in packaging, labeling, transporting and storing materials. Consulting firms for those services also come under that umbrella industry.

The report cites this definition from the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals: "Logistics is the process of planning, implementing and controlling efficient flow and storage of goods, services, related information from point of origin to point of consumption for the purpose of conforming to customer requirements."

The analysis shows that the Owensboro region -- which for the study includes both the Owensboro and Evansville Metropolitan Statistical Areas -- has a healthy manufacturing base.

"A lot of these industries, especially the aluminum companies, are here because of low electricity costs," Brake said. "We looked at changes and potential threats to that."

The industry list includes quite a number that are "energy-use intensive companies," he said.

The region could not compete in the global market, however, with Iceland, the Middle East and China as players, he said. "Our strategy is to hold those jobs and companies we have and figure out how we can attract others," Brake said.

That's where capitalizing on the region's strengths comes into play.

"Owensboro's excellent highway, rail, river and air access allows commerce to flow quickly to all parts of the world," the report said.

The industry profile shows the region has more than 11,000 jobs in the Owensboro and Evansville MSAs, and logistics generates nearly 7,000 more jobs in other industries.

The annual payroll is nearly $300 million. Directly and indirectly, the industry provides more than $400 million in payrolls.

In the Owensboro MSA alone, nearly 100 companies are providing 2,000 jobs and generating nearly $100 million in annual payroll.

The report concludes with some next steps.

"We want the riverport to evaluate the container business," he said. " ... And the airport should fully utilize its 8,000-foot runway."

Logistics, logistics, logistics

"Our strategy is to coordinate our efforts on economic development and take advantage of logistics," said Whitmer, who is in his second year as the airport's director.

A simpler definition of logistics is the process of controlling the flow of materials from a starting point to an ending point.

Whitmer recently heard an expression he likes to repeat: "A mile of roads will get you one mile, but a mile of runway will get you anywhere in the world."

The airport's 8,000-foot runway is the key characteristic that makes it special in Kentucky's logistics industry, Whitmer said.

The asset puts Owensboro in good company. The only other Kentucky cities with 8,000-foot-plus runways are Louisville and Lexington and northern Kentucky/Cincinnati. And Owensboro's is the longest runway in western Kentucky.

Whitmer touts three other reasons companies should take notice:

* Pilots and companies prefer to use an airport with a fully staffed control tower, such as Owensboro's. The tower is staffed from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., 365 days per year.

* The airport has 367 acres open for development.

* It's a full security airport with heightened security measures.

The airport now has two airlines flying passengers in and out of Owensboro -- Allegiant Air and KentuckySkies.

Because Allegiant flies more than 66 passengers per day, the Transportation Security Administration deems the airport "full security."

That means everyone must get security clearance before boarding planes, and background checks are done on employees.

Gating, videotaping, signage and fencing are required, and all of that is much more scrutinized than before the TSA designation, Whitmer said.

"From an economic development standpoint, it's a more secure airport," he said. "If you put a business on this property, it will be harder (for vandals, etc.) to get to you."

Attracting a cargo company to Owensboro is not just a pipe dream, according to all three logistics leaders.

"We realize we're very well located for UPS in Louisville and FedEx in Memphis," said Whitmer. "We're centrally located between those two primary shipping companies."

Memphis has the busiest airport in the world, primarily because of FedEx, not passenger count, he said.

A new National Guard Armory also will be built at the Owensboro airport, and that, too, is considered a plus. And the airport is well located between Fort Knox and Fort Campbell, he said.

"There may be some potential there in stockpiling and warehousing," Whitmer said.

He already has met with U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, a Bowling Green Republican who represents the 2nd Congressional District, to discuss those opportunities.

The airport is doing well creating amenities for the community. Whitmer and his colleagues are meeting and learning more about trends in the industry to move toward job creation.

"We've created a few jobs here, but nothing like a cargo hub or an airport maintenance facility," Whitmer said. "I commend the foresight the board had in moving forward with the 8,000-foot runway."

Riverport can be a bigger player

Riney is in his third year as the Owensboro Riverport Authority's president and CEO. He, too, is convinced that regional changes in infrastructure -- namely the addition of miles of four-lane roads and the possibility of having clear connectors to Interstate 64, Interstate 65 and Interstate 69 -- show that Owensboro is better positioned to take advantage of growth in the logistics industry.

"For years, we heard that Owensboro couldn't be very successful because we didn't have a four-year university or an interstate," Riney recently told a group gathered for a Food for Thought luncheon. "We're getting an adjunct or satellite campus of Western Kentucky University and a connector to Interstate 69. I think Owensboro is a real diamond in the rough."

The riverport has 35 to 38 employees and is located on 400 acres. It handles a number of commodities including aluminum, steel, zinc, grain, paper, fertilizer and others.

Until recently, the riverport was heavily focused on aluminum. In the past couple of years, however, Riney and the staff have worked to diversify as market conditions change.

"We have really focused on agriculture," he said. "We wanted to have one-third agriculture, one-third metal, one-third paper and other products."

Today, the U.S. moves only about 2 percent to 4 percent of its commerce by water, while Europe moves about 45 percent, according to Riney.

Riney and others are tracking a major initiative that could provide an opportunity.

It's called Marine Highway One, a five-state effort to develop a plan that would allow the states' transportation departments to request federal funds to build on to its riverports.

The initiative -- and there are others like it throughout the U.S. -- anticipates the opening of a third shipping lane on the Gulf Coast in 2014 as a result of the expansion of the Panama Canal.

"This could impact Owensboro with more traffic coming right by us," Riney said. "We would very much like Owensboro to compete for some federal dollars to be a container port."

The opportunity clearly falls under a long-term strategy, with any payback down the road, he said.

He, too, cites geographic and physical assets that could make Owensboro a player. But the riverport's real chances for such a new venture also hinge on the location of other new container ports.

The riverport needs a new loading dock, and a potential site has been identified. That dock would be critical for a container port, Riney said.

"We want to evaluate the site and determine if we can build a loading dock," he said. "If so, we can pursue this initiative."

The project would require state and federal funding.

The riverport also is approved as a Foreign Trade Zone, which could be an asset in a new logistics strategy.

With that designation, companies could bring goods into the riverport from a foreign country and do a lot of different things to them such as assemble, repackage or repair, or hold them -- without paying taxes.

That status is a good marketing tool, Riney said, and it could be useful in attracting a regional cargo company.

Future considerations include whether the airport may apply for Foreign Trade Zone status; the riverport could transfer its FTZ, or it could operate under one board authority.

"We need to figure out how we can cooperate and what, specifically we want to do, so that we can present a plan to the state and federal governments," Riney said. "This will take the full cooperation of the riverport , airport and economic development boards and city, county and state leaders -- a collective effort."

Joy Campbell, 691-7299,

The Big Four

The Owensboro region has:

* The Ohio River -- and a full-port, intermodal riverport.

* An airport with an 8,000-foot runway -- the longest runway in western Kentucky.

* A CSX railroad main line running through it.

* Links to Interstate 64, Interstate 65 and Interstate 24 on the nation's highway system through the Natcher and Audubon parkways with Interstate 69 and Interstate 66 corridors under development and accessible 30 minutes to the south and west.

On the Web

* Read the profile, "Growth Opportunities for Greater Owensboro in the Logistics Industry," prepared by Nick Brake, president/CEO of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp., at

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Owensboro budget in the black

By Ben Garbarek - bio | email | Twitter
OWENSBORO, KY (WFIE) -  "You anticipate the worst and hope for the best," Mayor Ron Payne said. "That's exactly what our staff has been doing."
Despite an ambitious plan to revitalize its downtown, the city of Owensboro projects a $1 million budget surplus for the next fiscal year.
"We've been fortunate here in the city of Owensboro not to have felt the effects of the recession like other communities," Payne said. "Part of the reason is the diversification of our revenue streams. We have a good diversification of our revenue streams and that's helped us during these difficult times."
City officials are keeping their fingers crossed.
They will have more money coming in with roughly $600 million of construction projects, leading to an increase in occupational taxes.
One new item in the upcoming budget is another tax clerk responsible for collecting taxes on many of these new jobs.
"What this does is to allow our finance department staff to do the detective work of finding out who those folks are and have them contribute also to the community," City Manager Bill Parrish said. "They're gaining from the community in construction, they should be paying their fair share to help the community."
One item in the budget that was met with skepticism was nearly $400,000 to pave and expand the recycling center.
The city plans to add lights and security cameras after numerous complaints from the community.
The mayor also discussed possibly adding a transit bus that would run only up and down Frederica Street connecting downtown with Towne Square Mall.
The mayor also said he plans to start saving money for maintenance on the new riverfront.
©2010 WFIE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Friday, April 16, 2010

OMHS Neighborhood Construction ceremony at school launches 'hospital for the future'

By Rich Suwanski, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Thursday, April 15, 2010 12:11 AM CDT
Even though Owensboro Medical Health System's new hospital build commenced last week when bulldozers moved earth at the Daniels Lane site, officials gathered at Meadow Lands Elementary School Wednesday for OMHS' Neighborhood Construction Kickoff.

The event took place in the school's gym where students assembled to hear remarks about the $385 million, three-year project taking place about a mile away.

Officials hope the community will be as excited as the students, who were out of class about an hour, as plans for the nine-story facility become reality.

The youngsters reacted enthusiastically when asked questions, at the entrance of TV character Bob the Builder and when the school's choir sang and cheerleaders performed.

"We're building a hospital for the future, and you are the future," said Jeff Barber, OMHS' president and CEO. "Our goal is to heal the sick and improve the health of the community. We have a good record of healing the sick. Improving the health of the community is something we want to do a much better job of.

"We want you to join us with a program over the next three years to improve all of our health -- individual health, family health and the health of the community."

As part of the ceremony, three-member teams from OMHS and Daviess County Public Schools had a relay race that included dribbling a basketball and doing bicep curls with light weights.

A 2.3-mile run/walk is set for 8 a.m. June 5 from OMHS' Parrish Avenue campus to the new hospital site.

Meanwhile, a lead-up to the run/walk will be the "Get Movin' 2013 Challenge" from April 19 to May 30. Teams are encouraged to join the competition at

Walkers and runners will log the minutes members walk or run each week, with prizes going to the winning teams.

County Judge-Executive Reid Haire praised the hospital board's courage and wisdom in guiding OMHS along the path to a new hospital, which he said will be an "economic driver" in the community. He said Daviess Fiscal Court and the Owensboro City Commission are "pleased to have played a role in the future of this institution."

Merrill Bowers, the project manager from Turner Construction, told students that in the next three to four months they'll see tractors moving dirt at the site, preparing for the build.

In the fall, steel will start going up as the building's frame, and in early 2011, workers will "start putting clothes on the building and you'll start to see how it's going to look as a finished product," Bowers said.

Bowers said work on Pleasant Valley Road and Daniels Lane would be coordinated with bus schedules and traffic to cause as little disruption as possible.

Bonnie Brown, manager of pastoral care at OMHS, asked students to offer a prayer or have good thoughts for the new hospital, particularly for worker safety.

The event wrapped up when the crowd went outdoors to see OMHS board member Billy Joe Miles and Barber get in a backhoe and grader and drive off with construction workers toward the construction site.

Dubuque center impresses downtown development steering committee

The Grand River Center convention center in Dubuque, Iowa, is "magnificent," and the business model that supports it is working well, according to Fred Reeves, Owensboro downtown development director.

But what Dubuque has done with its riverfront is somewhat different than what is proposed for Owensboro, he said.

Dubuque is on the Mississippi River, and the city and Dubuque County are nearly identical to Owensboro and Daviess County in population. The 86,000-square-foot Grand River Center convention center and the Grand Harbor Resort hotel/indoor water park next door were visited Wednesday by members of the steering committee planning a convention and events center for Owensboro.

The group also paid a visit to the Five Flags Center, Dubuque's downtown arena that was built in the mid-1970s.

What the group saw was impressive, Reeves said during a brief interview he provided between the last stop on the one-day tour and boarding a plane back to Owensboro.

"There are great similarities between Owensboro and Dubuque," Reeves said. "But they are about 10 years ahead of us with their downtown riverfront and convention center and hotel. All of them are fully mature. The convention center is really beautiful."

The Grand River Center and Grand Harbor Resort are removed from downtown Dubuque, in contrast to what Owensboro has planned, said Reeves. Despite those and other differences, Reeves and Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne both said Dubuque has many good lessons for Owensboro to learn.

"Like us, they decided they had turned away from their river and downtown and decided to reclaim them," Payne said. "They are about 10 years ahead of us. They dealt with some of the same issues we're dealing with. They invested about $188 million and we will invest $150 million. They have had a tremendous return on investment in their downtown with more than 2,800 jobs created since 2000."

Payne said he found it very interesting that Dubuque kept its existing arena instead of replacing it with an arena in its convention center. The proposal for Owensboro's convention center is to include an events center within the convention center.

"I think there's some possibility that we might want to maintain the Sportscenter," Payne said.

Payne said Dubuque's downtown and riverfront area is more spread out than Owensboro's, which is an advantage for Owensboro, he said. Dubuque also has to deal with a flood wall and a major four-lane, divided highway (U.S. 61/U.S. 151) that separates the riverfront from downtown, which reminded him of Louisville's riverfront.

"We'll be more concentrated and more pedestrian-friendly," Payne said. "The area of the convention center and hotel was an industrial site. They are not unlike Louisville."

Payne said Dubuque officials downplayed the effect of its two casinos on its convention center business, but acknowledged they help the 193-room Grand Harbor Resort. The land-based Diamond Jo casino is a few hundred feet from the hotel. Payne agreed that having casinos probably helps attract conventions.

The Owensboro group spent the day in Dubuque but were back in Owensboro by 5 p.m.

"I was impressed with the reception we got and I look forward to continuing those relationships," Payne said. "... We don't have to reinvent the wheel. We can learn a lot from Dubuque. I came away thinking they've done it right."

In addition to the 4,800-seat Five Flags Center and the Diamond Jo casino, Dubuque also has a racino featuring live greyhound racing, the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, named Iowa's No. 1 attraction in 2009 with its six aquariums, and the Mississippi Riverwalk, a half-mile long walkway along the river atop the flood wall.

Steve Vied, 691-7297,

Friday, April 2, 2010

Gov. Beshear designates $250,000 for Owensboro health care job training initiative

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Governor Steve Beshear has awarded $250,000 to the Green River Workforce Investment Board to develop job training programs for careers in health care occupations. The dollars, provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) through the Governor’s Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Statewide Reserve, will fund the Prescription for Success Health Care initiative.
The GR-WIB will use the funds to implement programs to specifically serve low-income, unemployed or underemployed adults who are interested in an education or training program leading to a career in the health care sector.
“Despite the loss of jobs across the state, the demand for those in health care related occupations is increasing,” said Gov. Beshear. “Career training and development in this industry will be a valuable resource both for Kentuckians seeking new careers and for those in need of the services these jobs provide.”
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that 10 of the 20 fastest growing occupations are health care related. The agency projects that health care will generate 3.2 million new wage salary jobs in the United States between 2008 and 2018, more than any other industry.
The Prescription for Success is a project of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet and the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board. The purpose of the initiative is to create integrated, collaborative partnerships that include representatives of the health care, education and workforce development sectors.

GRWIB will receive $250,000. In partnership with Owensboro Community and Technical College, local One-Stop Career Centers, county adult education providers, the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp., Hermitage Care Center, and Owensboro Medical Health System, the GRWIB will implement the Green River Nursing RX to address the current and future occupational demands of the health care industry.

New Building Dedicated on WKU Owensboro Campus

Western Kentucky University has been offering classes in Owensboro since 1969, but now the school has its own facility in Daviess County.
    City, county, and school officials cut the ribbon on a new Western Kentucky University-Owensboro building.
    Work on the $10 million project began in 2008.
    It will contain 16 classrooms, an electronic library, computer labs, a bookstore, and a conference center.
      This addition will also allow them to have classes during the day and room for the campus to grow.  
    Approximately 2300 WKU students attend class in Owensboro.

Condos attracting interest in downtown Owensboro

By Jasmin Embers - bio | email
Posted by Noah Stubbs - email
OWENSBORO, KY (WFIE) - While big projects like the Hotel and Convention Center are evolving in downtown Owensboro, condos are also attracting new interest.
"You can't live downtown unless people put the time and money into the development," downtown resident Laura Clark said.
The Conders' had the same idea.
They have built four condos in the Smith Warner building and say providing homes downtown goes hand in hand with the current revitalization.
Conder says people see big changes and want to be close by.
"What you have are people wanting to come home and what symbolizes home for them is a downtown area that doesn't change to a big box or a strip mall because you can get that anywhere," Conder said.
The city's plan for downtown development will cost $84 million.
It is a small price to attract more tourists and Owensboro residents to the Riverfront.
Laura Clark has lived downtown for four years and thinks more will make the move as well, especially with all the new local shops opening soon.
"I think the more downtown business grows the more the need and the desire for living down here will be," Clark said.
Conder agrees.
"You see the new convention center you see those things, that's when business will come the people will come and the living will come," Conder said.
Conder says about 75 condos would be reasonable for the Owensboro market since the lifestyle does not fit everyone's needs.
"The living aspect of downtown is what this is targeting young professionals or some of the older people who simply don't want to take care of the yard," Conder said.
For Clark, it's the convenience.
"It's a lot easier to get from downtown to all the shopping areas, all of the restaurants, the hospital," Clark said.
Conder says renovating and building residential property helps the community.
He says 90 percent of money spent on renovations went to labor and materials in the area.
The Conders' say they plan to do more downtown renovations soon.