Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Public: GO-EDC is on the Right Track

The Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp. is on the right track, according to those who turned out Monday night to give the group feedback on shaping its work for the next five years.

A crowd of 50-60 people at the EDC's meeting at Owensboro Community & Technical College told the EDC staff and board members that their strategic plan should find ways to help small businesses and focus on work force development issues.

But the meeting attendees also want leaders to continue to nourish existing big industries and go after more of those.

Partnerships with Hancock County to protect and nurture its aluminum industry jobs also was a big part of the discussion.

Mike Baker, executive director of the Hancock County Industrial Foundation, said of that community's 2,000 manufacturing jobs, 1,500 are in the aluminum industry.

The EDC has a formal understanding to work with Hancock County for regional development.

The discussion of the EDC's new strategic plan came after an hourlong presentation from Nick Brake, the group's president, and Madison Silvert, executive vice president.

"Our prior strategy in the 1980s and 1990s was that we waited for the big catch, and it was mostly an industrial focus," Brake said. "We still do a lot of this type of fishing, but the fish are fewer and far between to catch."

The EDC has used a three-part strategy for five years -- working with existing companies, attracting new companies (big catch) and growing new companies.

"Globalization has changed everything," Brake said. "So, the board moved in a more broad direction."

Brake and Silvert outlined how the EDC has carried out the plan and highlighted successes.

All of that background, Brake said, was to provide context so that the group could talk about what the new priorities should be.

Each person was asked to rank the strategic priorities the EDC has identified in seven broad areas and to provide other areas of focus if desired.

The areas of focus are existing business retention; investment attraction targets; innovation/commercialization/technology based companies; talent attraction targets; infrastructure development; education and workforce development; and placemaking.

Each category has several areas to rank.

One statistic that struck some was that companies that have 10-99 employees are the source of most of the job growth for the EDC's peer communities as well as in the state and the nation.

Owensboro's job creation numbers are negative for that group.

Brake said that presents an opportunity for the community and the state.

Most of Owensboro's job growth has been in companies that employ 300 or more people.

"We are not suggesting that the state quit that strategy, but we may need to look at our Stage II companies and pay attention to them," he said.

The region has added 500 jobs and more than $90 million in investment over the past 18 months, according to EDC reports. That includes 300 new jobs at U.S. Bank with that company's $14 million investment.

It also includes 59 jobs from Unilever's $49 million expansion that was achieved with state tax incentives.

Local homebuilder Mike O'Bryan said he has talked to a lot of people and the biggest concern for small businesses is that "we don't do enough for them," he said.

"What can the EDC and the chamber do for small businesses?"

Former Mayor Tom Watson said one thing that would help small businesses is a local HMO or PPO to help them provide low-cost health insurance.

Watson also suggested that the EDC needs more funding to move the community forward.

The group's budget is $600,000, which comes from the city, county and private sources.

Several people suggested that education needs to be a primary focus, because employers are having difficulty finding workers with the skills they need.

"We need to be able to staff with the right people; I can't stress this enough," said Wayne Foster, owner of American Patriot Getaways.

A plan will be presented to the EDC board in August, Brake said, but he's not yet sure how the results of the public's ranking will be shared.

Joy Campbell, 691-7299, jcampbell@messenger-inquirer.com

To Learn More

The Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp. has its annual report and more data on its website, edc.owensboro.com.