Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2012 may be 'biggest year we've ever seen downtown'

By Keith Lawrence, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Sunday, December 11, 2011 12:40 AM CST

After a decade of talk and two years of construction, the $40 million-plus redevelopment of Owensboro’s riverfront will be completed next summer.

And that will help make 2012 “the biggest year we’ve ever seen downtown,” Mayor Ron Payne says. “Downtown is about to explode.”

If that sounds a little strong, consider this:

Jack Wells’ Riverfront Jam LLC paid $800,000 for a dozen pieces of property on Cedar, Walnut and West Third streets last summer.

The property adjoins the former Don Moore Chevrolet-Cadillac dealership at 600 W. Second St. It’s south of the old Executive Inn Rivermont property where a new convention center and 151-room hotel are planned.

Matt Hayden, who is developing Highland Pointe and Woodlands Plaza shopping centers on Kentucky 54, said he has an option to buy the Moore property. He and Wells are working together.

“We’ve accumulated two blocks of downtown,” Wells said earlier this month. “We’re looking at several options. We’re hoping to start on a couple of major projects in 2012. If we don’t make an announcement on one of them before the end of the year, we should make it early in 2012.”

“If the announcement is what they’ve been talking to me about, it’s significant,” Judge-Executive Al Mattingly said.

“We’re working very closely with Jack and Matt on a couple of things that have a very good possibility of coming together,” Payne said.

Next year, he said, “We’ll open up the riverfront, break ground on the hotel and convention center and start the work on Second Street. I anticipate work possibly starting on a second downtown hotel and possibly an office building. And I think we’ll see more retail and restaurants downtown.”

Terry Woodward, who already owned three blocks of property on downtown’s east side, paid $1.2 million earlier this year for the 130-year-old Bates Building at 101 W. Second Street and the vacant lot behind it.

He announced plans to spend another $2 million to renovate the historic three-story building with upscale condos on the second and third floors and retail on the ground level.

That work should be completed by fall of 2012, Woodward said last week.

He’s not sure when, but he’s planning to build a high-rise condo on the vacant lot that fronts on Veterans Boulevard.

But first, Woodward plans to renovate the Wright Machine Building on the northwest corner of Second and Crittenden streets and move the offices for his WaxWorks/VideoWorks — and about 40 employees — into it.

The old Sears Building across the street, where the company’s offices have been since 1978, is being turned into a warehouse.

The15,000-square-foot Wright Machine Building, erected in 1905, almost became a restaurant in 1993.

That was back when Rick Pitino was in his glory years as basketball coach at the University of Kentucky.

Pitino had launched a Lexington restaurant called Bravo Pitino, and Woodward and Joe Iracane had plans to bring a franchise to downtown Owensboro. They selected the Wright Machine building for the Italian restaurant. But it never materialized.

The building still has its original tin ceilings, wooden columns and wide staircases.

“It’s really well built,” Woodward said. “If there’s ever a hurricane, that’s where I want to be.”

Larry and Rosemary Conder have invested more than $2 million in downtown renovations in the past few years.

Their renovation of the 122-year-old Inquirer Building at 101-103 W. Third St. should be completed in early 2012.

Plans call for upscale condos on the second floor and retail on the ground floor.

“We don’t have anything for 2012 that we can talk about right now,” Larry Conder said last week. “We’ve talked to several dream chasers over the last six months about projects that have fallen through. Until we have signed leases, we can’t talk about any plans.”

He said, “We thought we had a great retailer lined up for the Inquirer Building, but it fell through. We have some great plans, but we’re still waiting to see if they can be done.”

But Conder said, “I really think you’ll see some stuff happening downtown next year. It should be an exciting year.”

“I think we’ll continue to make progress in 2012,” said Joe Berry, project manager for downtown development. “It’s pretty exciting that this (the projects by Woodward and the Conders) is being done before the public projects are completed.”

He said, “We’ll continue to focus on Veterans Boulevard and the two sites in Riverfront Crossing” that are open for development.

“There’s going to be a market for retail and restaurants on the ground floors of these projects,” Berry said. “We’re getting lots of interest. People are starting to get excited.”

Smothers Park is scheduled to reopen in August after a multimillion-dollar makeover.

A new “signature fountain” being installed on the riverfront will shoot water 250 feet in the air.

“That’s the game changer,” Berry said of the riverfront work.

“We have some projects we’re working with that are in the beginning stages,” he said. “We’re steadily working toward things, but I don’t want to put a timeline on them. We’ve been in discussions with restaurant groups, both locally and out of town.”

Berry said, “A lot of groups are very excited, but they’re waiting for some of the public projects to be completed. We’ll see a finished product in Smothers Park before August.”

Work should begin early next year on the $48.4 million, 169,000-square-foot convention center that will be built on the spot where the Executive Inn Rivermont once sat.

About the same time, developer Malcolm Bryant should begin work on his seven-story, 151-room Hampton Inn & Suites just east of the convention center. The hotel has a $20 million price tag.

It will have 120,000 square feet and guests will be greeted by a wall covered with flowing water in an expansive lobby with 14-foot to 18-foot ceilings.

The hotel is scheduled to open in late 2013, about the same time the convention center opens.

While all that is going on, the city will likely be rebuilding the sidewalks and intersections on Second Street from J.R. Miller Boulevard to Walnut Street.

The concept hasn’t received final approval from the Owensboro City Commission yet. But an idea being considered is to widen the sidewalk on the north side of Second between Allen and Daviess streets and on the south side of the street between Allen and St. Ann streets to allow more sidewalk cafe dining.

Those plans call for sidewalks on both sides of Veterans and the street itself to have a brick paver surface. Streets between Second and Veterans will also be surfaced with brick pavers, if the plan is approved.

On Second, the intersections would have “bump-outs,” semi-circles on each corner to slow traffic; brick pavers along the crosswalks in each direction and landscaping with plant beds or trees on the corners,

City Manager Bill Parrish said if the plan is approved, “We would like to start work in late spring. I anticipate most of Second Street being completed prior to the opening of the hotel and convention center in late 2013.”

City Engineer Joe Schepers recently told We Are Downtown, the downtown booster group, that existing sidewalks along Second would be torn out and replaced if the plan is approved.

That will limit access to the buildings while the work is going on, Schepers said.

“There’s going to be some hard times (for businesses) in getting this done,” he said, “but it will be worth it.”

Then, there’s the State Office Building on the northwest corner of Second and Frederica streets.

State workers are scheduled to move out in the spring.

And the city is asking Gov. Steve Beshear for $18 million to turn it into an International Bluegrass Music Center, which would include the International Bluegrass Music Museum, a barbecue restaurant and both an indoor and outdoor theater.

Payne is hoping that preliminary work on that building can begin in 2012 as well.

So far, the price tag on downtown development stands at $140 million worth of public projects and $32 million worth of private development.

But the private money is expected to begin growing in 2012, officials say.

Owensboro selects company to operate new Convention Center

By Dave Kirk

OWENSBORO, KY (WFIE) - The Owensboro City Commission has selected a company to manage and operate the new downtown convention center. The commission's choice is Global Spectrum.

Global Spectrum manages over 100 facilities worldwide, including 32 convention centers. The group also has a history with Owensboro's Convention Center.

Mayor Ron Payne says, "They have been involved since day one in helping us define exactly what we need in the way of a convention and events center. If they're going to manage it they should be involved in designing this facility. What do they need in order to make us successful?"

The new operating company's mission will be to sell Owensboro to outsiders.

Dean Dennis with Global Sprectrum says, "Our job is to take our national resources, our leads and our folks that we know and really begin to put those into contracts and fill the building up. We think people want to come to western Kentucky. It's right on the river. It's all the development with smother's park and the Riverpark center. There already is a demand and you already saw that when you had the old executive inn and so we know who those people were."

Global Spectrum gives examples of what type of conventions Owensboro residents could expect.

Dennis says, "We think this is a good state asset market. Firefighter state convention. Kentucky league of cities, you know different government types of businesses. Our job is really to make the pie bigger. Our job is to bring new people to town. Economic impact."

Global Spectrum's contract is for five years. The center is set to open in late 2013.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Kentucky City Reinvents a Faded Downtown

The New York Times
Published: November 15, 2011

OWENSBORO, Ky. — Ron Payne, the energetic and determined 65-year-old mayor of this small city on the Ohio River, keeps a map of new development projects in a corner of his City Hall office. There are more than a dozen sticky notes fixed to the map, each designating the location and cost of a local construction project recently completed, under way or planned.

Riverfront construction in Owensboro, Ky., includes a river wall and several walking paths.

The total value of the projects is more than $1 billion, including a $385 million hospital under construction east of town; a $2 million, 8,500-square-foot expansion of the regional airport terminal; various road and drainage projects; and a new shopping center along the city’s highway bypass.

But the densest collection of yellow stickers is in Owensboro’s rapidly recovering downtown, which after decades of decay is generating significant new entertainment, hotel, housing, retail, and office development.

Like so many other American cities after World War II, Owensboro’s pattern of residential and business development spread out from the downtown core. By the late 1970s, when the Town Square Mall opened just beyond the city’s beltway, downtown was an island of moldering buildings surrounded by a sea of surface parking lots.

Of late, though, this city of 57,265 and surrounding Daviess County, where 96,656 people live, have invested in an array of business development initiatives in health care, transportation, education, and tourism and travel that focused on making the city and county more competitive in attracting residents and businesses.

Job growth is coming from construction, an expanding medical sector, new businesses in high tech and biotechnology, and the three loan service centers of US Bank Home Mortgage.

Most improbable in this politically conservative region, more than two hours downriver from Louisville, is the $80 million tax increase that provided almost half of the $178.4 million in public and privately financed downtown development projects now under way.

The tax increase, which raised the city insurance premium tax rate to 8 percent from 4 percent, and the county rate to 8.9 percent from 4.9 percent, is paid by residents and business owners on premiums for auto, homeowners, boat and casualty insurance policies. The increase, which came after vigorous debate, was approved by a vote of 7 to 2 in February 2009 by city commissioners and the Daviess County Fiscal Court, the equivalent of a county commission.

Though the new tax revenue is producing jobs and new downtown projects, the effect of the vote on local political careers also was unmistakable. Of the seven city and county officials who voted to approve the tax increase, just two remain in office; two were defeated and three did not seek re-election in 2010.

The largest project by far is a $48 million publicly financed, 169,000-square-foot convention center overlooking the big bend in the Ohio where the city has stood since its founding in 1817. The angular steel and aluminum building, designed by Trahan Architects of Baton Rouge, La., enfolds contiguous zones of glass so the city and river are visible from almost anywhere inside. Construction is scheduled to start in February and be completed by the fall of 2013, Mayor Payne said.

Attached to the convention center by an aerial bridge is a privately financed, $20 million, 130,000-square-foot hotel with 151 rooms. The seven-story hotel, developed by the Malcolm Bryant Corporation of Owensboro, is designed with solar generating capabilities and state-of-the-art energy efficiency measures.

It is the first hotel to be built downtown since 1977 and partly replaces a 591-room hotel that was demolished in 2009. Construction is scheduled to start before the end of the year, and the completion is timed to the 2013 opening of the convention center.

“For so long we were kind of isolated,” said Mayor Payne, who is credited in Owensboro and Daviess County with leading the redevelopment. “We were kind of on a cul-de-sac. You had to be going here to get here. If anything was going to happen in this community, we were going to have to do it ourselves. We decided to reinvent this community, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Along the riverfront and on the busy blocks nearby, construction crews are completing a $40 million federally financed river wall, for flood and erosion control, and shoreline park. In addition, $52 million in city-financed projects are adding promenades, a water-jet fountain, a riverfront playground, and a host of street and sidewalk design features to invite more foot traffic, and the cafes, bars, and leisure businesses that thrive in an active downtown.

Owensboro’s downtown redevelopment also is prompting new construction and business starts in other parts of the city. Revenue from Owensboro’s occupational tax rose 7.8 percent last year, the highest on record. For seven consecutive years city government has ended the fiscal year with surpluses, most recently with $1.1 million in its general fund at the end of the 2010-11 fiscal year.

The unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent in September, well below the national rate of about 9 percent. And in the last two years Owensboro and Daviess County added 2,400 jobs, more than any other metropolitan area in Kentucky.

One of the home-grown businesses that is adding new employees and making an investment downtown is First Security Bank, founded in Owensboro in 1997. The bank is spending nearly $3 million to convert a 1960s-era four-story, 28,000-square-foot building on Frederica Street, Owensboro’s primary north-south boulevard, into the bank’s new headquarters.

In addition the two local developers, Larry Conder and Terry Woodward, said in interviews that they were planning separate projects to build mixed-used retail and residential buildings on empty downtown lots. Mr. Woodward said in an interview that he was prepared to spend $7 million to build a five- or six-story, 50,000-square-foot residential and retail building along Veterans Boulevard. Mr. Conder is planning to start construction in the spring on a five-story, 22,000 square-foot mixed-use building with 12 residences and a 3,800 square-foot food market on the ground floor, at a cost of $3.25 million.

As an example, Mr. Conder pointed to an empty century-old brick building on Second Street that he is interested in buying. Two years ago the owner was asking $125,000 for the 2,400-square-foot building. “Now they want $350,000,” Mr. Conder said. “Prices are going up.”

Owensboro featured in the New York Times

OWENSBORO, KY (WFIE) - A "New York Times" times article about Owensboro hit the newsstand, and the web on Wednesday.

The article showed how Owensboro is progressing on a number of projects.

Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne says this is a good time to be living in his community.

Leaders say many bigger cities are scratching their heads at Owensboro's continued redevelopment efforts and low unemployment rate.

Owensboro, and its surrounding communities have a population of less than 100,000 but the current tally of projects underway is nearly $1-billion.

Mayor Payne says city and county staff have worked hard trying to place Owensboro on the map.

Payne says the projects are just the start, "once you start spiraling back up, that circle gets wider and wider. Because more things you do the more things you can do and we're catching the attention of this nation. "

Payne says articles published recently in the "New York Times" and "American Executive" were the kind of attention they need to attract jobs and boost the local economy.

"While I want us to be a great place for people to retire, I also want it to be a dynamic place for young people to work and raise their family," Payne explains.

Payne says leaders will continue to focus on quality of life and education projects.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cape Air flights to St. Louis will begin in December

15 Nov 2011 — Messenger-Inquirer
BY: By Joy Campbell

Cape Air will start daily flights from Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport on Dec. 5.

The Massachusetts-based company is set to make 18 flights per week as the airport's new Essential Air Service provider, officials announced Monday. The flights' fares will be $49.99 each way.

"This is something the airport board has been looking forward to for quite some time," Airport Manager Bob Whitmer said. "Cape Air has a sterling reputation in the airline industry and is the largest commuter airline in the U.S."

While the new airline participates in the EAS program - which means it will receive an annual subsidy of $1.529 million - "it also serves many pockets without subsidy," Whitmer said.

"They know how to operate efficiently and effectively," he said. "And they know how to market and survive."

Survival without subsidy has been a sticking point for past carriers including the current company, KentuckySkies, which notified the U.S. Department of Transportation that it would not continue providing the service without subsidy.

That set in motion the DOT's process to find a new EAS provider, and Cape Air was selected from four applicants.

"We think Cape Air will heavily market the area," Whitmer said.

The weekly departure schedule from Owensboro will be: 6 a.m. with arrival in St. Louis at 7:10 a.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. with arrival at 8:10 on Saturday; 9:30 a.m. for arrival at 10:40 a.m. Sunday; 12:12 p.m. for arrival at 1:30 p.m Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; 1:25 p.m for 2:35 p.m. arrival on Saturday; 3:50 p.m. for 5 p.m. arrival Tuesday; 4:35 p.m. for arrival at 5:45 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

The St. Louis departure schedule will be: 10:30 a.m. for 11:48 a.m arrival in Owensboro on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; 11:45 a.m. for arrival at 12:58 p.m. Tuesday and Saturday; 3 p.m. for 4:13 p.m. arrival on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday; 5:32 p.m. for arrival in Owensboro at 6:45 p.m. daily.

A 10-ticket discount commuter book is available for $469.

"Travelers will have many more flight opportunities and seats out of St. Louis than Louisville or Memphis," Whitmer said. "St. Louis is an ideal commuter hub."

"This is our sixth destination from St. Louis, and all of us at Cape Air are excited about being able to serve Owensboro" Cape Air Founder and CEO Dan Wolf, said in a news release. "We have seen ridership increase steadily in St. Louis, where we serve more than 70,000 passengers annually. Much of that success can be attributed to our codeshare agreement with American Airlines. This easy connection to American means you can book your entire trip on one itinerary and check your bags through to your final destination."

Cape Air also sells joint tickets and connects luggage with Delta, United, Continental, US Airways and Frontier.

The flights to St. Louis provide another option for travelers who may have been driving to Nashville or Louisville, Whitmer said.

"We have a lot of business travelers with home offices in Texas and Oklahoma - gas transmission companies, for example - and this will give them good connections for out West and provide good connections for Chicago and the northeast. This is a major benefit to the business community."

Other benefits, Whitmer said, are Cape Air's baggage agreements with major carriers, and that flights will be screened by the Transportation Security Administration in Owensboro, so that in most cases, passengers will not have to go through the process again.

"And a major factor in our selection was that you can go online to Expedia, Orbitz or Travelocity or any of those travel sites and get ticket prices and tickets," he said. "That is a tremendous advantage."

CapeAir's participation in the global distribution system gives people traveling to and from Owensboro numerous options for checking connections and prices.

Reservations may be made at 866-Cape-Air or online at www.capeair.com.

The carrier also plans to open a local office, probably downtown.

Cape Air is an employee-owned company flying to destinations that include New England, New York, the Carribean, Florida, the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Micronesia.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Airpark space ready for business

By Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Friday, November 11, 2011 12:35 AM CST

U.S. Bank Home Mortgage will start conducting business in the second phase of its new building in the Mid-America Airpark on Monday.

And the company expects to continue to add jobs at “a much more measured pace” in the coming months, said Bob Smiley, the mortgage company’s executive vice president.

About 300 people have been hired since July 2010 when corporate, city and state officials announced 500 more jobs would be added through their partnership.

Originally, the mortgage company expected to hire 500 people by 2014, but it probably will reach that number much sooner than that, Smiley said.

The city of Owensboro and the state are providing incentives for the growing mortgage company based on its adding 500 jobs to its 1,000-plus work force in Owensboro.

Part of the city’s incentive package was to build the 81,300-square-foot financial services office building on the southwest corner of Tamarack and Carter roads for the mortgage company to lease.

The construction was planned in two phases with the mortgage company’s growth triggering the timing for the expansion.

The company moved into 47,900 square feet of space on March 28 of this year and was ready to start Phase II of the economic development project by June, Smiley said.

“In Phase II, we’ll have about 275 spots, but we’ll be relocating about 220 people from the Frederica Street and Moreland,” he said. “So, we’ll have room for expansion in all of our locations.

We’ve been holding off on some new hires because of space.”

Smiley said he’s pleased with the new building and the partnership with the city.

“The new section is a duplicate of the first phase except for the center where we have our administrative offices and training room to serve the entire facility,” he said. “If you walk into the building today, you wouldn’t know it was built in phases.”

The price tag for Phase I of the call center was $4.87 million. A&K Construction of Paducah won the original bid to construct it, and the company’s proposal included the 33,400-square-foot add-on for Phase II at a cost of $2.8 million.

“A & K did a great job and were on budget and on schedule,” said Tony Cecil, the city’s operations manager.”We contracted with a local architectural firm, RBS Design of Owensboro, to do our project management, and that helped tremendously. They always had eyes on it.”

The expansion features work space for more personnel and restrooms.

“Working with U.S. Bank has been a pleasant experience,” Cecil said. “It went better than we anticipated. We don’t typically do a lot of joint ventures, so to have this public-private partnership to be so successful is encouraging for future partnerships.”

The mortgage company has had good luck in filling positions, Smiley said.

U.S. Bank now has openings throughout the mortgage business, he said. Applications are available online at www.usbank.com.

State and city incentives for the project amount to $6 million. U.S. Bank has said it intends to invest $14.1 million at the location.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Study: Owensboro a high performing small metro

A new U.S. jobs growth report lists Owensboro as a “high performance” small metro based on summer employment trend data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Headlight, LLC, which provides economic and workforce development companies with data and software systems, conducted the analysis.

Owensboro’s annualized growth from June to September was 5.8 percent, and its actual growth was 1.4 percent.

The study also provides a look at how close cities are to their employment status in December 2007 — the start of the recession. Owensboro has a 1.9 percent deficit. This data indicates it would take Owensboro 17 months to get back to the December 2007 employment level.

“Any time you look at comparable data to see where other communities like ours are, and we’re in the top quartile, that’s good,” said Nick Brake, president and CEO of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation. “And any time someone labels you a high-performing metro, it’s a good thing. It shows we have growth, actual and projected.”

The report analyzed 386 metros — 269 were categorized as small. Owensboro fit the criteria of a “micropolitan” area as defined by the BLS. This group has an average population of 50,000-60,000 but can be as high as 195,000. And they are typically single-county “ex-urbs” that can be located close to large metros.

The report is organized by population size.

Only a couple of other Kentucky metros show up in the study.

Louisville-Jefferson County is a “high performance” metro in the medium category for summer 2011. It’s annualized growth was 4.7 percent; actual growth 1.2 percent. It has a greater deficit from -- or further to go to get back to -- the prerecession employment level than Owensboro does. Its rate is -3.4 percent, meaning it could take 37 months to reach that December 2007 point.

The conversion of the job deficit data into “months remaining” to reach the prerecession rate does not suggest that the recovery will take this long, the study states. It is another data point of reference on the speed of the recovery.

The study also shows that 45 percent of the small metros still were in crisis during the summer. And 41 percent of medium and 35 percent of large metros also showed negative job growth.

Elizabethtown ranked in the bottom 5 percent showing -2.9 percent actual job growth.

“That’s almost half the small cities that were in recession this summer,” Brake said. “If you look at the average job growth by metro size, the top 25 percent are doing pretty well, and the bottom are doing really poorly.”

The report indicates that Owensboro has a good strategy in diversifying its economy and pursuing different options for growth including “quality of place and quality of life,” Brake said.

Not surprising, Brake said, is that it also shows a corollary -- many cities in the top 25 are college cities or are focused on quality of place or quality of life issues.

“They’re focused on creating a strong workforce, attracting young people and attracting entrepreneurs,” he said. “Anything we can do to focus on aligning with this sector is important.”

“While growth has appeared slow but steady for the nation, the recovery has been far from uniform across metros in the U.S.,” the study synopsis states.

The public release about Headlight’s growth report is at http://www.headlightllc.com/bestsummer2011/.

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

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bryant unveils hotel design

By Steve Vied, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Friday, November 4, 2011 2:07 PM CDT

Developer Malcolm Bryant unveiled the final design and site plan for a seven-story, 151-room hotel on Owensboro’s riverfront Thursday that will feature walls of glass on one corner and a full-service restaurant with outdoor seating on another. It will contain about 120,000 square feet and guests will be greeted by a wall covered with flowing water in an expansive lobby with 14-foot to 18-foot ceilings, outfitted with original art.

The hotel, to be a high-end, convention-class Hampton Inn & Suites costing $20 million, will be 85 to 90 feet high. The restaurant will face the Ohio River and the Mitch McConnell Plaza, according to Bryant. A ground floor retail store of 3,800 square feet that Bryant envisions as an place to buy products made only in Kentucky will also have a river view.

A third of the hotel’s rooms will be suites. When finished, it will be downtown’s tallest building and will match the number of stories of the former Executive Inn Rivermont’s central tower, the hotel it will replace.

Bryant said his company, Malcolm Bryant Corp., hopes to break ground on the hotel by January. It is set to open in late 2013. Bryant unveiled the plans for the hotel at the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce Rooster Booster breakfast at Owensboro Christian Church, calling it a one-off design unlike any other Hilton property.

“Hilton looks at this as a unique property, special for Owensboro,” Bryant said. “It’s not copied off anything else.”

Bryant stressed that the design of the hotel creates a good transition from the $48.4 million convention center to the hotel and to the rest of the revitalized downtown area east of the hotel.

“Our job was to transition from the events center to the rest of downtown and I think we’ve done an excellent job of that,” Bryant said.

Other planned amenities for the hotel include an indoor swimming pool, spa and fitness center, a second-story bridge connecting to the adjacent convention center, three elevators, a 13,000-square-foot commons area and second-floor meeting rooms. Veterans Boulevard will run in front of the hotel between it and the Ohio River, with a large grassy area separating the hotel from the river’s edge. The south side of the hotel will face Second Street and resemble the front, with an exterior mixing stone, brick masonry, glass and balconies. The hotel parking lot on Second Street will have 150 spaces and a charging station for electric cars. In a further nod to green technology, the hotel will

have solar energy panels. Bryant said it would be a environmentally green project and Kentucky’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified hotel.

Bryant thanked local elected leaders for insisting on a well-done revitalization plan for downtown.

“They recognized that we need to do it well,” he said. “If we don’t do it well, it’s not worth doing. It’s too competitive out there. Our political leaders have understood that.”

Bryant said the new location of the hotel fronting the Ohio River allows it to take advantage of the community’s greatest asset. Originally, the hotel was planned for the corner of Frederica and Second streets, where the state office building now sits. The plan now is to convert the state building to a bluegrass center.

Mayor Ron Payne, who introduced Bryant, said the hotel design “far exceeds our expectations.”

“We’ve talked about the Wow factor and Malcolm has been the biggest proponent of that,” Payne said. “He certainly followed his own advice. What he has proposed will impress anybody who comes to Owensboro.”

Payne thanked Independence Bank, which is providing a loan to Bryant to build the hotel.

“I want to recognize Independence Bank for stepping up and financing the hotel,” he said.

Local residential developer Benny Clark was at Thursday’s presentation and complimented the design of the hotel.

“I love the architecture and how it blends with the convention center,” Clark said.

Cindy Mulligan, a board member of the Impact 100 organization, said Bryant’s hotel will compare with hotels she has seen in other cities.

“I love the outdoor dining,” she said.

When the meeting ended, a string of people lined up to congratulate Bryant, with several saying they were looking forward to the hotel opening for business.

Steve Vied, 691-7297, svied@messenger-inquirer.com.

Daviess Co. the next Silicon Valley?

By Dave Kirk


Business Insider magazine has put Daviess County on a 20 county list that could be the next Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley sits in Northern California. It's where Apple computers were born.

"Silicon Valley is really the hub of innovation for the United States," says Madison Silvert of EDC.

What does Owensboro have to do with silicon valley?

Business experts say in the future, Owensboro could be the next Silicon Valley for several reasons.

"They have access to higher education, they have an innovative spirit, they're nice communities, moderately sized. Quality of life is one of those things that you absolutely have to have to be able to attract the talent that is necessary to promote high-tech growth," Silvert says.

Along with lower than average unemployment rates, Hollison Technologies CEO Kevin Humphrey says Owensboro's Center for Business and Research is a big reason why he thinks Owensboro made Business Insider's cut.

"Often entrepreneurs are people with good ideas. May not be um well suited to run their own business yet and need guidance in places and that being available is a wonderful tool."

"We're creating a bio-technology sector here in food and medical in pharmaceuticals specifically plant made pharmaceuticals where you can see some of the advancements that could be made in this kind of high tech environment. The seeds have been planted," Silvert says.

Daviess County was the only county in Kentucky that made business insider's list.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Housing Industry Making Comeback

By Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.

Owensboro is not Las Vegas. And it’s not Phoenix or Miami.
But when it comes to the housing market, local residents sometimes forget that. When they often get national stories instantly online about the national housing market it fuels uncertainty, according to local Realtors and homebuilders.

“Housing is local in nature. It’s locally driven by income growth and job growth,” said Tommy Thompson, whose company Thompson Homes has been building homes in Owensboro since 1947. “We are nowhere near where the national housing market is. In 2010, Owensboro had more job growth than any metro area in Kentucky.”

The greater Owensboro area has taken its lumps since the recession, but nothing like the major hot spots in the U.S. where markets were “overbuilt” and home prices spiked significantly creating a long way to fall.

“We didn’t do that here,” Thompson said. “Our prices didn’t get out of line, so we didn’t have as far to fall.”

The National Bureau of Economic Research — the private group charged with dating the start and end of economic downturns — has marked the most recent U.S. recession as December 2007 to June 2009. But the housing downturn started in 2006.

The home builders and Realtors groups use the single-family home units as one benchmark.

Numbers from the Owensboro Metropolitan Planning Commission show that 367 single-family homes were started in Owensboro and Daviess County in 2006. That number dipped to 356 in 2007. But in 2008, only 254 start-ups were recorded, and that number bumped up slightly to 282 in 2009. And 2010 finished with 292 single-family homes started

And through three quarters of this year, 177 homes got under way.

“If the fourth quarter of 2011 comes through, it will be very similar to 2008,” said Jim DeMaio, president of the Greater Owensboro Board of Realtors. “It’s making its turn.”

The fourth quarter traditionally is strong with a lot of families relocating.

“They look in November, buy in December and move in January,” DeMaio said.

At Thompson Homes, business is up 40 percent over last year, said Nick Thompson, vice president of operations.

Nearly historically low mortgage rates — two weeks ago at 4 percent — coupled–ith anxious sellers is creating a buyer’s market, he said.

Daviess County’s jobless rate was 9 percent for both July and August — about the same as the nation’s 9.1 percent. DeMaio also points to some Multiple Listings Service numbers to explain Owensboro’s market. In 2006, the community had 1,266 listings, and the average sales price was $115,788. For 2008, there were 1,105 listings and the average sales price was $120,319.

In 2009, MLS showed 1,012 listings and an average sale price of $117,684. The number of listings dropped to 981 in 2010, and the average sale price was $120,001.

“Also, in the nine years I’ve been in this, the average days on the market as been in the 120 to 130 range,” DeMaio said. “That is testament to a steady market.”

No bubble here

“The big difference here and nationally is that we didn’t have the big bubble,” said Richard Stallings, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Owensboro. “Across the country, we all had a large amount of new construction, and our studies showed those were not sustainable.”

The National Bureau of Economic Research found that the national housing downturn actually started in 2006. That’s when housing prices nationally started falling from peak levels that were reached earlier in the decade.

Those falling home prices nationally caused a ripple effect through the national economy. They took a toll on home building and home buying and caused a sharp rise in mortgage foreclosures. Leading national banks lost hundreds of billions of dollars leading to a tightening of credit.

“We’ve taken our bumps since ’06,” DeMaio said. “It was easy back then. It was a market-driven market. Now, it’s an agent-driven market. We have to get out there and sell.”

Educating prospective home buyers is a big part of that.

“When I run into someone out in the community, the first thing they want to talk about is the market,” DeMaio said. “They tilt their heads and get this look like they’re so sorry. So we have to show them that it’s just not gloom and doom. As association president, I want to get as many Realtors as possible to preach the good news.”

DeMaio and the Thompsons point to the community’s economic growth and major development projects under way. That activity includes the 500-plus jobs U.S. Bank Home Mortgage is adding; downtown development construction; the new Owensboro Medical Health System construction and growth in health care industry jobs; and more infrastructure work on new U.S. 60 interchanges.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find cities of any size doing what we’re doing here,” DeMaio said.

Owensboro and the nation experienced a record year for housing sales in 2006. The difference in the local and national markets is that Owensboro did not see a huge appreciation in home values that occurred in major markets.

“When the bubble pops, there is great depreciation, and usually prices don’t level back right away,” DeMaio said. “But here, we’ve seen 1 to 2 percent appreciation annually, according to the PVA, and in some pockets it’s higher.”

Nick Thompson said the community has a “consumer psyche crisis” fueled by what’s going on in pockets of the U.S.

Even last week, news from the major markets was up and down.

Foreclosures nationally were up slightly from the second quarter to the third. And forecasters quoted on blogs and in online stories were pointing to falling incomes and tighter credit restrictions as factors that are keeping people out of the home buying market.

On the postive side, the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing market Index for October showed that builder confidence in the market for new single-family homes rose four points to 18. That was the largest one-month gain in the index since the home buyer tax credit program boosted the market in April of last year, according to the NAHB.

The index comes from NAHB’s monthly survey that has been conducted for 20-plus years. It gauges builder perceptions of single-market sales and expectations for the next six months as either good, fair or poor. Other questions also are in the survey. The scores then, are used to figure a seasonably adjusted index where more than 50 shows that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

The other index measuring sales expectations in the next six months rose seven points to 24; the one gauging traffic of prospective buyers came up three points to 14.

But national policy impact is real

Owensboro’s housing professionals point to exceptions here — the housing market didn’t have an oversupply, the community didn’t have an excessive amount of foreclosures; community banks didn’t get into the sub-prime mortgage business.

But those factors have not protected buyers and sellers, Realtors and home builders, from the national policy changes that were made to correct the national crisis.

And, the economy generally tanked.

The Daviess County Clerk’s office listed 717 tax bills worth $372,614 offered to investors in this year’s tax sale. After a year, the investors have the right to begin foreclosure proceedings. This year’s total is more than double the 322 bills that were available at last year’s tax sale.

“All of this has had an effect on the American dream of home ownership,” Stallings said. “And a lot of it is regulatory. The entire industry is burdened with it, including the banking and appraisals industries. It requires more due diligence. The challenge for the buyer, is that it’s more difficult to qualify and the process is lengthy.”

DeMaio, who is a Realtor with the Greater Owensboro Realty Company, agreed that the downward economic trend and banking/government regulations are making it more challenging for buyers to gain financing.

“In 2006, with a 540 credit score you could still get financing,” DeMaio said. “It’s more in the 620-640 range now. With 100 points difference on a credit score, a lot of potential buyers drop out.”

Even so, the money and the products are available.

“It’s a good time to build with the low mortgage rates,” said Rick Bivins of JMJ Construction. “Some people are just still worried about the national situation.”

“There is a little more scrutiny and paperwork from the lenders now,” Nick Thompson said.

“Candidly, people bought houses they shouldn’t have and there were some misrepresentations in some cases, and people got in over their heads,” Tommy Thompson said. “Now we have tightened standards. The disapproved or rejection rates are 2 to 3 percent higher now, and we’re trying to get back up to a reasonable level.”

Appraisal standards have changed and are stricter, but the local market appears healthy, the Thompsons said.

“Lenders use companies from a menu of appraisers now, and sometimes when an out-of-town appraiser that has not studied the market well is used, there is a disconnect,” Tommy Thompson said.

One big change is that banks can no longer talk directly with to the appraiser; they rotate companies from a list, Nick Thompson said.

Purpose of housing still shelter

Nationally and even locally to a smaller degree, some people bought houses with no down payment or a token investment such as $10.

“People walked away when they lost their jobs. They didn’t have that much invested in the house,” Tommy Thompson said. “People need to have some commitment to the house.”

The primary purpose of the house continues to be shelter, Tommy Thompson said.

“A lot of people nationally used houses as ATM machines. They were not buying houses to live in, but to sell. That’s where ‘flipping’ came into play, and we had an unnatural elevation of prices. We’re getting back down to a reasonable level now. We need to recognize that the primary purpose continues to be shelter.”

Homes are still a good, long-term investment, the professionals said. Owners build equity in the home and receive tax deductions for their interest and property taxes.

Stallings said the national data points to some pent-up demand for housing.

“The data shows that since the recession,1.2 million households have not been formed,” he said.”Young adults are living at home or with their college roommates.

Put another way, in 2006, home builders were adding 2 million houses annually, which was unsustainable. The country needs 1.4 to 1.5 million homes to replace those that are demolished or lost to fires and other means and to accommodate growth. The industry now is building 600,000 houses.

As the economy strengthens, consumer confidence will come back nationally, and more people will begin buying homes and other products. Home prices will climb then.

“The trend is that single-family starts are up,” Tommy Thompson said. “We’re not going to be back at 367, but we’re going in the right direction — better than last year — and we’re working our way up.”

The lending environment is positive, Nick Thompson said.

“If an individual has a job and a reasonably good credit rating and enough money for a down payment, that person can buy a house,” Nick Thompson said.

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

OMHS receives awards

By Rich Suwanski, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 12:32 AM CDT

Owensboro Medical Health System received four Excellence Awards for medical care, according to HealthGrades 2011 Healthcare Consumerism and Hospital Quality in America report, and rated it among America’s 100 Best Hospitals for cardiac care and critical care.

OMHS received the Excellence Awards in critical care, cardiac, pulmonary and stroke care. It received stroke care and cardiac care Excellence Awards for the first time.

“It’s great news for the community,” said Dr. Catharine Schmitt, OMHS chief of staff and a gynecologist. “It once again confirms that we are a very quality oriented hospital.

“I don’t think people need to be transferred most of the time to other facilities. We have excellent facilities and we continue to work on quality to have a highly reliable organization.”

HealthGrades, an independent health care ratings organization, studied patient outcomes in roughly 40 million hospitalization records from about 5,000 nonfederal hospitals in the United States that participate in the Medicare program. The current report was based on the three-year period from 2008 to 2010.

HealthGrades rates 27 diagnoses and procedures on a 5-3-1 star system based on hospital records. Five stars means the better-than-expected outcomes; three stars means outcomes were as-expected; one star means less-than-expected outcomes.

OMHS was rated first among Kentucky hospitals for cardiac care, critical care, cardiology, coronary interventional procedures, joint replacement surgery, treatment of gastrointestinal issues, neurosciences and stroke care.

“The ratings for neuroscience and stroke care have had a marked improvement, where we’ve gone to a five-star rating,” Schmitt said. “We’re working with the University of Louisville with our stroke patients so that we get some benefit from their expertise, as well as our doctors.

“Our quality department, doctors and nursing staff are really working to reverse the effects of strokes. One of the most important things in stroke care is getting patients to the hospital very early so that they have the very best chance of total resolution of the symptoms.”

OMHS received five-star ratings in the following categories for patients while in the hospital: Back and neck surgery (except spinal fusion), gastrointestinal bleed, heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia, respiratory failure, sepsis, stroke and total knee replacement.

OMHS received three-star ratings in the following categories: back and neck surgery (spinal fusion), bowel obstruction, carotid surgery, cholecystectomy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary interventional procedures, diabetic acidosis and coma, gastrointestinal surgeries and procedures, heart bypass surgery, hip fracture treatment, neurosurgery, pancreatitis, pulmonary embolism, total hip replacement, and valve repair/replacement surgery.

OMHS received one-star ratings in peripheral vascular bypass, prostatectomy and resection/replacement of abdominal aorta.

“The hospital has been very much into (quality) before HealthGrades,” Schmitt said. “We have physician committees on quality. We have a big department of hospital staff that reviews quality of almost all cases. ...

“If a case falls out (of quality standards), there’s a discussion to see how things could be done differently and improve the process so that mistakes don’t happen.”

Rich Suwanski, 691-7315, or rsuwanski@messenger-inquirer.com

Monday, October 17, 2011

Betting on Vegas

By Steve Vied, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Saturday, October 15, 2011 12:36 AM CDT

A few seconds after 12:26 p.m. Friday, a new chapter in Owensboro aviation opened when an Allegiant Air MD-80 jet lifted off the runway at Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport for the carrier’s inaugural Owensboro-to-Las Vegas flight.

The big airliner with a seating capacity of 150 passengers was “95 percent” or more full, according to Allegiant station agent Michelle Mattingly. On the plane were Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne, Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly, airport board member Joe Lowe and their spouses. Bob Whitmer, airport manager, also made the trip, boarding after handing out Vegas T-shirts to all the passengers.

The passenger list included a group of four people from Indianapolis, who drove to Owensboro from central Indiana Friday morning to take advantage of the low Allegiant ticket prices. Paul Hilton said the drive was well worth it because each of the four paid about $250 including fees for round trip tickets, saving them hundreds of dollars, based on other Las Vegas flights they considered.

“I’ve got to go for work, so a group of us decided to go,” Hilton said. “We’re big Indy car fans and there’s a race out there this weekend.”

Hilton said he and his friends will be interested in flying out of Owensboro again for Las Vegas trips.

“I’d say if our schedules line up, it’s definitely doable,” he said.

Boarding for the flight began at 11:15 a.m. under sunny, clear skies and went smoothly as passengers walked a short distance from the terminal to the plane. At the top of the portable stairs leading to the plane’s door, Payne turned, smiled and pointed toward the terminal.

A few minutes later, not long after a Las Vegas showgirl and an Elvis impersonator were the last passengers to board, the plane taxied to the south end of the 8,000-foot runway, pivoted and accelerated toward the north end, lifting off with about a third of the runway remaining. It immediately banked to the left and headed west.

Mattingly said the nonstop flight went off without a hitch. “Everything went great,” he said. “It was a very happy crowd.”

The return flight is expected to touch down at 11:40 a.m. Monday, Mattingly said.

The Las Vegas flights will be on Mondays and Fridays, departing from Owensboro at 12:20 p.m. with arrival in Las Vegas at 2:10 p.m. local time.

Las Vegas-based Allegiant already flies nonstop between Owensboro and Orlando, Fla., on Sundays and Thursdays. The success of those flights, most of which are full or nearly so, was a primary factor in the company’s decision to add another route, a company spokesperson said in August when the Las Vegas flights were announced.

Dr. Andrew Ward, an airport board member, watched the Allegiant Air jet board passengers and take off Friday and called it a special day for the airport and the community.

“It’s wonderful,” he said. “It’s the culmination of a lot of effort by the airport director and the board to realize these flights. We’ve worked to assure these flights are a success. I think they will draw people from the area. The very good prices and the timing of the flights are unique. The Florida flights have been successful. We hope these Las Vegas flights with these prices will be a success and believe they will be. From what we can tell, the flights have been well received and are pretty well booked.”

Mattingly said ticket sales for future flights are looking good.

Steve Vied, 691-7297, svied@messenger-inquirer.com

Youths to get help with work skills

By Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Sunday, October 16, 2011 1:02 AM CDT

This month the Green River Area Development District launched an initiative to help youths ages 16 to 21 in the Green River region gain work skills and work experience.

The program will run through June 30 and has two tracks — Ready to Work and Ready to Learn.

Through the Ready to Work program, young people may update soft skills like attendance and punctuality along with life skills before being placed in a job lasting at least 2,000 hours.

This track includes the Test of Adult Basic Education and Interest Inventory Assessment test, as well as classes in how to complete an application, résumé writing, a National Career Readiness Certificate and interviewing skills. They also learn how to dress for a job and budget, including how to open a checking account.

The program also covers, “now you have the job, what do you do now?” according to GRADD officials.

The Ready to Learn track includes basic skills for those testing under a grade nine in math and/or reading. This program will cover the Test of Adult Basic Education and 20 hours a week of adult education. Once the student tests at grade nine or above, he or she will go into the Ready to Work program.

The young workers will receive $50 gift cards when they complete each component.

These sessions also fold into the county’s plan to become a certified work ready community. One of the focus areas for the committee spearheading this effort is to ensure the county can document that workers have had training in soft skills.

Counties who want to earn the Certified Work Ready Community status have to prove that they meet the state’s criteria in six areas: high school graduation rate, National Career Readiness Certification holders, demonstrated community commitment, educational attainment, soft skills development and digital literacy.

The goal is to submit an application for the Work Ready Community Certification by the second week in December with review taking place in January and February.

Joy Campbell, 691-7299,

Pianos to be placed around downtown

By Keith Lawrence, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Monday, October 17, 2011 12:00 AM CDT

Imagine this scenario: You’re walking downtown and there on the sidewalk sits an upright piano.

Nobody’s around.

So, why not?

You step up cautiously, place your fingers on the keys, glance around to see if anybody’s watching and suddenly, you’re in concert mode.

That’s what city officials and the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra are hoping to see next summer.

The program doesn’t have a name yet, but the city rolled out three upright pianos that look like a Technicolor Liberace dream at last weekend’s grand opening of Riverfront Crossing.

They were sitting along the brick walks in the block between the Daviess County Courthouse and the river.

And someone was tickling the ivories on each of them during most of the six-hour celebration.

“It’s part of our walkability effort to make downtown more fun,” City Manager Bill Parrish said. “Anyone who ever took piano lessons can sit down and start banging away. Even I can get behind a piano and play ‘Chopsticks’. It fits in with downtown and the arts. Music is so important to this community.”

Bill Price, executive director of the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra, couldn’t agree more.

“This idea may grow,” he said. “If people have pianos they’d like to donate, I think it would be a great idea. I could think of a dozen places to put them.”

The idea began with the symphony.

“We got a grant from the Young Foundation to buy a baby grand and two studio pianos,” Price said. “And we were trying to decide what to do with the old ones. They were given to us, and we didn’t know what to do with them until this came along.”

Nick Palmer, the symphony’s music director and conductor, “had seen this program in other cities and we thought it was a great idea,” he said.

One of the upright pianos dates back to the early 20th century, Price said. The other two are probably from the 1940s, he said.

Sidewalk pianos are cropping up in cities around the world.

In Denver, the “Your Keys to the City” program has rolled out nearly a dozen upright pianos and placed them every few blocks along a 16-block area.

In Orange County, Calif., some two dozen painted pianos have been placed throughout the county.

Everett, Wash., put 10 pianos on its sidewalk as part of a showcase called “Street Tunes: An Invitation for the Public to Jam.”

British artist Luke Jerram has created a piano installation called “Play Me, I’m Yours,” that has traveled the world putting pianos on sidewalks in major cities.

Hastings, Mich., put four pianos on its sidewalk for a program it calls “Pianos, Pianos, Everywhere.”

Tim Ross, the city’s public events director, said the pianos were painted by Owensboro High School, Owensboro Community & Technical College and Studio Slant.

“OHS painted a downtown mural on theirs,” he said. “Studio Slant’s piano is Picasso-inspired. It’s slogan is ‘Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.’ ”

OCTC says its painted piano “is based on organic design rendered in bright color. The front represents the sun, the life-giving force of our planet. The top represents ‘The Big Bang’ — the creation of the universe. The back and the sides symbolize the evolution of the earth.”

“The concept is that we’ll keep them at places like the museum of science and history and they’ll be rolled outside on nice weekends,” Ross said. “People strolling by can sit down and play. We plan on having them at Smothers Park and Riverfront Crossing next year.”

The pianos, currently stored at the Public Works Department on West Fifth Street and at Studio Slant, “won’t be outside in bad weather,” he said.

“We need to figure out where to store them when they’re not outside,” Price said. “Several organizations have asked to store them. They have big rollers on them to make them easier to move. They could be set in lobbies of buildings for people to play while they’re waiting.”

“We’re supposed to get one,” Kathy Olson, executive director of the Owensboro Museum of Science and History, said last week. “We have a lot of programs for children that we can use it for. We would use it indoors and out. People visiting the museum could sit down and play while they’re here. We could use it year-round.”

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Joe Berry, project manager for downtown development. “We have such a vibrant and diverse arts community. This allows an opportunity for people to gather and enjoy a public amenity, and it associates the arts even more closely with downtown.”

Keith Lawrence, 691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com

Thursday, October 13, 2011

County aims for 'certified work-ready' status

By Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Thursday, October 6, 2011 12:22 AM CDT

Helen Mountjoy and Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly, who are leading Daviess County’s charge to become a Work Ready Certified Community, asked the Greater Owensboro Education Alliance to help boost the community’s percentage of associate’s degree holders and to identify or create programs that show students are receiving education on the soft skills employers require such as punctuality and attendance.

The community already meets some of the criteria -- graduation rates, National Career Readiness Certificates and community commitment for work readiness, Mountjoy said. Daviess County also will score well on two “bonus questions” involving comparison of GED goals to attainment and education credentials already held in the community, she said.

“If the community can get this certification, we will have a leg up on recruitment and expansion of businesses,” she said. “If we can demonstrate these, then we deserve this special recognition, this certification. We expect only a handful of communities will qualify.”

The two leaders enlisted the education alliance’s help at the group’s 7:30 a.m. meeting Wednesday at the GRADD office.

Mattingly and the Rev. Larry Hostetter, Brescia University’s president, are co-chairmen of the education alliance, which is a group comprised of educators at elementary, secondary and college levels and representatives from business and industry, government and economic development.

The education alliance works on initiatives that will ensure students are ready to move to the next level of study or training or in the work place.

Mountjoy is the former secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.

Mattingly said the alliance works to add value to the workforce, which adds value to the community. That mission makes it a good fit to work on this initiative.

“It’s extremely important to bring together education, labor, business,” he said. “How do you make life better for people and allow them to take advantage of things that are out in the world? I encourage you to go at your work with full force.”

Mountjoy said she asked to get this group together so that members could take advantage of the opportunity to go after this state certification.

In 1950, 33 percent of all jobs were manufacturing, and in 2003, that number had decreased to 10.7 percent.

“The jobs that are left in manufacturing are more complex and require greatly different skills,” she said. The days when young people, either with or without a high school education, were guaranteed a job on either the family farm or in a manufacturing plant are gone, she said.

Today, the new basic skills are literacy, numeracy and technology, and employers assume their workers will have these, Mountjoy said. Employers also expect workers to be able to reason, communicate, collaborate, access information, think critically and be self-directed, as well as be able to work on a team and show responsibility.

And the same skills that are necessary in the workplace are necessary for college success, she said.

Counties may earn either a “work ready certification” or a “work ready certification in progress” status.

Daviess County must show that at least 25 percent of its population has two-year degrees and have a plan to increase that to 32 percent in three years, which is the Kentucky average. The number of associate’s degrees must be at 39 percent, the national average, in five years.

“We have some work to do here,” Mountjoy said. “But a lot is happening at our colleges and universities to support this.”

The second area of focus -- soft skills -- will require the county to demonstrate that students are trained and well prepared to know the importance of areas such as attendance, punctuality, teamwork, leadership and critical thinking. The task also will be to get employers to say they will give hiring priority to students who can show this.

“We have to get to a place where some of the things that are perfectly obvious to us are made perfectly obvious to others,” Mountjoy said.

The goal is to submit the application for the Work Ready Community Certification by the second week in December with review taking place in January and February.

Other states have developed similar certification programs, said Madison Silvert, executive vice president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp., who represents the Citizens Committee on Education on the alliance. It has become a deciding question for some industries seeking a location, he said.

“Are you a work-ready community or not,” industries ask, Silvert said. “If you are, you stay on their list.”

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

Riverfront Crossing in Owensboro now open

By Laura McNutt
OWENSBORO, KY (WFIE) - Saturday was a big deal for the city of Owensboro as thousands gathered along Owensboro's riverfront for the grand opening of Riverfront Crossing. People gathered for music, food, and company to celebrate the new space that connects downtown with the riverfront.

The space is part of a re-development plan to bring the community closer together.

Mayor Ron Payne says, "Crossing - what an appropriate word to use as we cross over from the old into the new."

Director of Public Events Tim Ross says, "It's a great little intimate space where we can have concerts on the weekends, or maybe there's a fashion show that somebody's going to do."

The city celebrated the new space with entertainment, art, activities for the kids, and even a painting the whole community could create together.

City commissioner Roger Stacy says, "We spend a lot of time at home watching television, we don't visit anymore, and we're finding here with this development that people are going to get out, they want their kids to get out, they're going to get out with their families and their children and just be together."

The crossing will also be buzzing with events, like Owensboro's holiday stroll.

Ross says, "We'll have a big Christmas tree lighting, official lighting that night. We'll have Santa where kids can come get pictures with Santa and have hot chocolate and cider and that type of thing."

There's more revitalization ahead in Owensboro with the opening of Smothers' Park next summer, and the Convention Center in 2013.

Bluegrass museum wins award

By Keith Lawrence, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 12:11 AM CDT

The International Bluegrass Music Museum has won a Kentucky History Award for education for its William Smith “Bill” Monroe Centennial Exhibit, which opened in September 2010.

“This is our first award for an exhibit,” Gabrielle Gray, the museum’s executive director, said Monday. “I’m really proud of our exhibit staff for the work they’ve done and the contributions of the Blue Grass Boys and the pioneers who made this possible.”

The opening of the exhibit began a year-long countdown to the Sept. 13, 2011, centennial of Monroe’s birth in Ohio County.

It drew people from Brazil, Canada and Europe.

The exhibit includes one of Monroe’s stage suits, a brown Stetson hat and a tie that he pulled off with the Windsor knot intact; the fiddle of his uncle, Pendleton Vandiver, who Monroe immortalized in the song “Uncle Pen”; the headstock veneer from Monroe’s 1923 F-5 Lloyd Loar mandolin;

and Monroe’s 1964 Gibson mandolin.

There are pictures of Monroe and his family through various stages of his life, including performances at the White House.

And there are showbills, record albums, album covers and the statue that was presented posthumously when Monroe was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

The award from the Kentucky Historical Society will be presented in Frankfort on Nov. 11.

“We spent so much of the past decade on building the reputation of the museum,” Gray said. “Now, we’re really focused on becoming a first-rate historical entity. There’s still a big mountain to climb, but we have a full curatorial staff now.”

Forrest Roberts is the museum’s curator.

Keith Lawrence, 691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cabinet plant under construction

By Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 12:15 AM CDT

Columbia Forest Products, a large manufacturer of hardwood plywood and hardwood veneer products, is gearing up to manufacture Cabinotch cabinets, a patented product created by Phill’s Custom Cabinets.

Phill’s is constructing the $1 million manufacturing plant at 2300 Kentucky 81 next to its local cabinet shop, and Columbia Forest will lease it for seven years, said Phillip Crabtree, whose family owns Phill’s.

“They are coming to Owensboro to build a cabinet manufacturing facility which will be the first of many facilities across the country,” Crabtree said. “Columbia will hire about 12 people with hourly wages in about the $13.50 to $14 range, plus full benefits, Crabtree said.

In August 2010, Phill’s Custom Cabinets won the top award at the International Woodworking Fair with its Cabinotch process — a pre-cut, do-it-yourself cabinet-building system.

That international exposure opened doors for the local company to market its award-winning product.

The local company chose Columbia to manufacture its Cabinotch product not only because of its global market reach — it owns 40 percent of the hardwood plywood in the U.S. and operates plants across the U.S. and Canada — but also because “it will use all American workers and all American hardwood and American soy-based products as the glue,” Phillip Crabtree said.

And it’s an employee-owned company, he said.

“You couldn’t get any more American than that,” Phillip Crabtree said. “We want to foster as much of an American-made process as possible.”

Phill Crabtree, Phillip’s father, started the cabinet-making business in his garage in 1975. The older Crabtree has been shepherding the construction of the building that Columbia will lease for the new plant.

Phill’s Custom Cabinets has 23 employees.

“There is no way a cabinet shop can cut up the plywood and hardwood needed to build these systems,” Crabtree said. His company is happy to be teaming up with Columbia Forest, which has 2,300 employees at plants throughout the U.S., he said.

Dec. 1 is the start-up target date at the new plant, which will operate two shifts.

For more information about Columbia Forest Products, go to www.cfpwood.com.

For more information about the Cabinotch cabinet system, visit www.veoh.com/watch/v1645448s8TNFeg5?h1=Phil’s+Custom+Cabinets.

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Owensboro Unemployment at Lowest Level since 2008

Daviess County’s unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent in August — the lowest it’s been since the beginning of the Great Recession.

The last time the county saw a rate lower than 8 percent — a figure once considered high — was nearly three years ago, in December 2008, when it was at 7.1 percent.

Local unemployment stood at 9 percent in both July 2011 and August 2010, the numbers released by the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training show.

“We’re not where we’d like to be, but the (new) number is reflective of some positive economic projects we’ve had over the past couple of years,” Nick Brake, president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp., said Monday.

The new numbers show that 1,100 more people — 45,477 — are working here today than in December 2008.

But the number of people in the work force has also grown — by 1,493 people to 49,282.

The state lists 3,805 people as unemployed in the county today, up 393 from December 2008.

Brake said U.S. Bank Home Mortgage has hired several hundred people in the past year and the hospital continues to add workers.

And, he said, “Our strategy supporting entrepreneurship is paying off as some of the smaller companies are hiring now too. I still have concerns about the possibility of a double-dip recession, but I’m optimistic. This is a very strong sign of economic activity in the community.”

Daviess’ 7.7 percent rate was matched by both Hancock and Ohio counties in August.

Hancock’s unemployment rate was 6.8 percent in December 2008. It hit 14.8 percent six months later.

But the jobless rate there has been dropping steadily in recent months as many of the industries began calling back workers who had been laid off.

“We’re heavy in manufacturing over here,” said Mike Baker, executive director of the Hancock County Industrial Foundation. “All of our plants are flush right now. There haven’t been any expansions or hirings, but they’re in good shape. We’ve also seen an uptick in hiring of temporary workers.”

But he said there’s a national shortage of electricians, electrical contractors and mechanics that will “reach epidemic levels within three years.”

If people are looking for careers, those are good fields to consider, Baker said.

The statewide unemployment rate for August was 9.1 percent — down from 9.7 percent in July and 10.1 percent in August 2010.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Owensboro Chooses Cape Air St. Louis Flights for Air Service

A panel choosing a carrier for air service at the Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport has selected Cape Air, a Hyannis, Mass., airline and sent that recommendation on to federal regulators.
The U.S. Department of Transportation will consider the panel's choice when it makes a final selection for a commuter airline serving Owensboro, The Messenger-Inquirer reported (http://bit.ly/ra8Por).
Cape Air proposed three daily flights to and from St. Louis. The fare will be $49 including fees and taxes and no additional cost for baggage.
KentuckySkies, a subsidiary of Pacific Wings, which flew from Owensboro to Nashville, informed the airport board in July that it would end the service Sept. 30.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Daviess County Economic Development Application on GO-EDC Website

The application for the Daviess County Economic Development Fund is now available on the GO-EDC website.  The $1 million fund was created by the Daviess County Fiscal Court earlier in the year to promote economic development and job creation in Daviess County.  The application is available at http://edc.owensboro.com/_documents/EconomicDevelopmentFundApplication.pdf

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Local schools kick off new program

By Dariush Shafa, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Tuesday, August 16, 2011 12:01 AM CDT
A local education experiment is now officially under way, as students at two local high schools attended their first Community Campus classes Monday morning.

Community Campus is a collaborative effort between local colleges, school districts and private businesses to create an academy-based educational system. Five academies will target specific content areas to give students education in those areas along with practical and applicable experience.

Two of the academies are now active, with the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) academy being based at Apollo High School and run in cooperation with Owensboro Community & Technical College. The Fine Arts academy is based at Owensboro High School and run in cooperation with the RiverPark Center. The other three academies are scheduled to become active in the next two years.

Aaron Yeiser, the community campus STEM instructor at Apollo High School, said students in his Community Campus class show more motivation. Of his 25 students in the Community Campus class, Yeiser said 20 of them are from outside of Apollo, Yeiser said.

“They feel special, that they’re unique. They know they are pushing themselves ahead of others,” Yeiser said. “I’ve always had a mix of some who want to be here, want to learn and have a technical interest, and then some who just got stuck here. With Community Campus, they all want to be here. That alone makes the environment different.”

Carolyn Greer, drama teacher at the Fine Arts academy at OHS, said that sense of belonging has had an impact on her students that she thinks will most positively impact the group work that is necessary with theater and acting classes.

“It’s a good group of kids. They got along instantly. They immediately had something to talk about,” Greer said. “That’s always a really good sign they’ll be open to working together.”

Greer said the academy brings talented students she might not otherwise have had the opportunity to teach.

“It’s new for me to be working with juniors and seniors I haven’t already been with for two years,” Greer said.

Yeiser said he believes this can turn into a revolutionary way of teaching students.

“It has the potential to be a new style of education in our community. Where bigger cities have charter schools and magnet schools, this is a different approach to the same outcome,” Yeiser said.

“The expectation is that it’s going to be something that helps them grow,” Greer said. “This is a chance for the kids to have a different experience.”

Dariush Shafa, 691-7302,


Friday, August 12, 2011

Governor delivers $500,000 for airport

By Keith Lawrence, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Friday, August 12, 2011 1:07 AM CDT
 Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly put the “Golden Triangle” on notice Thursday.

“We’re coming after them,” he told a group of more than 50 community leaders who gathered in the Owenboro-Daviess County Regional Airport terminal at 12:30 p.m. to hear Gov. Steve Beshear announce the final $500,000 for the terminal expansion project.

The “Golden Triangle” -- Louisville, Lexington and Northern Kentucky -- is the state’s richest and most successful area.

Beshear said the $500,000 multi-county coal severance grant he was announcing was the “capstone” to financing the $2.08 million expansion. The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority had earlier approved a $1.58 million no-interest loan for the project.

“What’s going to happen at this airport will raise the whole area to the next level,” Beshear said.

The expansion will add 8,500 square feet to the 14,000-square-foot facility. The project includes adding restrooms, expanding the baggage claim area and covering the area where the bags are loaded onto the planes.

Allegiant Air has flights to Orlando, Fla., two days a week and, on Oct. 14, it will begin flights to Las Vegas two days a week.

The jets currently carry 150 passengers and will expand to 166 passengers on July 1.

The airport terminal is bursting at the seams under the current passenger load.

“This project will bring the terminal more in line with industry standards,” Beshear said, “and it will increase the comfort of passengers.”

KentuckySkies, the company that has been making daily flights between Owensboro and Nashville since August 2009, has given notice that it will end its commuter service here on Sept. 30.

Whitmer said the U.S. Department of Transportation should be seeking bids for the essential air service contract any day now.

Bidders will have a couple of weeks to respond and the community will be asked to make recommendations on the airline it wants, he said.

“A couple of very reputable airlines have shown interest in Owensboro,” Whitmer said. “They require a sterile area after passengers go through security. We have that and it’s very attractive to airlines.”

He said the airport is hoping for three flights a day to a major hub city when the new contract is awarded this fall.

That would be in addition to the Allegiant flights.

“You’ve come through for the community again,” Mayor Ron Payne told Beshear. “This governor has been a tremendous asset to this community. He’s spent more time in this community than any governor” since Owensboro native Wendell H. Ford.

Ford, a former chairman of the U.S. Senate’s aviation committee, attended the announcement.

“When my phone rings and I see it’s him, I always pick it up,” Beshear said.

The coal severance dollars come from a pool of money left over when the severance tax dollars are divided among the counties where the coal was mined. Counties can join together to request some of the money for economic development projects without it costing them money already allocated to them.

Ohio County joined with Daviess County to request the airport money.

“I’m proud we could be a little part of this,” Ohio County Judge-Executive David Johnston told the crowd.

State Sen. Joe Bowen said, “Coal severance dollars are a great asset to this state.”

Beshear said the airport has seen $26 million in state, federal and local dollars for expansion projects since 1993.

His office said the latest expansion will add three full-time and several part-time jobs at the airport.

The airport will repay the loan from the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority over the next two years, Whitmer said, at the rate of $750,000 a year. The money will come from the $1 million the airport gets each year from the Federal Aviation Administration for handling more than 10,000 passengers a year.

Keith Lawrence, 691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Frozen yogurt shop to open in October

By Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 12:22 AM CDT
The first Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt location will be in Frederica Plaza at 5035 Frederica St., one of its investors announced Monday. That is the retail center between Walmart and the Don Moore Hyundai on South Frederica Street.

A group of Owensboro investors partnered with a Lexington group that includes UK basketball coach John Calipari to bring the popular dessert franchise to Owensboro.

“We also are looking at a second location on (Kentucky) 54,” said Roger Ellis, one of the owners, who lives in Owensboro.

The target date for opening the Frederica Street shop is the first or second week in October, Ellis said. The Kentucky 54 store likely will open in March or April.

Ellis has 34 years of experience in the grocery business — 29 years at Wetzel’s and five at Foodland — as operations supervisor.

He learned about Orange Leaf on his trips to Lexington to visit his two sons and help in their business

“They were talking about it and had been going to it. It has just been phenomenally successful,” Ellis said. “And we got hooked up with the Lexington investment group.”

That group already has four stores in Lexington and one in Richmond, as well as three or four other locations, Ellis said.

Orange Leaf’s website explains that customers get a cup, pick a yogurt and then pile on the toppings.

The uniqueness of the self-serve concept and the idea that frozen yogurt has fewer calories than ice cream and some other desserts are the main reasons the franchise has captured the attention of so many age groups, Ellis said.

It features a long list of yogurt flavors — some rotate seasonally — and another broad selection of toppings.

“You can put what you want on and as much as you want, and you pay by the ounce,” Ellis said.

Visit the company online at www.orangeleafyogurt.com.

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

WKU launches new MBA program

By Dariush Shafa Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Sunday, August 7, 2011 12:00 AM CDT
Western Kentucky University’s Owensboro campus will begin offering a new master’s degree in business administration, using a program that sets it apart from others because of how it will be conducted and the students that will be eligible.

Called the Professional MBA program, the new two-year program will be open to those with five to seven years professional or managerial experience, said WKU-O Graduate Adviser and Recruiter Lewatis McNeal. Eligibility will be determined by the WKU admissions department, and the program will meet every other Saturday for two years with a cost of about $4,500 per semester, McNeal said. A learning trip to France for a week will also take place near the end of the course.

McNeal said the program will not replace the distance learning MBA program offered at WKU.

“We’ve always offered the online program and will still offer that, but this is a different track,” McNeal said. “It’s also not a program that compares with Brescia (University)’s or Murray State (University)’s. It’s unique in the sense that you have to have that five to seven years of working experience.”

McNeal said the purpose of making the program exclusive in this way is because of the people to whom it will be open and their past histories in the job force.

“They (new graduates) have not had the opportunity to really get in there and implement or experience what they’ve been learning about,” McNeal said. “You’ve got proven professionals who’ve experienced what they learned about in the classroom. They’ll be able to rely on and bring that experience from the field into the class for problem-solving.”

The classes will consist of about six to eight students and one of the goals is for these students to work with each other and mutually benefit from each others’ strengths, McNeal said.

“They’ll be a group going through together. The idea is to put them together, let them work together and let them do some problem-solving,” McNeal said.

Lastly, the class is also unique because of how it will integrate technology. Students participating in the class will each receive an iPad 2 (theirs to keep), onto which textbooks and materials can be loaded, and the classes will be conducted using a new technology that will seem to eliminate the distance gap between the Owensboro and Bowling Green campuses.

“The telepresence technology (the classroom will use) gives the illusion that the person you’re meeting with, in this case in Bowling Green, is right across from you,” McNeal said.

David Powers, student services coordinator at WKU-O, said the new technology is a significant move on the university’s behalf.

“It’s a good example of the main campus investing in Owensboro by bringing this technology,” Powers said.

McNeal added that this course will help fill a niche Owensboro.

“A market we’ve had and continue to have is offering quality graduate education,” McNeal said. “Now, we’re introducing new technology into that. (The class and its graduates will) enhance and build upon leadership here.”

Dariush Shafa, 691-7302, dshafa@messenger-inquirer.com

To Learn More

For more information about this program or other courses that are available at Western Kentucky University’s Owensboro campus, call 684-9797.