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,

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

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,

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,

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,

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,

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

For more information about the Cabinotch cabinet system, visit’s+Custom+Cabinets.

Joy Campbell, 691-7299,