Officials with a non-profit organization that specializes in helping Kentucky communities maximize their economic growth potential presented their “action plan” for the Corbin area Tuesday – the result of a process that began in April.
Mike Mangeot, President and CEO of the Kentucky Association for Economic Development (KAED), spoke to a group of about 50 local professionals and civic leaders about the group’s recommendations. The plan stems from a two-day tour of the area coupled with a community participation survey conducted in May. About 218 people responded to the survey that focused community assets, problems and feelings about the future.
Mangeot said he was encouraged by the response to the survey, which he pegged at about two percent of the local population.
“We were encouraged by the response,” Mangeot said. “You get three percent return on any type of promotion survey, that is pretty strong.”
The KAED team broke down recommendations in their report into three major areas: economic development, tourism and regionalism. In each category, they gave ideas for action that should be taken within six months and 12 months. Mangeot said the group did not normally provide long-range plans for communities.
The top priority in economic development was the need to simplify the numerous agencies over development through restructuring or reorganization. Mangeot pointed out that separate boards exist to manage the town’s two industrial parks, others for the Chamber of Commerce and tourism, and a main board that receives financial support from all others: the Corbin Industrial Development Commission (CIDC). Within the next six months, KAED said the Corbin Economic Development Agency (CEDA), established in 1984, should be reactivated and used as an executive committee, containing two members from CIDC, the Tri-County Joint Industrial Authority, the Southeast Kentucky Industrial Development Authority, the Corbin Chamber of Commerce and the Corbin Tourism Commission. The town’s Economic Development Director could attend that meeting, eliminating the need to go to so many other board meetings in a given month. Mangeot said it would eliminate confusion and representatives from each of the boards could report back about CEDA activities.
“We were having a hard time figuring out who does what and who funds who and who is the main point of contact,” Mangeot said. “It’s very time consuming and confusing to anyone [businesses] out there. If they are confused and can’t find information, they are gone.”
KAED also suggested that an existing industry program be established for the entire region. He said the local Chamber of Commerce is uniquely equipped for the task.
“Seventy-five to 80 percent of all new job creation comes from existing businesses,” Mangeot said. “People tend to forget that. They tend to forget what they already have.”
The program would focus on finding out the needs of existing local businesses and helping to accommodate them and nurture their growth.
In a year’s time, KAED recommended the development of a “targeted and specific” regional recruitment strategy that focus on luring businesses that fit well with the assets of the area. Distribution and light manufacturing were area’s Mangeot said the KAED team thought was most suitable.
In the area of tourism, KAED strongly encouraged the hiring of a full-time director for the Corbin Tourism and Convention Commission. He noted that the group has ample tax revenue, but no one person to focus on promoting Corbin.
“With the number of assets you have, the existing funds you have, you need someone in there full time,” Mangeot said.
“If nothing else comes from this report as it relates to tourism, the team highly recommends hiring a full time director as soon as possible,” the report reads. “Without someone to ‘steer the ship,’ tourism efforts in Corbin will lack focus and be less effective than they could be. There is also a distinction that the funds earmarked for tourism via the restaurant and motel taxes could eventually be redirected to other projects in the community. This has happened in other communities.”
The assessment team also encouraged the formation of a brand to promote local tourism, and said that the management company for the soon-to-open Southeast Kentucky Agriculture and Exposition Center should make and effort to inform the community about the facility.
Within six months, in the area of regionalism, the team suggested a quarterly “common ground” meeting among local officials to discuss economic development issues. The meeting should include the region’s County Judge-Executives, tourism officials, chamber officials and mayors. The group also suggested an increased effort to promote Leadership Tri-County – an organization devoted to fostering leaders in the area.
Also suggested were efforts to pool resources with neighboring communities, and creating a monthly or bi monthly economic development/city government forum to provide information and answer questions about development activities.
Bruce Carpenter, Corbin Director of Economic Development, said he hoped the findings would not be ignored, and that implementing them would be a test for local officials in the months to come.
“It’s going to happen if we as a community want it to happen. That’s the key to it,” Carpenter said. “I think everyone here realizes this. Now is a great opportunity that we have to move forward as a community and to be a leader in this community and this region. We need to sit down and put a plan together to move forward.”
KAED reiterated the findings of its community assessment, which were released last month. In their findings, they noted as positives Corbin’s location, strong existing retail business base, tourism assets, high quality school system, health care facilities, land available for economic development and other local facilities. It marked as areas of concern lack of focus on regionalism and annexation issues, organizational structures in the city, a low number of recent business expansions and opening and some divisiveness among city groups and leadership.
During the June meeting to unveil results of the assessment, Mangeot noted that 85 people came initially, but only 17 stayed for focus groups after the main presentation. He chided local officials for lackluster support last time around.
“That’s disheartening for us for a couple of reasons,” Mangeot said. “What it showed us, though, is either there was a misunderstanding about what was going on, which happens, or folks weren’t engaged. That’s our fear. To many places we go in there is infighting and constant bicker going back and forth.”
Corbin City Commissioner Phil Gregory, who attended the entire meeting Tuesday, said he felt the recommendations KAED made were solid and deserved study.
“We need to look at them and study them. We’d be crazy not to,” Gregory said. “I’m not saying we are going to do everything, but all of them are something we need to look at. If we need to go that direction, then we need to go. A lot of the things he brought up were true. There’s a lot we’ve got to learn.”
Gregory said he disagreed with Mangeot’s comments about local bickering and said he didn’t feel like problems stemmed from the city commission.
“Maybe our groups and members in other organizations might have some things to say about one another, but that’s part of just disagreeing, I guess.”
Mangeot said KAED would provide an electronic version of the survey to anyone in the community who desires it.
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