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EARLIER: A conference center tops community 'needs'

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Planning retreat yields wish list

By Walt Reichert

What can we do to encourage economic growth in the community? What are we doing well? Where are we getting stuck? What are the priorities that need attention if we, as a community, are going to thrive 10 to 20 years down the road? 

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Those were the broad questions tackled at a planning retreat last week sponsored by the Shelby County Industrial and Development Foundation. This brainstorming session involved about 40 leaders of business, government and non-profit organizations from the community.

The retreat comes at a time when the county is experiencing higher-than-accustomed unemployment. Recently released numbers showed 9.3 percent unemployment in Shelby County, slightly lower than the 9.4 percent unemployment in the Louisville region.

“Now that things have kind of slowed down, we thought it was a good time to look at where we want to go and what we want for our community down the road,” said Libby Adams, executive director of the industrial foundation.

Debbie Martin, president of Shelby Energy, said the retreat was a chance to “get ideas on the table.”

“It was a very open environment,” Martin said. “People said what they thought and everything was instructive and informative.”

The group first made a list of what is going well in the community, a list that included cooperation among government, business and industry, a growing downtown and agriculture.

The group was also asked to make a list of areas in the community that need improvement if the county is going to foster economic growth. That list included encouraging entrepreneurs, getting a better- educated workforce and launching a branding effort.

The long list of “need to work on” was boiled down to five priorities, Adams said. They were: getting a new conference center, education, promotion and marketing, smart growth and quality of life.

Executive Director of the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce Shelley Goodwin said the top priority was the need for more conference space in the county.

“We have several locations that can accommodate small groups very well,” Goodwin said. “But when you get to a group of one hundred or more, the options are really limited, and they stay booked up.”

Goodwin said the group did not get into specifics about where a new conference center would go, whether it would be connected to a hotel and who would build or help fund it.

“The conversations were mostly in general terms,” Goodwin said. “It was a brainstorming session and non-specific.”

Shelby County Deputy Judge Executive Rusty Newton, who attended the retreat, said the group also concluded the county needs to do a better job of marketing itself if it is going to attract more business and industry.

And he said that focus needs to be as much on attracting retail as industry.

“We've got to get to work on how to promote the county to bring good-paying jobs,” Newton said. “And it's not all about industry. Retail is very important too. What we want is the money that's paid to employees to stay here.”

Burch Kinsolving, senior vice president with Commonwealth Bank and Trust Co., said, for him, the top priority on the “to work on” list has to be quality of life.

“Of course, that covers a lot of things, from schools, to the parks and into planning and zoning,” Kinsolving said. “It's important to maintain our quality of life, and though some would disagree, I think our planning and zoning has done a great job.”

John Wills, secretary of Shelby County Farm Bureau, said he was at the retreat to represent agriculture, but he didn't feel like he was out of place.

“The important part for agriculture is that this group realizes how important agriculture is to what we want the community to be,” Wills said. “They were interested mostly in industrial development, but they understand that what attracts industry to the community is agriculture.”

Wills also said the retreat was a good chance for the community's diverse groups to share ideas.

“Anytime we have issues, it's certainly always good to get together and sit around and talk,” Wills said.

The next step, Adams said, is to send the report from the retreat to the head of each organization in the county and see how each group will proceed. Adams said the group will get together again in about 60 days.

  What's doing well

A partial list of items retreat members said were positive for the county:

Solvent government Expansion of recycling New judicial center Direction of planning and zoning Vineyard/winery expansion Location Growing hospital Active churches Available land JCTC and vocational school Strong local banks Well-maintained infrastructure   What's 'getting stuck'  partial list of items retreat members said the county needs to improve: Declining work ethic Need for branding effort Need to recruit young adults Improve relations with the media Satisfy needs of young adults Fresh people on boards/offices Ned a better educated/diverse workforce