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New Year - New Challenges - New County Judges
L to R: Jim Waters, Eddie Crittendon and new Fulton County Judge Jim Martin at Fulton Fiscal Court meeting in December 2014. Martin takes office in early January.

The changing year on January 1st is the construct that has little or no meaning in nature. If we were to follow nature, we would start anew on the first day of the change of seasons. It would make more sense to have a new year on the first day of spring or fall. What we have is a day the week after Christmas when we declare a start again day.

The new year of 2015 must be a real new year for our region.

The most recent report on state growth puts the Purchase behind other areas of Kentucky in growth. While manufacturing accelerates in the central portion of the state, it lags in our area. Populations are not growing. Fulton County has lost over 12% of its population. Hickman County fell to under 5000 souls.
Hickman County Judge Kenny Wilson
McCracken County has lost its biggest and most profitable employer. Enrollment at MSU is peaking. Buildings falling down in Murray are leaving holes like lost teeth in the downtown. Other counties, while not experiencing major losses, aren't in the win column either. Graves County lost its university this year. Mayfield and Graves County leadership are working hard to patch together a small business jobs program.

Only little Carlisle seems to be showing some good news. The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce report singled out the county for having the fastest growing jobs data in the state. While actual job numbers are in the hundreds, so is the percentage of increase. Thank heavens for statistics! Judge Greg Terry, at left, leads a county that is beating the odds. Carlisle County Judge Greg Terry

New county judges from McCracken to Fulton have a chance to change the economic down hill slide. It's going to take a commitment that mirrors, but does not imitate SOAR, (Save Our Appalachian Region). The program created by a bipartisan effort of Governor Beshear and Rep. Hal Rogers has brought Eastern Kentuckians together in a renewed assault on the stubborn problems of the region.

SOAR has brought in millions in federal funds for a new enterprise zone. A plan for expanded broadband in Kentucky encompasses much of the state but stops short of the four river counties of Fulton, Hickman, Carlisle and Ballard.

Sure, throwing money at a problem won't always solve it. But not throwing money at a problem also won't solve it. Stubborn problems like lack of employment training for the 21st century and slow internet access cannot be wished away or attacked by volunteers. Building infrastructure, whether bridges, a workforce or broadband access, takes money.

What doesn't take money are leaders committed to change. In a region steeped in history, culture and tradition, change comes hard. Many residents are comfortable with the way things are - until they are no more. The present is becoming unbearable. Losing hospitals, schools and businesses because there is no longer the population to support them is a wake up call. Our Eastern Kentucky kin would call these losses the canaries in the mine. If they expire, it's time to take radical action. Either run for the exit or pipe in fresh air.

Experts like Ron Crouch have been warning of a future of declining populations for years.

That future is here.

It will be up to regional leaders to face the fact that what worked before won't work now.

And change.

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