Jonathan Miller leading CivicPoint project in river counties
Organizers of the River County Economic Development Project are trying to strike a spark to bring jobs to the four Kentucky counties farthest from Frankfort. Leaders of Ballard, Carlisle, Fulton and Hickman Counties funded the first phase of what promises to be an ongoing effort to bring economic success to four counties that are losing jobs, population and hope. To lead the effort, each county put up $20,000 from one fund or another to hire CivicPoint, a subsidiary of Frost, Brown, Todd, LLC. Recovering politician Jonathan Miller is CivicPoint's point man.
Step One is to find a catchy name for the project. Locals are being urged to visit survey monkey to select one. Four potential names have been proposed:
WAVE: West Kentucky Alliance for a Vibrant Economy
FORCE: Forging Our River County Excellence
SPARC: Strategic Progress Alliance for the River Counties
BOOM: Building Opportunity by the Ohio and Mississippi
Participants can also submit their own idea of a name with a descriptive acronym at survey monkey. The deadline to vote in September 1st.
Jonathan Miller admitted recently that the River Counties program is modeling SOAR, (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) the bipartisan effort created by former Governor Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers. It has brought in federal money and support for eastern Kentucky, an area with consistently the highest unemployment rates in the state.
Step Two: Have a conference. SOAR's first conference attracted 1500 participants from 54 counties. That successful launch brought credibility and media. The four county effort cannot hope to come close to 1500 participants. Miller announced that the first meeting called a "Confluence" will take place at the Columbus-Belmont State Park on October 24-25th.
The plan is to "invite leaders from across the state to participate in forums focused on the area's economic opportunity, as well as tours of the region's extraordinary ecology and cultural landmarks."
The initiative was launched to meet the challenges and opportunities offered by the expansion of the Panama Canal. It is hoped that the Canal will spur more trade coming up the Mississippi River and more opportunities for products to go down the River to foreign ports.
A Riverport Authority, led by former Fulton County Judge David Gallagher, has been formed. Each county has a stake in using the Mississippi River. Fulton County has a port at Hickman, its county seat which is relatively shallow and must be dredged to allow traffic to use it. A ferry, shown at left, connects Kentucky to Missouri.
Hickman County's largest employer, Ingram Barge, is a barge repair facility located in the River at Columbus. Carlisle has acres of land suitable for a river port. Ballard County already has river traffic and a repair facility. Ballard's county seat, Wickliffe, sits directly on the River. After Verso, a paper mill and the largest employer in the county closed, Ballard is facing desperate times.
CivicPoint produced a draft of the project's Strategic Plan which can be read Here
Over 100 locals have become involved in committees working on small business and entrepreneurship, tourism, education and workforce development.
The effort by four county judges, usually vying for the same scant resources and same short Frankfort attention spans, working together is in itself an accomplishment.