New “One East Kentucky” group to launch job growth initiative

May 19, 2015 — A group of some 50 business and professional executives representing nine Eastern Kentucky counties met early today at the headquarters of Appalachian Wireless to hear a report by a national consulting firm on whether a new regional strategy to attract jobs to the region will gain widespread support. National Community Development Services, Inc., headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia has conducted a feasibility study of a proposed strategy called “One East Kentucky,” the product of the group’s deliberations at an October 2, 2014 meeting at Appalachian Wireless co-chaired by University of Pikeville Chancellor, Paul E. Patton, and Appalachian Wireless CEO/General Manager, W. Allen Gillum.

The “One East Kentucky” five-year strategy calls for the creation of a minimum of 2,500 primary jobs that meet or exceed the state average of $42,000 annually, and generating a minimum of $30 million in capital investment in the region. The “One East Kentucky” strategy carries a proposed budget of $2.7 million, or just under $600,000 per year. The creators of the strategy proposed that the funds would be raised from the private sector, and once those funds are committed, that the public sector would be urged to provide support by creating local infrastructure and industrial site improvements as their part in the five-year plan. The study by NCDS was commissioned in late 2014 to test the likelihood of private businesses, corporations, and professional firms being willing to provide the initial $2.7 million to fund the core elements of the five-year strategy.

The CEO of National Community Development Services (NCDS), Howard Benson, presented his firm’s findings in a 31 page Report & Recommendations. Benson told the group there was broad agreement in the region on the underlying economic issues of unemployment, low wages, and the fact that no aggressive, cooperative effort was in place to take action on economic development. Further, he reported that the proposal to establish “One East Kentucky” as a five-year strategy met with overwhelmingly positive response, including indications of the kinds of financial commitments that would be needed to underwrite the $2.7 million proposed budget. “What we heard from those we interviewed amounted to a virtual mandate for such an initiative,” said Benson

“One East Kentucky” calls for aggressive marketing and recruitment efforts to be carried out by a limited, but highly experienced professional staff with a proven track record in attracting corporate investment and jobs. Those providing the funding would oversee the strategy’s execution. During the meeting, the co-chairs announced that a fortunate set of circumstances had led to a 15 member sub-committee of the group taking the initiative when they learned that a potential candidate to lead “One East Kentucky” might be available as a result of the national search to fill the President’s job of the Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. The position had been vacant since Jared Arnett stepped down last November to become the Executive Director of SOAR. According to Chancellor Patton, “Many good candidates were discovered when the Chamber undertook its search, but one, in particular, Charles Sexton, seemed a far more likely candidate for the purely economic development tasks we envisioned for our ‘One East Kentucky’ strategy. The Chamber requires a President who is more of a generalist, and they made a wise decision in asking Jacob Colley to accept that job. We pulled together as many of our group as possible on short notice and invited Chuck Sexton to come for a personal interview. He was very impressive, and we believed it would be worthwhile to do a thorough reference and background check, which we did, and he checked out on every count.”

According to Co-Chair, Allen Gillum, “Chuck’s experience impressed us. He’s a seasoned economic developer who has worked with many companies to relocate them to Kentucky, and he knows all the people at the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, who will be important to helping us succeed here. He’s familiar with the site selection professionals who guide companies in choosing communities, and he’s traveled all over the country selling Kentucky. We think we’ve made a great hire in bringing Chuck aboard to help get One East Kentucky up and running well ahead of what we first thought we could accomplish.”

In relation to how One East KY will work with SOAR, Jared Arnett, Executive Director of SOAR stated, “the One East KY initiative falls directly in line with a recommendation of SOAR’s working group on Business Incubation regarding the need for increasing Regional Capacity for Economic Development. The unified effort will fill a gap identified by the working group in a distressed section of our region. We commend the local businesses for their leadership and look forward to working with them as we all work to create a brighter future for all of Appalachian Kentucky.”

The Strategy Development Committee voted to accept the recommendations of NCDS to move ahead to implement the “One East Kentucky” strategy. They further agreed to mount a campaign to raise the funding to underwrite it.

Charles Sexton will report for work full time beginning this week.

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