Commentary: An Idea for Barren County
By Sam Terry
Jobe Publishing, Inc.
One of the top concerns on the minds of Barren County residents is the future of our county. For decades, our county has been regarded as one of the Commonwealth’s best with dozens of points of pride that we enjoy boasting about to ourselves and our visitors. As 2017 is now in full swing, it’s apparent that what we don’t have is a clear vision for our future. It’s time all of us – citizens, elected officials, ordinary people, movers and shakers, experienced elders, and yearning youths – adjust our attitudes and sharpen our vision for Barren County’s future.
How do we accomplish such an imposing task?
We must stop the maddening practice of making every issue a “we” versus “them” argument. It’s not about “us” or “them.” It’s not city versus county or Glasgow versus Cave City versus everyone else, or even what color your team wears. It’s about us – all of us together – and what’s good for our current citizens and future generations. It’s not about evening the score, it’s about bringing together a unified team to achieve collective success and provide new opportunities. After all, we’re all Barren Countians first.
We need to know about our past and it’s good to be reminded of it. However, we can’t live in the past, continue using outdated thoughts, and continue wallowing in the notion that “we’ve always done it this way.” Ten years ago, it was a badge of honor that Barren County topped the list of the ten “Best Places to Live in Rural America” in a now-defunct promotion by a popular agriculture magazine. Rather than resting on our laurels from a decade ago, we need to be continually self-evaluating to make what’s good better and overcome our weaknesses.
In various local government and quasi-government meetings in recent months, it’s been disheartening to observe the divisions within our local governments and the elected officials who run them. Rather than the age-old “what’s in it for me” (or my district, or my neighborhood, or my whatever), how about considering what’s good for the whole – for everyone, that propels our entire community forward rather than backward. We are better than this.
One of the top concerns that has been emerging over time is how we achieve economic success that will secure our future for decades to come. IDEA, the Industrial Development Economic Authority of Glasgow and Barren County, has made some impressive strides in its 30-plus years of existence. What has become evident in 2017 is that IDEA is burdened with an outdated model as an organization and despite the good intentions of those associated with the board, it’s no longer what the community needs to move forward.
As an authority as devised by Kentucky law, IDEA’s board is hampered with only six voting board members appointed by the Mayor of Glasgow and Barren County Judge/Executive. At the same time, the current board has correctly attempted to include others such as Cave City, Park City, and a handful of other people – none of whom have a vote in decision-making matters. In Cave City’s case, the local government contributes to IDEA’s budget but must rely on faith that those with a vote will hear their opinions. By comparison, none of us would be willing to contribute to an organization but have no right to a vote.
IDEA is further burdened by a name that no longer reflects the needs of the community as well as the reality of it. In 1984, industrial recruitment was the popular mode of bringing businesses to a community. Now over 30 years later, this community needs to realize that there’s more to our local economic engine than large-scale industrial employers. Instead, they are an important part of the mix that makes us unique.
We need to acknowledge and bring to the circle of decision makers those who are part of Barren County’s largest and oldest industry – agriculture and agri-business – that has been the mainstay of our county for over two centuries.
How does IDEA overcome what hinders them? How might the entire community move forward with economic development?
Serious consideration should be given to dissolving IDEA as we know it. Then, with leaders from all facets of the community – Barren County, Cave City, Glasgow, Park City, large industries, small businesses, agri-businesses, financiers, educators, elected officials, and the media, to name a few – create a new organization to lead economic development efforts that will build a brighter future for all Barren Countians.
Barren County is endowed with natural resources and the vital resource of people committed to its future. The challenge before us is how we blend our resources to envision our future.