COMMENTARY: Oops! Our dysfunction is showing

By Sam Terry
Managing Editor
Jobe Publishing, Inc.

Exactly one year ago this space was filled with a column entitled “An Idea for Barren County.” That column opened with these words: “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. … 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.”

That column continued, “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 Barren Countians first.”

Now a year later, one begs to ask what strides we’ve made as a community. What have we done to unify our efforts to work for a progressive, thriving community? Have we reflected on our attitudes or sharpened our vision for the future of Glasgow, Cave City, and every other part of Barren County?

We have welcomed new businesses and industries and we are grateful for both their presence and their investments in our community. They have reminded us of our positive attributes and they have challenged us to be creative. Perhaps the businesses and industries that opted not to locate or expand here along with those that departed reminded us of things we need to fix, obstacles we need to overcome, and that we must be unified in our efforts to chart the future.

In recent weeks, three local government and quasi-government bodies (Barren County Fiscal Court, Glasgow City Council and the Barren County Economic Authority) have heard and considered a proposal to fund a coding training program for local residents. Perhaps more accurately, that should read “proposals” in the plural form because no two of five public presentations to these groups matched. The one consistent feature of each presentation was the sincere desire of the local presenters to do something positive for our community and enabling for our workforce.

On the other end of the spectrum, each presentation raised more questions that it answered. The amount of funds needed for the particular program seemed to be on a rollicking roller coaster ride as it fluctuated from $500,000 to $1.9 million to $800,000. The number of locals to be trained also changed along with the amount of local money to be raised. The number of permanent jobs that would come to Barren County remained in question.

The proposed program may have been a boon for Barren County but perhaps this wasn’t the right moment in time or the right mix of partners promoting the project.

The partners – county and city officials, educators, and economic developers – each displayed a genuine passion for our community, our people, and our future.

Another item on display in this effort was the dysfunction that seems to have a tight grip on our community. Like any small community, ours has differences that hold us back.

We have four local governments in Barren County; much of the time there is competition between them and nearly all of the time there is competition within them. We also have an abundance of quasi-governmental agencies and special interest groups. For example, most communities can’t boast of two separate Chambers of Commerce, an economic development authority independent of the business groups, and three separate commissions to promote tourism. Each has a mission and tends to move to the beat of its own drummer while on a greater level there’s a symphony that could be glorious if only the instruments were playing in unison.

While the debate about the coding program carried on for weeks, the community has seemed almost oblivious to painfully drastic cuts at Western Kentucky University that directly affect the regional campus in Glasgow. Thirty years ago, our community celebrated a decades-long effort to bring post-secondary educational opportunities to our area. It seems we’ve chosen to rest on our collective laurels rather than continuing our efforts be an integral part of the success of WKU-Glasgow.

The assumption that WKU-Glasgow will always be a part of our community’s future is a short-sighted notion. We have only to look around to notice drastic cuts at WKU’s main and regional campuses. Eastern Kentucky University has announced that its regional campus in Danville will close and last week the school announced that around 20 academic programs are on the chopping block. Now is not the time to say, “it can’t happen here.” Imagine our economic development success rate if prospective companies Googled our community only to find we allowed our regional college campus to evaporate.

Without a unified vision for our community, we stand to flounder. It is essential that we nurture our existing assets such as industries and post-secondary educational programs while simultaneously working to attract new opportunities.

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