By JEFF JOBE
For 20 years I have attempted to do my part to encourage downtown community revitalization. Since the first days of owning my first newspaper; the Butler County Banner-Republican I have put my money where my mouth is by investing in the heart of the communities we serve.
It was February, 1998 when I officially took over operations of my first newspaper and not long after I talked the owner of an old post office into selling me his building located at the side of the square in Morgantown.
I promise you there is not an inch of that building I have not touched. I paid a whopping $125,000 and spent in excess of $60,000 renovating it before even moving into it. It was a big expense for my small business and family at the time but our future was bright.
Within weeks we doubled the page count and added features only seen in some large daily papers at the time. We were the first weekly newspaper to deliver a full color front, front page advertising, and a dedicated editorial page in Kentucky. Jobe Publishing was at the forefront of today’s Kentucky weekly newspaper.
My family wanted to fix up a nice building to show the community we were serious about making Morgantown our home and we did. The building still houses our newspaper and the walls still possess handprints of my three children, their mother and myself painted on one of the walls.
I thought renovating this building would encourage others but little changed in Morgantown for many years. On the books one would say this building purchase may have been a bad one for my company for many years if it hadn’t been a great fit for our company.
I’m proud to say that Morgantown has begun to focus on downtown revitalization and several groups are stepping up to showcase the beautiful buildings, talent of our community and making a true effort to provide a welcoming feeling for visitors. There is no better first step than to promote local arts, crafts and cultural affairs.
The same type of historical building or downtown location can be found housing our newspapers in seven counties. It was my belief 20 years ago and it still is today that the downtown square is the heart of a community and what better place for a newspaper to be than at the heart of the community they serve.
The downtown is home to locally owned, independent businesses that keep as much as 68% of their revenue recycling back into the community. I have begged politicians to focus on downtown and even challenged them to educate themselves on the fact that a healthy, vibrant downtown is an indicator of the economic condition of the City and the County. Until we have strong vibrant downtowns filled with life we will never attract the companies they speak of in their campaigns.
Simply ask yourself this; If downtown isn’t good enough for me and my family why would we expect it to be good enough for the management teams and their families of any company we hope to attract?
Some don’t realize that a strong downtown business will provide employment opportunities at all skill levels and successful downtown businesses can pay higher business privilege and mercantile taxes, such as hotel and alcohol taxes.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a healthy downtown enhances property values and expands the city’s tax base. What a waste and poor management to push out property owners by forcing sales of vacant buildings for fractions of their value rather than to offer incentives to fix them up.
The rehabilitation of old buildings support the local economy by employing local trades… and local tradesmen usually purchase local building materials. Wouldn’t it be nice to see all of our vacant buildings updated and housing fun new businesses our families could enjoy?
As a businessman I am often accused of being too much dollars and cents so let me share this with you. A vibrant downtown creates a sense of place and pride for the community. It can become the hub for sharing life and growing together as a community. All walks of life and diversity comes together for parades, festivals and community events; there is no better way to create a feel for community than to put effort into becoming one.
With local politics entering the home stretch in the next few weeks I would encourage our readers to speak with candidates about what their ideas are for our downtown economy and if you get stumped on who to vote for; ask a downtown business owner, we know who supports us and who doesn’t.
Jeff Jobe is founder and CEO of Jobe Publishing, Inc. His commentary reflects his personal views and does not reflect the views of personal or professional associations and affiliations. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his previously published commentary at www.jobeforkentucky.com