By Jeff Jobe
Over the years, I have devoted many inches of space and a considerable amount of ink to my thoughts on growing our communities. I like to think I have had some consistency, but as I grow older I find myself less interested in writing about what we need to do and more about trying to do it.
I have sat and listened to elected officials speak out in meetings about their desire to contract a new professional marketing company or outside strategist to come to town and outline a plan to help us do what Bowling Green is doing.
I remember a friend and former Mayor in Morgantown speak passionately about wanting to spend $80,000 on a study to redesign the downtown sidewalks.
At that time, I was in the middle of a political storm and when this is happening it seems to be positive for small pockets of elected officials to ignore my thoughts, and this is fine. But like so many other debates, because I strive to share opinions formed by listening to the community I serve, more times than not those in defiance lose more political clout than the mere columnist they fight.
It was more than a decade before those sidewalks were addressed, and it was done by a new mayor and council who realized spending money in the local community with contractors would be far more valuable than any fancy study. I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you to know now it cost less to fix the sidewalks than the study itself.
This concept in some degree is true for all communities we serve, and if I have heard this once I have heard it a dozen times: “Why can’t we do what Bowling Green is doing?”
I support all communities in SCKY, and I’m very proud that BG is the fastest growing community in Kentucky. But I have never had any interest of pushing our communities to try and be a Bowling Green. We need to focus on being the best version of who we are instead.
Right now, small town life is very attractive to people but they want a good quality of life. This includes nice housing, entertainment, restaurants, and community events. No company has ever said, “Let’s go to this community because they have a boarded up downtown.”
A community’s economic health is an analogous to the human body. A strong healthy body starts with a good strong heart, and without a doubt the heart of any community is it’s downtown.
If Morgantown had invested that $80,000 and combined it with codes enforcement, it would have been a tremendous investment.
Now fast forward to Glasgow. We are about to seek $15,000 from private donations and then the city will match it for a total of $30,000 to be spent with an out-of-community marketing and design company. I don’t support this at this time simply because we need to do what we can do to encourage a strong heart. This study does little to help downtown Glasgow.
The study or strategic plan being referenced does state that a marketing/branding plan would be of value, but it is down on the list.
The “Strategic Plan” was paid for after we already had a “Master Plan” and it seems both are being cherry picked instead of implementing and attacking the less costly initiatives outlined.
Groups such as “Sustainable Glasgow”, “Entertain Glasgow”, and “Barren County Tourism” are wonderful groups of mostly volunteers, and they are a blessing.
I do all I can to support them and will continue to do so, but it is important for us all to focus on the heart of our communities – our downtown – and if we could combine our efforts, just imagine what could be done.
Spending $10,000 for a free concert, the Farmers Market, or hiring big names are wonderful initiatives, but moving business away from downtown does nothing to help business owners. It actually hurts them.
None of our communities have deep pockets, but just imagine if county officials and economic development people joined the city and the volunteers mentioned above.
One more example of political climates is me asking a tourism board to pay $800 to $1,000 for a young local artist to paint Angel Wings on the side of a building owned by a friend next to a project I was developing. I was told in that meeting that, “This is not something we do. We don’t give money to help private businesses.” I kid you not, it wasn’t a year later this same committee paid approximately $12,000 to an out-of-town company to paint an entire wall mural on another downtown private property.
Right now, the most effective economic development initiative I am witnessing is happening because one city employee is willing to do her job, and she is reporting to a board not timid about doing the job they signed on to do.
Sheryl Pena is the Glasgow Codes Enforcement Officer and she reports to a board comprised of Joan Norris, Abbey Medford, Randal Buford, RP Watson, and Bill Anderson, all community volunteers. This board approves her efforts, and the Mayor and City Attorney support it as well.
At last count, there have been some 20 properties cleaned up, removed, or sold because of letters and the threat of legal action. Now is the time for all boards such as theatre boards to open up, we can not afford to lose another summer.
Cleaning up 20 properties in a small community is a quantifiable asset to that community, and if business owners, property owners, tourism, entertainment, economic development, and city and county employees could come together, I am comfortable all of you reading would be as blessed as I was this weekend to hear these words while I was attending an event at Yancey Square: “I wish we had something like this in Bowling Green.”
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 email@example.com. Read his previously published commentary at www.sckentucky.com