Kentucky county leaders discuss economic issues, growth over past year

Wednesday, Kentucky county leaders gathered in Lexington for the Kentucky County Judge/Executive Association Winter Conference.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Kentucky leaders are looking to create economic development in their communities. Wednesday, Judge-Executives and county officials from across the state, as well as Agricultural Commissioner Dr. Ryan Quarles and Governor Andy Beshear, came together in Lexington at the Kentucky Judge/Executive Association 40th Annual Winter Conference to talk about issues and opportunities the counties are facing, particularly after Western Kentucky’s tornadoes and the ongoing pandemic.

According to Agricultural Commissioner Dr. Quarles, Kentucky has the second-lowest workforce participation rate in the country.

“The biggest challenge facing Perry County right now is trying to keep our young people working. Trying to create jobs and opportunities for them and trying to keep them working,” said Perry County District 3 Magistrate Clayton Church.

Church says while the area has plenty of job opportunities available at companies like Dajcor Aluminum, and will continue to have job opportunities at places like a new FedEx Distribution Center, which will create about 200 jobs, it’s filling the positions that’s been difficult. Still, he says the county is doing better than he expected.

“We’ve got a new FedEx building going up…we’re blessed, we have a lot of job opportunities and a lot of people working,” said Church.

Church says he’s excited about the potential of Perry County’s job opportunities bringing people to the area.

“If young people want to go into coal mining, or work at Dajcor Aluminum, or FedEx…that’s going to create jobs,” said Church.

It’s bringing job opportunities to communities that have been a challenge for some counties: Menifee County Judge-Executive Rick Stiltner says that many people in the community work outside the county, leaving the county to rely economically on tourism.

“For me, that’s the number one thing that can help to create economic development in Menifee County is the tourism industry. When you have Cave Run Lake on one side and the Red River Gorge on the other, you have to work out ways to use those to your advantage,” said Judge-Executive Stiltner.

The Judge-Executive also says the community is getting creative with bringing people to live in the area, saying that thanks to the county’s robust broadband, the area is ideal for remote work. He says it’s all about continuing to help the area grow to accommodate more people.

“The other issue we face is bringing what people need in that community, like restaurants and having office space for people to create a business in our community,” said Judge-Executive Stiltner.

Another issue still facing many Kentucky counties is broadband. According to Judge-Executive Alex Barnett, unemployment is the lowest it’s been in years and population size is growing, as it’s close to Scott County, the fastest-growing county in Kentucky. However, quality broadband remains an issue in the area. The Judge-Executive says the county plans to use some of its American Rescue Plan Act funding to expand and improve its broadband.

“Through the schools being shut down because of COVID is the need for rural broadband. Our county is listed as covered by broadband, however some of our areas are underserved and some are unserved,” said Judge-Executive Barnett.

The Judge-Executive says the county is planning on putting infrastructure in place to accommodate a growing population.

“We’re getting more and more people moving from out-of-state. In Central Kentucky and Harrison County, we have reasonably priced land. They’ll move from New York or California or wherever to Harrison County. But they expect the same services they’ll get from those areas…that’s another project, to provide infrastructure as we grow. We need to be prepared for that,” said Judge-Executive Barnett.

The Winter Conference continues until Thursday afternoon.

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