Published Sunday, March 4, 2018

GCED dinner looks to future successes



Saying he expects decisions made over the next five years to impact local jobs for the next 50 years, Graves County Economic Development President Ryan Drane challenged those attending GCED's annual dinner to think about what their legacy will be.

About 140 people attended the dinner Thursday at West Kentucky Rural Electric Corporation's community room.

Speakers focused on the accomplishments of the past few years and also looked toward the future.

Drane noted that of the 1,046 more people employed in the labor market area -- an area in a roughly 60-mile radius from Mayfield -- since 2015, 627 are working in Graves County. That means Graves County is driving 60 percent of the new jobs, he said.

That puts Mayfield and Graves County in a position to either lift western Kentucky's economic future or drag it down, he said.

Board chairman Dave Anderson said the county is moving in the right direction, with a 20 percent drop (188 people) in the year-over-year unemployment rate from 6 percent to 4.6 percent.

One telling statistic, he said, is that since 2015, 850 people in Graves County have rejoined the workforce. These were people who were neither working nor getting unemployment benefits in 2015, he said.

Anderson said he also feels the engagement from the community in an extraordinary way, pointing out that the first economic development stakeholder dinner, in 2015, attracted about 40 people, which increased to 75 in 2016 and had nearly doubled again as of Thursday night.

Judge-Executive Jesse Perry expressed gratitude for how well the community has come together to work toward bringing good-paying jobs to Mayfield and Graves County.

"People in Frankfort didn't do this," he said. "People in Washington didn't do this. You all did this."

He stressed that he believes more growth is to come and talked about meeting with representatives from a hotel, a university and another developer in the last two weeks.

"Yeah, things are good here, but they're going to get better," he said.

Mayfield Mayor Teresa Rochetti-Cantrell talked about growing momentum and bragged on the economic development team. She talked about coming along with Drane, Perry and GCED project manager Jodie Hansen at a meeting with a business prospect. She said she listened to the tailored and carefully personalized information Drane and Hansen provided the prospect, full of information important to that business' needs.

"Judge Perry and I were simply arm candy," she said, garnering laughter from the audience.

Drane reminded the audience of the work begun by the organization in June 2013 and how times have changed.

"Five years ago, our community was still reeling from the loss of General Tire and just beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of the great recession, if you remember that," Drane said.

It took 18 months for GCED to announce bringing the first project to the county, but since then it has announced 15, he said.

Those projects have created more than 800 new full-time jobs and 75 new part-time jobs on business' payrolls and brought more than $105 million in investments to the community, he said.

Usually, in economic development, talk tends to be cheap, he said, then added, "Through five years of hard work, the results are beginning to speak for themselves."

A successful future will mean continuing to work together to create generational change, he said, noting, "I'll tell you right now, companies do not care about county lines."

He also expressed the importance of growing the community around the future Interstate 69.

Finally, Drane compared economic development efforts to that of a farmer, who must carefully plant and tend seeds to yield a bountiful harvest.

"I want you to imagine if a farmer's success was judged just before the first plant came up out of the ground," he said, then later if the farmer was judged on the knee-high spring plants.

A farmer doesn't listen to naysayers, he said. He just gets up every day and goes to work. Drane said that continued commitment to working hard every day is also what will ensure Mayfield and Graves County's successful future.