Eastern Kentucky is well endowed when it comes to natural resources. Our mountains are a tourist attraction and our land is covered in timber, rich in natural gas and full of coal. But the success of those industries attracts others to our area. Our economy is more than our natural resources.
Coal mining is nearly synonymous with eastern Kentucky. And one of the side effects of that activity is expanses of cleared land once the mining stops at one location.
That land is often used to draw in and locate outside businesses. For instance, the Industrial Park that houses the Sykes building, Wal-Mart, other development along Highway 80 and the Wendell H. Ford Airport are all located on former mining lands.
According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, Kentucky is home to 350 international companies and thousands of American ones. Trus Joist, which played a bigger role in our area’s economy in the past, is one of those international companies.
Overall, Kentucky is fourth in the nation for total light vehicle production. Our state cranks out Ford Explorers, Ford F-series trucks, Cadillacs, Corvettes, and of course, Toyota Camrys. Twenty-one of the Fortune-25 largest corporations have locations in the Commonwealth.
There are a few reasons why businesses are drawn to our state and our area. One is that our coal industry helps fuel the lowest industrial electric power costs in the nation for five consecutive years.
If companies have to pay less to run the place, they’re going to make a bigger profit. And that could be a decisive factor for companies. As Perry County Judge Executive Denny Ray Noble said, “The only reason they [businesses] come is to make money.”
When thinking about outside industries making the move to eastern Kentucky, most focus on the obvious: factories. But there’s several types of industries that can make the move to our area. Hazard Mayor Bill Gorman noted that our area is growing, not only as a center of coal, timber, natural gas and oil, but as a commercial center, a communications center, a medical center and more.
Retail stores, hotels, restaurants, medical offices and more can and are being attracted to Perry County and eastern Kentucky.
Judge Noble commented that most outside industries that set up shop in our region are based on our natural resources. That may definitely be the truth. Coal companies, gas drillers, logging companies, cabinet makers and more all come for the natural resources this area can provide. But when those industries feed the economy, they create an attraction for others-- like doctors and Holiday Inns-- to follow suit.
“We’re always trying to work toward the goal of getting other people interested in investing in the area we live in,” Mayor Gorman said. The Sykes Call Center was once a major employer in our area but left a few years ago. The Mayor said that area leaders have twice met with Sykes officials to try to get the center back in our area. Though Sykes has still not reopened, the attempt to draw the industry back to our area is indicative of our region’s desire to continue to bring in new businesses.
With or without Sykes, Perry County is continuing to see serious development and construction, especially along Highway 80 where Wal-Mart, other retailers, banks, car dealerships, restaurants and more have sprung up while a Holiday Inn Express is still to come. In addition, Hazard will be home to a Medical Mall in the former Wal-Mart building at the Black Gold Plaza and the hospital is constructing a $10 million dollar cancer center.
While all of these developments bring in jobs and create more, they also serve to attract more people and industries to our area in the future. As our region turns more focus towards tourism, even more opportunities for industries to locate here will arise.
Hazard, Mayor Gorman said, “is more metropolitan than a lot of areas.” That means that the city and the area around it is open to new people and new industries mingling with what we already have here. And that, the Mayor feels, aids the area’s endeavors to draw new industries in.
While native entrepreneurship is a great sign of local ability and know-how, brining in more businesses, people and ideas is also good for the area. “Bringing in more people has to help Perry County,” Judge Noble said. Noble added that new business helps the economy and creates more opportunities for local people, though it sends a lot of the profit outside to where the business came from.
Judge Noble noted that area leaders do a lot to work on attracting businesses through the work of local government, an Industrial Board, the Chamber of Commerce, a Tourism Board and more. But he noted that the biggest obstacle to continuing to bring in more industries was infrastructure: “We need better roads,” Noble commented.
A lot of interested businessman from beyond our area want to know about our educational system, the level of education throughout the local population and even how many golf courses we have. Those are areas Judge Noble thinks we need to work on in order to improve our chances of drawing in more industries.
Another obstacle the area could face in attracting new businesses to locate in our region is the appearance of our land. Though eastern Kentucky is a land of majestic rolling mountains, wild elk, beautiful foliage and trees, creeks, rivers and more, it is also home to illegal dumps and littered roadways. “We need to keep the county clean,” Judge Noble said.
As the Judge noted, business come here for one primary reason: to make money. However, when it comes to developing industries that are more than derivatives of our natural resource industries, appearances could be very important. If eastern Kentucky wants industries to invest in us, we and our government must invest in us first.
Eastern Kentucky’s natural resources are the base and foundation of our economy. Those industries even feed into new industries and attract outside companies to our area. Outside businesses provide us with employment opportunities and attract more people and industries to our region.
A Super Wal-Mart and decent medical facilities are attractive to tourists and investors. They also help fuel our economy, aid in its growth and demonstrate that eastern Kentucky’s industries are not limited to what we can dig up, drill out or cut down from our land.