Developing rural communities is topic of Chamber luncheon

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By Joshua Shepherd

According to research, the top three factors a company weighs when it relocates to a new community is the presence of a skilled workforce, access to quality health care, and a good education system. Taxes barely make the top 10 in the list of factors, said Alison Davis, Ph.D., executive director of the Community Economic Development Intitiative of Kentucky (CEDIK).
Davis was a special guest presenter at the monthly membership luncheon of the Cynthiana-Harrison County Chamber of Commerce Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 26.
Pat Grenier, chamber executive director, said that chamber members viewed the CEDIK presentation as something important enough to open the luncheon up to members and non-members due to the services that CEDIK could potentially provide to interests in Cynthiana and Harrison County.
Under the umbrella of the University of Kentucky College of Agricuture, CEDIK  provides training to cooperative extension agents in implementing development programs. It also functions as a research center, Davis said . Chief among CEDIK’s goals is providing services and support to Kentucky’s developing rural communities.
“The three things we are most concerned with is helping build engaged communities, vibrant economies and strong health care systems,” Davis said.
The emphasis on supporting rural health care systems makes CEDIK unique among similar organizations across the country, Davis said.
“Good access to health care is incredibly important to the health of local economies,” she said.
A signficant part of CEDIK’s research work is the development of comprehensive data profiles of every county in Kentucky, which is accessible on their website at cedik.ca.uky.edu.
These county profiles breakdown economic data into six categories: Agriculture and Food, Economic, Health Care, Retail Sector, Small Business and Local Workforce.
Highlighting its emphasis on healthcare, CEDIK has also composed profiles of the economic impact of each county’s local health care system.
Referring to Harrison County’s own economic data, Davis said this rural area has been very resilient. It’s unemployment figures have managed to bounce back from a peak several years ago. In fact, Harrison’s unemployment figures have improved to even better levels than it had during the 2008 recession.
“Harrison has not followed the standard path of most rural communities. Manufacturers seem to be firmly entrenched in the area,” she said.
Davis also commented that  the quality of Harrison County’s health care is a significant contributor to this area’s stability and continues to be a major factor in the area’s future economic growth.
One of the significant challenges to economic growth in nearly every Kentucky county is a documented increase in drug abuse. The problem is particulary acute in Kentucky’s eastern regions.
Sheila Currans, CEO of Harrison Memorial Hospital, said that the hospital has been very fortunate. HMH’s pre-employment and random drug screen policies have not caused them serious employment issues.
However, representatives from two of Harrison County’s major employers, 3M and ED Bullard, commented that an increasing number of job applicants are either refusing or failing pre-employment drug screens.
In addition to compiling research, though, Davis said that her background is in economic development. An important aspect of their services are helping county leaders move forward economically.
CEDIK can be a valuable partner in helping leaders with their “visioning.”
“I believe in ‘asset-based’ community development,” Davis said. For most counties, the path forward is to identify its strengths —what it does best — and build upon that foundation.
“There are many indicators that Cynthiana and Harrison County is doing the kinds of things it necessary to continue growing and prospering,” she said.
But she also said that CEDIK can work with leadership to identify reasons why progress is not happening. Is it money? Conflicting governments? Workforce issues?
“We don’t want to spend time complaining about barriers. Rather we want to help you discover solutions,” she said.
Davis concluded her comments by making a very important point.
“In terms of development, I always insist that there be a strong youth and young adult component to the vision,” she said.
A county’s movement toward the future must consider what its kids are doing right now, she said. The voices of Harrison County’s young people “is as important, if not more important, to the future progress of this community,”
“I hear the same thing wherever I go. People say ‘we want our young people to come back home.’” Davis said. Meanwhile, the younger people are saying “if you want us to come back, here are the needs that are not being met.”
Davis concluded her presentation by reminding the chamber of CEDIK’s web site if they are interested in reviewing Harrison County’s statistics and inviting development leaders to make use of CEDIK’s services.