The Peirce Report – 20 Years Later

The 1991 Peirce Report made dozens of recommendations for Owensboro and Daviess County citizens and leaders to change the vector of the community’s development. They included embracing a new culture of entrepreneurism in business, academia, and economic development agencies. The idea was to cultivate home-grown businesses that could become major employers.

The report’s authors, Neal Peirce and Curtis Johnson, urged Owensboro to invest heavily to redevelop downtown Owensboro as a livelier place for jobs, housing, and entertainment. They pointed to Daviess County’s big farm sector, a perennial state leader in grain production and farm gate value, as a stable industry that could be leveraged for more economic activity.

The Peirce Report stressed the need to open new channels for women and minorities to take leadership positions in government and business. And it called for the city and county governments to see themselves as managing a region, to operate more collaboratively with each other, and to develop fresh paths for more residents to participate in making big decisions.

Blue bridge

The 1991 Peirce Report understood the influence of random events and the need for Owensboro and Daviess County to establish a more dynamic foundation for making and acting on big ideas.

Here is an accounting of Owensboro’s responses to those recommendations:

I. Recommendation: Promote More Regional Collaboration


  1. Joint Owensboro Metropolitan Planning Commission is strengthened with city and county funds. Of the agency’s total $1.179 million budget in 2010, the City of Owensboro provided $216,898 and Daviess County provided $143,977.
  2. City and county fund and oversee 911 emergency response service.
  3. City and county elected leaders in 2009 approve tax increase on insurance policies to raise nearly $80 million for downtown redevelopment.
  4. City and county school administrators, in collaboration with Owensboro Community & Technical College and local employers, establish trend-setting Community Campus curriculum and program for high school students.
  5. City and county fund joint master plan to strengthen management of city and county park systems, and recreation programs.

II. Recommendation: Invest in Downtown Development


  1. $17 million RiverPark Center opens in 1992 following $11 million private capital campaign.
  2. International Bluegrass Music Museum established in 1991 and attracts 24,000 visitors annually.
  3. $40 million project, much of it federally funded, starts in 2008 to construct river wall, improve Smothers Park, and rebuild Veterans Boulevard.
  4. Gateway Planning hired in 2008 to develop aggressive master plan that focuses on place-making and downtown revitalization. City and county commissioners approve master plan in 2009.
  5. City and county commissioners approve a tax increase on personal and business insurance premiums, excluding health insurance, to raise $80 million in public funds to support downtown development.
  6. Riverfront park, convention center, and hotel under development.
  7. Executive Inn demolished in 2009, adds 17 acres to riverfront.
  8. Friday after Five established to attract people to downtown and expose more citizens to the arts center.
  9. Downtown residential housing starts increase.
  10. City in 2010 buys State Office Building on Frederica Street for $1.1 million and announces plan to develop a $15 million International Bluegrass Music Center.

III. Recommendation: Stop Chasing Smokestack Industries, Encourage and Sustain Homegrown Employers


  1. Owensboro Medical Health System established in 1995 from merger of two local hospitals and grows to largest regional employer and founder of Kentucky BioProcessing. Current staff is 3,400, more than triple hospital employment in 1991. Some 2,500 people work at the Parrish Avenue campus, and 900 others work at regional clinics, diagnostic centers, a business center and the HealthPark. The annual budget reached $780 million in 2011.
  2. U.S. Bank Home Mortgage, which evolved from George Greenwell’s Lincoln Service Corporation, establishes processing center in MidAmerica Airpark. U.S. Bank’s employment in region anticipated to increase to 1,600 after MidAmerica facility expansion is completed in September 2011.
  3. Owensboro Community College and Owensboro Technical College merge in 2000; full and part-time staff grows to nearly 500 in 2011.
  4. Owensboro develops two large baseball/softball complexes, two 10-field soccer complexes, a four-field football complex, a year-round ice arena, tennis courts, park facilities and several gymnasiums. One result is city named by Sports Illustrated as Kentucky’s top sports town in 2004. Playoffs and tournaments draw thousands, anchor the region’s travel and hospitality industry, provide $19 million in direct economic impact to city and county in 2010 and more than half of the $368,459 in city and county room tax receipts.
  5. MidAmerica Airpark opens in 2005; becomes base for several of region’s largest employers.
  6. Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation approves a new strategic plan in 2006 that focuses on supporting entrepreneurs and innovation as top priorities in supporting new businesses and building the city and regional economies.
  7. $1 million Emerging Ventures Fund is established in 2007, supported by initial five-year, $100,000 annual grant from city, to support high-growth technology-oriented startups.
  8. Emerging Ventures Center for Innovation established in 2008 to help entrepreneurs grow startup businesses in Owensboro.
  9. Owensboro Community & Technical College in 2008 opens first phase of $25 million Advanced Technology Center to train students for jobs in high-tech startups.
  10. Centre for Business and Research, a 37,000 square-foot renovated warehouse with office space, laboratories, and equipment is completed in 2009 to incubate and grow new home-based companies. Funding provided by Owensboro and Daviess County.
Pamela Smith Wright

The Peirce Report stressed the need to open new channels for women and minorities to take elected leadership positions in government. Pamela Smith-Wright, Owensboro Mayor Pro Tem, is one of 11 women currently holding elected positions in the city and Daviess County.

IV. Recommendation: Encourage More Women in Leadership Positions


  1. Number of women elected to public office increases to 11 from 1.
  2. Dozens of women occupy non-elected leadership positions in academia, public education, banking, real estate, manufacturing, health care, and recreation.
  3. Impact 100 Owensboro, a development philanthropy managed by women is formed in 2006 to raise money to “give large grants each fall to local worthy causes selected by the members.”

V. Recommendation: Establish a Community Foundation


  1. Green River Area Community Foundation established in 1994; endowment reaches $6.7 million in 2011.

VI. Recommendation: Reach Out to Troubled Families


  1. Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Dental clinic established in 2009. Community Foundation is instrumental in recruiting $82,250 in capital funding. Impact 100 in 2010 awards $103,500 grant.
  2. MacAuley Clinic is center of $25 million in unreimbursed indigent care provided annually by Owensboro Medical Health System.
  3. City and county public schools ranked among Kentucky’s best though both systems provide free and reduced lunches to more than half of their students.
  4. Other projects include the Asset Building Coalition to provide free income tax preparation, Bank on Owensboro, the REACH Clinic at the health department, Daviess County Community Access Project, HELP Office, Head Start, and RiverValley Behavioral Health.

VII. Recommendation: Leverage Daviess County Farm Sector to Grow New Businesses


  1. The Owensboro Biotech Alliance forms in 2006 to support Kentucky BioProcessing, and to develop stronger links to the University of Kentucky Tobacco Research Development Center. Alliance develops database of regional farmers that enjoy a national reputation for compliance with USDA regulations and a willingness to grow crops for use by plant biotech companies.

VIII. Recommendation: Encourage Greater Public Involvement and Regional Citizenship


  1. Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation in 2006 launches Economic Development Citizen’s Academy consisting of three two-hour sessions scheduled from January to March. The program is modeled on the successful Citizen Academies developed by the City of Owensboro and the Owensboro Police Department.
  2. Public Life Foundation of Owensboro founded in 1996 to strengthen citizen engagement in civic decision-making.

IX. Recommendation: Strengthen Educational Institutions and Opportunities.


  1. Owensboro High School opens new art and athletic facility in 2010. City and county public schools rank high in Kentucky, and employ nearly 2,600 people.
  2. Western Kentucky University campus established in Owensboro in 2010.
  3. College student enrollment in Owensboro grows to 8,000 in 2011.

X. Recommendation: Establish Safe Growth Committee and Rein in Sprawl


  1. No committee formed though Owensboro Metropolitan Planning Commission embraces smart growth, downtown-focused principles for containing sprawl and encouraging more walkable land use and development.
  2. Downtown development plan approved and implemented.
Public Life Foundation of Owensboro
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