photography by Craig Schneider, Power Creative
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Chapter Three:
Next Up for Owensboro and Daviess County: A New Narrative That Stokes the Fires of Innovation

by Keith Schneider
October 17, 2011

Measure and Seize Market Opportunities

While much of the nation cowered in fear of the future during the first decades of the century, and voters elected men and women to office who countenanced disinvestment lower taxes, less spending on education and research Owensboro did just the opposite. In a century of rapid and arduous transformation, Owensboro and Daviess County updated their operating systems to not only keep pace with the velocity of change but also to be skillful enough to measure what market opportunities fit and to seize them. The result is an uncommon American community – productive, healthy, educated, and secure.

Frederica Street

The high-revving cheap fuel, fast food, four-on-the-floor engine of economic growth that stormed down the Ohio River Valley in the decades after World War II, quite literally, leveled the buildings and flung the community’s civic equipment all over the county, including the Frederica Street exit off Owensboro's bypass.

The Frederica line passes Kentucky Wesleyan College and Brescia University, both of which more than doubled their enrollment since 2015 and added dozens of new faculty positions. All three of Rose’s children were educated in Owensboro’s strong public school system, gaining theater, engineering, and business skills in trend-setting academies. All three also were awarded scholarships from the Owensboro Promise, a program modeled after the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Promise, which pays college tuitions and fees to any graduate of the six city and county public and private high schools.

Two of her children attended Kentucky Wesleyan because the Owensboro Promise provides added financial incentives to encourage local graduates to attend any of the four institutions of higher learning in Owensboro. That program feature has the effect of adding local talent to the area’s business and service sectors, and strengthening local higher education institutions.

Rose is the third woman in a generation elected mayor of the growing city of 80,000 residents. Now in her second term, she and the city commission just finished a governing pact with Daviess County that draws the two governments closer than they’ve ever been.

The agreement assures that local government will continue to foster Owensboro’s renowned state-of-the art management practices that ensure services are delivered efficiently. It also enables the city and county to continue attracting new businesses and raising sufficient revenue to invest in public projects research, education, infrastructure, transportation, health, local foods, and housing — that leverage the private spending that generates well-paying jobs and civic wealth. Rose’s presence aboard the streetcar, crowded at the morning rush, is acknowledged with polite hugs and warm handshakes.

A little further on Frederica, Rose passes Brescia’s dorms and classroom buildings, built over a decade ago, that have provided an architecturally distinguished gateway to Owensboro’s downtown, now a rich mix of street-level restaurants, stores, bars, and professional offices with nearly 4,000 apartments on the upper floors. Downtown also boasts the state-of-the-art International Music Center, on the site of the old state office building and also home to the International Bluegrass Music Museum. The center is responsible for attracting 200,000 visitors a year to Owensboro.

Mayor Rose was raised in Owensboro and came of age as a high school student in the first decade of the century, when Owensboro and Daviess County collaborated to finance big ideas like a convention center and a new downtown. The Frederica streetcar line is a path across a landscape heavily influenced by those early-century projects, and the citizens and pragmatic leaders who made them possible.

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Recommendations for More Success

  1. Undertake a New Community Strategic Plan – A new strategic planning initiative is needed to propel the city and county to the next stage of its progress as a center of opportunity.
  2. Cultivate and Recruit Women to Serve as Elected and Appointed Leaders – Almost 52 percent of Daviess County’s adults are women and that percentage is not reflected in elected positions in the city or county governments.
  3. Strengthen Internal and External Marketing and Communications – More focused outreach is vital to show citizens why a publicly-funded program of education, downtown development, and innovation makes sense in strengthening the economy over the next generation.
  4. Establish a Joint City-County Office of the Ombudsman – Thin out the cross-cutting permitting process while also providing the fairness and access that citizens expect.
  5. Establish and Fund the Owensboro Promise – Provide every graduate of the six Owensboro, Daviess County, and Catholic high schools scholarships for tuition and fees to attend a two- or four-year college in or outside Kentucky.
  6. Establish the Owensboro Top 20 Young Achievers Program – Provide the most talented young adults the chance to be part of Owensboro’s future and to stay connected.
  7. Foster Local Foods and Develop More Recreational Infrastructure – Healthier cities note their success as a marketing advan- tage in promotional campaigns.
  8. Generate More Diversity in Civic Life and Improve Business – Recruit investment and development capital from Asia, and especially from China.
  9. Promote New and Cleaner Energy Sources – Owensboro’s city-owned utility should serve as an innova- tor in carbon reduction technology, conservation, effi- ciency, solar development and other cutting edge thinking about energy production and consumption.
  10. Strengthen Transportation Hubs, Build a Streetcar Line – Owensboro’s opportunities over the next two decades are significant in air, ground, and river transportation.
  11. Put a Brake On Sprawl – Replace the love affair with big surface parking lots with a marriage to homes and businesses, recreation, and education infrastructure that is reachable on foot, on a bike, public transit, or a very short car ride.
  12. Promote Events and Bluegrass Music – Design and develop a new music center that houses the International Bluegrass Music Museum.
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