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

Intelligence and Good Public Assets

Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport

The Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport recently announced plans to add connections to St. Louis and Nashville, in addition to the Las Vegas and Orlando flights. It also gained $2.08 million in state loans and a grant to add 8,500 square feet to the 14,000-square-foot terminal.

Owensboro’s airport attracts 225,000 passengers a year flying non-stop to hubs in St. Louis, Nashville, Las Vegas, Orlando, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Raleigh. The city’s Riverport, the focus of a $50 million modernization and expansion in the 2010s, is a hub of national and global commerce. Its operations are supported in part by the joint city-county Office of Global Trade, which is charged with advancing the commerce of existing businesses that are owned by overseas companies. The office also recruits new businesses and investments principally from Asia, which has surpassed North America and Europe as the world’s largest regional economy.

Among Mayor Rose’s many duties is promoting Owensboro’s economy and quality of life at conferences around the country. When asked about the critical decisions that led to the region’s success, she offers a clear explanation. Owensboro became a laboratory for civic rebuilding, she says, because unlike the national government, and so many states and local governments, it pursued a vision of prosperity in the face of long odds over many years. It fended off the cramped and uninspired politics of tax cuts and layoffs.

The ability to act as a cohesive community and make rational decisions, Rose tells audiences, yielded an uncommon power to take action in a way that produced a region reborn. Year after year now Owensboro and Daviess County benefit from steady gains in median incomes, more high-paying jobs, new business starts, increasing housing values, and other indicators of economic well-being.

What she has a harder time explaining to outside audiences is what Owensboro residents have come to recognize about their region. Seated next to the mayor on the Frederica streetcar is an attorney, raised in Owensboro, who just returned home to start her career. She thanks Rose for all the mayor has done for the city.

Even young people now understand that Owensboro’s ability to break through the squabbling and inertia raised standards of living and fortified the authentic core of what makes Owensboro such a distinctive place in America. Its heart. The capacity Owensboro residents have to be warm and welcoming.

People in Owensboro answer their phones. They smile and hug at public events and ask about the new job, the rec league softball score, the kids. They connect and like to stay connected. Though Owensboro has grown to a mid-size city in a county that has 150,000 residents, the spirit of the region is still small town, where people aren’t so stretched by time or personal finance or loneliness or fear. The downtown farmers market along the river is a hive of human chatter and connected networks. So is City Hall, where public meetings are well attended and civil.

Owensboro, Mayor Rose remarks to the young lawyer, is a truly great place to be. “Yes,” the woman agrees, adding with a mix of pride and privilege “and we live here.”

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Chapter 3 Video

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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