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

A Pattern of Civilization Fit For One Century That No Longer Works

The exhibit was a smash. Visitors were transported in egg-shaped seats on a soaring conveyor belt across a landscape of innovation, creativity, and optimism. What astute observers recognized was that GM’s new American geography needed enormous public investments in the roads, sewers, education, research, planning, and industrial infrastructure to make it reality.

The shining and mobile American way of life displayed by GM, moreover, was eminently achievable. It fit the essential market opportunities of its time cheap energy, low cost land, moderately rising population, competitiveness in core industries, rising family incomes, growing government wealth, and the willingness of taxpayers to invest in the nation’s future.

Over the next two decades voters elected to Congress and the White House lawmakers of both parties who cooperated in steadily enacting big and expensive bills the GI bill to educate veterans, lending bills to put them in new homes, the 1956 Highway Act to start the Interstate system, water and sewer spending bills, research grants for engineering that changed the way America looked and functioned.

The problem Owensboro and the rest of America confronts is that the spread out patterns of American civilization, and the economy that supports it, no longer fit the times. All of the underlying market trends that produced the drive-through economy have flipped. Energy prices are high and steadily rising. Land is expensive. Entire core industries, and millions of jobs, have moved beyond our borders. Median incomes, in real dollars adjusted for inflation, have fallen 10 percent since the late 1990s. Governments operate with enormous deficits. Taxpayers are unwilling to invest in a collaborative future.

The result is a nation with fewer choices and less mobility, a nation that is uncharacteristically hesitant and afraid. And while ideologues on all sides shout past each other, and make holding office a thankless and grueling experience, the real danger in our governing circles is the deepening of our trench warfare politics. Battling. Holding the line. Not deciding. Not acting.

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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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