Other areas battled back

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 18, 1999

Although Ironton’s future is uncertain with the loss of 619 jobs and $250,000 in income tax revenue, other cities in the Tri-State are beating the odds with aggressive strategies to bring jobs back to their communities.

Saturday, December 18, 1999

Although Ironton’s future is uncertain with the loss of 619 jobs and $250,000 in income tax revenue, other cities in the Tri-State are beating the odds with aggressive strategies to bring jobs back to their communities.

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In Ashland, Ky., the devastating news that Ashland Inc. would relocate corporate headquarters to Covington, Ky., hit the city hard. The key to recovering from any economic blow, however, is a solid marketing plan that involves several agencies, Ashland Alliance president Jim Purgerson said.

"It is difficult for an area to completely market their area on their own," Purgerson said. "It’s easy to determine what you need, but in order to implement it, it takes funding."

With so many assets in the Tri-State, Lawrence County and other area officials must get aggressive about aggressive marketing strategies, Purgerson said. Merely planning the strategies is not enough. Implementing these strategies is the only way to ensure economic growth, he said.

In Ashland, the wheels are in motion, he added.

"We are preparing and producing some new printed marketing materials and the Ashland area profile subject matter will be included in that," he said. "We may also be doing some advertising, but mainly we’ll be doing some direct mail to site selection agencies, the automotive agency in particular, because it would make sense for the suppliers, with all the manufacturers that are locating in the area, to locate here."

With direct access to Atlanta, Ga., and Detroit, Mich., and all points in between just miles from this area, factories making automotive parts could set up shop in a prime location, he said.

"We are about 500 miles from a third of the nation’s population," he said pointedly.

Marketing is expensive, and there is always competition for the local dollar, especially when corporations are moving out and the budget is getting tighter, he said. But it is precisely these times during which the focus must shift to spending for economic development, he added.

"It is when times are not so good that you need to be putting more into marketing and developing the area because that is the only way to improve the situation," Purgerson said. "The entire Tri-State has exactly what companies want, and that is the supply of labor. Studies show that the No. 1 criteria in site selection (for) potential companies who have plans for relocation and expansion is the availability of skilled laborers."

In the Ashland area specifically, other assets include the new almost 900-acre East Park industrial park as well as the river port in Wurtland, Purgerson said. Other factors also bode well for the Ashland, such as low utility rates –  American Electric Power provides some of the lowest in the country – interstate highway access and river and rail transportation availability, he added.

Partnerships also assist the communities.

"AEP has been an incredibly giving partner, and we work on the state level with the Kentucky Cabinet as well," he said.

Other local areas also are getting aggressive and making jobs happen.

In Huntington, W.Va., a community that has celebrated job announcements several times in recent years, partnerships are not just important, but key factors in making job creation happen, said Judy Rose, economic development coordinator with the city’s economic development department.

"It was probably back in 1992 that the Huntington Area Development Council was formed when several area community leaders created a non-profit entity that was separate from city government," Mrs. Rose said. "This organization is specifically charged with one responsibility, and that responsibility is bringing new jobs to the area."

Under the right leadership, that community organization has thrived and succeeded, she added. And, as in Kentucky, frequent, persistent involvement with the state development department also has led to more jobs.

With so many people working so diligently together, the results of their work are easily seen by the community.

"Success breeds success," Mrs. Rose said. "The public is involved and kept informed. The positive events are well-marketed, and that matters."

People are a key ingredient to Huntington’s success, too.

"I think our greatest asset is our people and their willingness to work hard, their good work ethic and the fact that they are very trainable," she said. "When you are looking at nationwide labor shortages and unemployment in the 4 percent, you realize that companies are looking for areas that have an educated, available workforce. The companies want different things, and those needs are weighted differently from one company to the next, but each one of those companies needs workers and they aren’t finding them in a lot of areas."

As the Tri-State prepares to work together through the Empowerment Zone and a collective effort to make the entire area thrive once more, there are a few issues to focus on, Purgerson said.

"I believe in regional development and a regional philosophy," Purgerson said. "There are things we con do collectively that will enhance the area and the job situation for everyone. One very important issue we need to focus on in that matter, an issue we can all rally around, is an airport."