The2nd meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Tourism was held on Friday, September 22, 2006, at 9:30 AM CDT, at the RiverPark Center in Owensboro. Representative Eddie Ballard, Co-Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Representative Eddie Ballard, Co-Chair; Senators Julian M Carroll, Julie Denton, Brett Guthrie, Denise Harper Angel, Jerry P Rhoads, Richie Sanders Jr, Jack Westwood, and Ken Winters; Representatives Joe Bowen, James Carr, Larry Clark, Jim DeCesare, Ted "Teddy" Edmonds, Jim Gooch Jr, Mike Harmon, Melvin B Henley, Dennis Horlander, Dennis Keene, Thomas Kerr, Gross C Lindsay, Gerry Lynn, Brad Montell, Fred Nesler, Ruth Ann Palumbo, Ancel Smith, John Will Stacy, Tommy Thompson, and Ron Weston.
Legislative Guests: Senator David Boswell.
Guests: Zev Buffman, Chief Executive Officer and President, RiverPark Center; Tom Watson, Mayor, City of Owensboro; Reid Haire, Daviess County Judge/Executive; Nick Brake, President, Economic Development Corporation; Jody Wassmer, President and Todd Inman, Chairman, Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce; Burley Phelan, Executive Director, Owensboro-Daviess County Tourist Commission; Gary Ransdell, President, Western Kentucky University; and Larry Mayfield, Chairman of the Board, Bluegrass Crossings.
LRC Staff: John Buckner, Committee Staff Administrator; Karen Armstrong-Cummings and Louis Pierce, Legislative Analysts; and Dawn Johnson, Committee Assistant.
Chairman Ballard introduced guests and thanked everyone involved for coordinating the meeting in Owensboro.
Senator Boswell, a legislative guest, welcomed the committee to Owensboro and introduced Mr. Zev Buffman, Chief Executive Officer and President of the RiverPark Center.
Mr. Buffman said it is important to utilize resources a community already has. He said the RiverPark Center, once only used occasionally, has progressed to a center that features world-renowned productions, with each show generating $3 to $4 million in direct and indirect economic impact.
Mr. Buffman said this caliber of productions creates pride in the community. With such a high level of productions, it is also important to create a young adult academy for high school and college students. He said the academy is working with colleges and all classes are now accredited.
Senator Sanders asked what was needed to increase the number of films, television, and commercial productions in Kentucky. Mr. Buffman said he has been working for the past two years with the Commerce Cabinet to increase the effectiveness of the state's film commission to obtain some of the projects lost by Louisiana due to the hurricane.
A motion and second made by Representatives Thompson and Bowen to approve the August 25, 2006, minutes was approved by voice vote.
Next, Mayor Tom Watson welcomed the committee to Owensboro. He explained that approximately $47 million would be invested in downtown Owensboro and the riverfront. He said Owensboro is interested in tax increment financing legislation as part of their development plan. Mayor Watson expressed support for enacting legislation giving communities local taxing options. He said communities nationwide are struggling to maintain revenues and would like to govern themselves to move forward and not be a burden to the state.
Daviess County Judge/Executive Reid Haire thanked the legislature for supporting the second phase of the Owensboro Technical and Community College's Advanced Technology Center. He said the local chamber and the Economic Development Corporation have been focusing on transportation initiatives with the advent of I-69 and I-66 routing through Kentucky. He said they are trying to transform the Audubon and Natcher Parkway into federally sanctioned spurs of I-66 and I-69, thus giving the area a federal transportation route.
Judge Haire said Owensboro is the largest city in Kentucky without a four-year institution. He said the community is below average regionally and nationally on the number of baccalaureate degrees earned. He said Western Kentucky University (WKU) has a satellite facility in the area, therefore any support given to WKU also supports Owensboro. Judge Haire explained that officials are working to increase the number of upper division courses offered at the local facility.
Western Kentucky University President Gary Ransdell said WKU is dedicated to the economic development of the local community. He said WKU and Owensboro need help restoring funding that was vetoed for the Advanced Technology Center to increase the number of baccalaureate degree holdings.
Mr. Nick Brake, President of the Economic Development Corporation, said they are currently working on an initiative to brand the Owensboro community as a "learning community" based on education in school, the workforce, and at home.
Mr. Brake said a new company, Kentucky BioProcessing, had purchased a state-of-the-art bioprocessing facility in the area. He said it will help position the community as a world leader in the emerging industry of plant-made pharmaceuticals. Mr. Brake explained that Kentucky BioProcessing is the only operation worldwide that can take a plant-made pharmaceutical from development to mass quantity production. He said they are in discussion with biotech companies to become specialty shops located around the facility. Mr. Brake said the area will become an economic cluster if combined with the research being done at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center at the University of Louisville. Coupled with the tobacco research facility at the University of Kentucky which develops alternative uses for tobacco, they are bringing together higher education with an agricultural emphasis, and bioprocessing.
Mr. Larry Mayfield, Chairman of the Board of Bluegrass Crossings, explained that Bluegrass Crossings is a regional industrial park with approximately 1,300 acres that currently houses three Japanese automotive firms. He said House Bill 830 provided funding for the park. Mr. Mayfield said regionalization is the key to success. The park is generating $117,000 in revenues which will be split among the five participants that include Evansville, Indiana, Henderson, Kentucky and several surrounding counties.
Mr. Jody Wassmer, President of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, gave a presentation on transportation concerns in Owensboro. Mr. Wassmer said the time is right to upgrade the Audubon and Natcher Parkways to I-66 and I-64 spurs. He explained that the upgrade can be done at substantial cost savings over building new terrain highways.
Mayor Tom Watson presented each of the committee members with honorary Owensboro citizen certificates.
Mr. Todd Inman, Chairman of the Board of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, discussed funding of the Advanced Technology Center and asked that the legislature restore funding for Phase II. He said delays in funding added $1 million to the completion cost.
Mr. Burley Phelan, Executive Director of the Owensboro-Daviess County Tourism Commission, commended the legislature for passing the one percent statewide lodging tax. He said the revenue stream created by the tax can correct the lag Kentucky suffers in tourism marketing, advertising, and promotion. Mr. Phelan explained Owensboro's successful strategy for taking advantage of the matching funds program.
Responding to a question from Representative Weston concerning merged government, Mayor Watson said since the city/county merger became an issue in 1989, he feels some opportunities to move the community forward have been lost. He said efforts were being made to poll the community on their desire for a merger.
Chairman Ballard announced there would be tours of the RiverPark Center, International Bluegrass Museum, and the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra upon adjournment.
There being no further business the committee adjourned at 10:55 a.m. CDT.