FRANKFORT — Seeing an opportunity to enhance economic development in its service area, AEP-Kentucky Power, recently contracted with a consulting firm to help local economic development authorities help themselves (and their communities) in the business recruitment and retention arena.
Since early this year, InSite, the nationally-known consulting firm engaged by the company has been working with representatives of the Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and local business, community, civic and government leaders in Floyd, Johnson, Knott, Lawrence, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin and Pike counties, to develop a cohesive, regional approach to enhancing economic development. That cohesive approach also involves the Big Sandy Area Development District, the Kentucky River Area Development District, and the FiveCo Area Development District, each which plays an important, local economic development role.
One objective of Kentucky Power, InSite and others is to create a successful regional economic development organization by completing a client readiness assessment and gap analysis for each county; establish and execute an economic development model; and create a “blueprint” outlining the region’s economic development strengths, including a comprehensive inventory of available, developmental sites within the region.
“Economic development does not just happen on its own,” said Brad Hall, external affairs manager with Kentucky Power. “It takes a concerted effort of all involved to successfully market an area to those looking to site new business and industry. An area or a region needs to be prepared when companies call with siting proposals. Economic development is a competitive business, if a region does not have a plan to facilitate economic development or prompt answers to the questions that potential enterprises seek, then those companies move on to the areas or regions that do,” Hall said, adding, “and opportunity is lost.”
Hall, a former chamber of commerce executive himself, is charged with leading the economic development initiative for Kentucky Power.
Hall said what InSite and the others are finding is that Eastern Kentucky has much to offer potential businesses. The problem is, those benefits are not organized in a manner that can be quickly identified and presented to potential business developers. The overall goal of the initiative is to develop and institute a regional organizational structure that is active, functional and successful in fostering economic development, increasing jobs and stimulating investments in Eastern Kentucky.
Since the beginning of the year, InSite and Kentucky Power have met in nearly all of the counties involved with the initiative and is working to wrap-up its organizational and assessment meetings. From there, those involved will examine strengths and weaknesses, identify opportunities and develop a framework for regional economic development.
“AEP and Kentucky Power are pleased to sponsor and underwrite this economic development effort in our service area,” said Greg Pauley, president and chief operating officer of Kentucky Power. “We are offering this at no cost to participants because the entire region benefits when companies choose to locate their operations in Eastern Kentucky. It’s obvious from the initial rounds of meetings that Eastern Kentucky has plenty to offer with regard to business recruitment and retention. But, we also have some weaknesses that need to be identified and corrected to be successful in siting more industry here,” he said. “It all begins with a comprehensive plan and approach, and that is what we are trying to accomplish with InSite’s help and local support. Business growth helps our communities, our schools, our tax bases and our future. It’s important that we try all we can to facilitate growth and opportunity and I’m hearing only positive comments on this effort,” he said.
“I believe the support from Kentucky Power to bring InSite into eastern Kentucky will be the catalyst our communities need to embrace the regional cooperation that will be the driving force in our success,” said Jared Arnett, president and CEO of the Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. “The partnerships established and gaps identified throughout this process will be invaluable when establishing the region as a competitive entity in the world of economic development,” he said.
“The communities are genuinely open to and hungry for the regional concept for economic development,” said Tonya Crist, a co-founder and principal of InSite, after reviewing information gathered thus far. “The individuals associated with the economic development efforts are dedicated and willing, but there is no structure in which for them to operate,” she said. Crist said the area has “tremendous” business assets to leverage and there is no reason why the southeastern region of Kentucky should not be on the radar screens for prospective companies.
Among the assets cited by Crist are excellent road infrastructure; available, infrastructure industrial parks; excess capacities for water and sewer; a good hospital network; a good natural gas supply; and a trainable workforce.
“We all understand that this initiative is not going to overhaul our economy overnight,” said Hall. “But we all believe it will have a positive impact in the long run. I’m convinced it will result in landing development opportunities that we might otherwise have missed if we weren’t acting in concert to improve economic development.”
Kentucky Power is an operating unit of American Electric Power and provides electricity to approximately 173,000 customers in all or parts of 20 eastern Kentucky counties.
American Electric Power is one of the largest electric utilities in the United States, delivering electricity to more than 5 million customers in 11 states. AEP ranks among the nation’s largest generators of electricity, owning nearly 38,000 megawatts of generating capacity in the U.S. AEP also owns the nation’s largest electricity transmission system, a nearly 39,000-mile network that includes more 765 kilovolt extra-high voltage transmission lines than all other U.S. transmission systems combined. AEP’s transmission system directly or indirectly serves about 10 percent of the electricity demand in the Eastern Interconnection, the interconnected transmission system that covers 38 eastern and central U.S. states and eastern Canada, and approximately 11 percent of the electricity demand in ERCOT, the transmission system that covers much of Texas. AEP’s utility units operate as AEP Ohio, AEP Texas, Appalachian Power (in Virginia and West Virginia), AEP Appalachian Power (in Tennessee), Indiana Michigan Power, Kentucky Power, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, and Southwestern Electric Power Company (in Arkansas, Louisiana and east Texas). AEP’s headquarters are in Columbus, Ohio.