You're home in Owensboro

Call it a marketing ploy. Call it a boomerang campaign. Call it whatever you want.

This isn’t about putting up a good front. This isn’t about grassroots versus astroturf. In fact, we’ll be quite upfront with you about our agenda.

You see, Owensboro, Kentucky’s about more than just barbecue, bluegrass, and a bridge. It’s a place to call home, even from across the ocean (or at least the Ohio). And if you never realized this before, then you’ve certainly tumbled onto the right page.

After all, that’s what this page is about: bringing a bit of home, a bit of Owensboro, directly to you, regardless of which zip code you’re in now.

Basically, the plan here is to present you an authentic, though likely at least somewhat still biased, picture of what’s going on here at home. So get ready.

This is about community, and this is about home.

You’re home in Owensboro.

(Project of GO-EDC)
Posts tagged "Economic Development"

This past weekend, Owensboro citizens witnessed a once in a generation event with the opening of the new 169,000 sf Owensboro Convention Center and the 150-Room Hampton Inn & Suites. This was truly a milestone for our downtown and our entire community, so we thought it would be nice to share a few photographs of the weekend’s festivities. Enjoy!

On October 9th, Downtown Owensboro reached an important milestone in its revitalization. With the announcement of a $10 million, 5-story mixed-use building project by Riverfront Jam, LLC at Veterans & Frederica Streets, total private investment in Downtown has exceeded $100 million (since the Master Plan was adopted in 2009). Read more about that project here and here

The rendering above was produced as a component of the illustrative Master Plan in 2009. As you can see, City and County leaders envisioned Veterans Boulevard as true pedestrian corridor, with Smothers Park generating activity on the north side and mixed-use facilities offering housing, office, retail and food service on the south side. This project represents the first infill project on Veterans Boulevard that will provide natural pedestrian connectivity from the Hampton Inn and Convention Center on the west end and the RiverPark Center to the east. 

$100 million in just over five years! That’s a record this community can be proud of and proof that the public sector’s investment in Downtown is paying huge dividends for the citizens of Owensboro.

Congratulations and thank you to Riverfront Jam for their continued investment in Owensboro! 

In 2011, Owensboro was fortunate to encounter the expertise of Keith Schneider, a longtime reporter for the New York Times, who conducted a study entitled What’s Done, What’s Next: A Civic Pact. This comprehensive analysis of our community’s progress (and continual opportunities) provided a thorough blueprint by which Owensboro can measure success in the coming years.

More recently—on his website Modeshift—Mr. Schneider chronicled Owensboro’s progress since his visit in 2011. Check it out below! 

OWENSBORO, KY — Senator Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky native and Senate Republican leader, took his place several years ago at the head of his party’s pack of ideologues who countenanced disinvestment, lower taxes, and less spending on public projects with public purposes. But here in Owensboro, a small city perched on a high bluff on a big bend of the Ohio River, the senator’s name graces a year-old riverwalk and plaza in Smothers Park, the centerpiece of the city’s $225 million downtown redevelopment. The magnificent park, designed by EDSA, was constructed with the help of $40 million in federal funds secured by Sen. McConnell.

That little piece of political irony describes much of the governing and policymaking that is transforming Owensboro into one of the urban jewels of the Ohio River Valley. Owensboro, a city of nearly 60,000 residents, is 753 miles downstream from Pittsburgh, where the 981-mile Ohio River starts. As such, Owensboro lies near the southern terminus of an industrial region that sustained massive economic transformation over the last half century, and now is rebuilding and reinventing a new economic era for the U.S., and doing so at a furious pace.

Much of that is due to the capacity of local government leaders to update their operating systems to not only keep pace with the velocity of changebut also to be skillful enough to measure what market opportunities fit and to seize them. In Owensboro, the emerging result is an uncommon American community. This is a city and a metropolitan region of 150,000 where pride in place, and optimism about the future is authentic.

But it’s also a city and a region that is deeply conflicted about its priorities. Voters here now consistently send the most ardent anti-government, anti-tax lawmakers to Washington.

That, of course, is not the formula that produced the economic renewal now emerging in Owensboro. The scenario of aspiration that is coming out of the ground along Owensboro’s riverfront reflects what is possible when sound judgment joins with adequate public investment. You can read my 2011 study of OwensboroWhat’s Done, What’s Next, here.

Owensboro in 2009 chose to reckon with the era of stalemate and stagnation that is scarring the United States. City and county leaders approved an $80 million local tax increase to finance the redesign and reconstruction of Owensboro’s riverfront district. That decision is producing $225 million in public and private investment along a 1.4 mile stretch of riverfront and the city’s downtown that had been mouldering for 30 years.

Today that same stretch is adorned with cascading fountains that, at night, lift streams of watery gold that attract hundreds of people downtown. Smothers Park, which joins the city to the Ohio River, is already among the most beautiful civic spaces in the country. More is coming.

A new convention center and hotel, both scheduled to open in January, rise on the park’s western flank. On the south are restored Victorian-era walkups, a new office building, new restaurants, housing, and storefront businesses. Job growth connected to these new civic assets has been strong. Just as importantly, citizens here are developing a fresh sense of pride about Owensboro.

These and other promising trends are the reasons the National Civic League in June named Owensboro an All America City. It’s been 61 years since Owensboro last earned that distinction.

A lot of people are responsible for Owensboro’s progress, though none can lay claim to a greater share than Ron Payne, the city’s Republican mayor, who was elected in 2008.

Unlike decisions made in Washington and in most state capitals, the Owensboro and Daviess County leadership reached compromises on investments. The singular decision to enact a modest raise in a local tax represented a choice between the grim consequences of austerity and the commanding logic of investment, entrepreneurism, and imagination. From 2005, when federal funds were secured for a new $40 million Ohio River retaining wall and park, to 2011, when the city commission approved the $47 million convention center, Owensboro and Daviess County seemed to tilt in favor of the latter.

But the results of national elections indicate that Owensboro and Daviess County have not reached a consensus about how to win the future. In 2010, by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent, Daviess County voters helped elect Senator Rand Paul, a Tea Party-sponsored critic of taxes and government spending. And the weight of the Daviess County Fiscal Court shifted to fiscal conservatives.

Since the early 1950s, Owensboro’s views of the appropriate role of the public sector in encouraging private sector development have swayed back and forth. For instance, in the first years of the 1950s, in tremendously far-sighted acquisitions designed to advance the economy and quality of life, Owensboro’s leadership recruited Brescia University and Kentucky Wesleyan College to the city. Then Owensboro relaxed in its work to develop a more robust higher education sector until the mid-1980s, when the area’s community college was founded.

In the late 1980s, local governments and the state spent $100 million to land a Scott Paper company plant in Owensboro that came with just 350 jobs, and in the early 1990s Owensboro built the RiverPark Center as an anchor for a new downtown arts and entertainment sector. But it wasn’t until a series of strategic planning efforts from 2006 to 2008 by the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation, the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro, and the Owensboro city government that the region decided to blaze a fresh path to civic renewal, one that emphasized downtown redevelopment.

Owensboro has always regarded itself as a kind of Heartland island difficult to reach, distinctive in its habits, and parochial in its choices. That may explain why in the first decade of the century the city and county resisted the corrosive effects of retrenchment. Whatever the reason, it’s paying off.

– Keith Schneider

Owensboro’s latest downtown hotel project broke ground this morning at its future site on the west side of the Owensboro Convention/Events Center. The $14 million, 130-room hotel, developed by LinGate Hospitality and Riverfront Jam, LLC, will create approximately 50 jobs. This project, along with the soon to be completed waterfront Hampton Inn & Suites, will greatly enhance Owensboro’s ability to attract new conventions, meetings, and shows, in addition to accommodating new tourism.  Construction should be completed in the fall of next year. 

Congratulations to the City of Owensboro, the Daviess County Fiscal Court  and the project developers on yet another successful public-private partnership for Downtown Owensboro!

Once again, Owensboro has gained national recognition by Forbes—this time for business and career development. The renowned business publication explored a wide range of areas in determining Owensboro’s ranking (#62 of 184 U.S. metros), including: 

  • Metro Population: 116,100
  • Major Industries: Health care, Financial services
  • Gross Metro Product: $5.0 Billion
  • Median Household Income:$43,622
  • Median Home Price: $93,600
  • Unemployment: 6.8%
  • Job Growth (2012): 3.2%
  • Cost of Living: 14.8% below the national avg
  • College Attainment: 16.1%
  • Net Migration (2012): 230

Owensboro is proving time and time again that we are on the move! For more information on this year’s list and Owensboro’s ranking, please click here

Happy Friday, friends! We’ve been a bit quiet lately and for good reason—tons of things are happening in Owensboro! But, that’s no excuse for our  tumblr to be as quiet as it has been, so we hope you will forgive our little sabbatical. As much as we love bragging about all of the wonderful things happening in Owensboro, we also enjoy searching for interesting stories from other cities. The story below is an inspiring one, and we hope we can be as successful as our friends in Cleveland have been in the coming years. Enjoy!

From Atlantic Cities

When the Maron family decided to redevelop an entire city block in downtown Cleveland, the area was so blighted no restaurateur would lease space there. A decade later, the East Fourth neighborhood is home to Food Network personalities, a House of Blues, and free Saturday yoga classes. Café-style seating spills into the pedestrian-only street. Apartments on the block are fully leased, and a 100-unit building under construction across the street has already reached full capacity.

The success of East Fourth Street in once-struggling Cleveland was something few people would have anticipated 20 years ago. It took years of collaboration between developers, businesses, local institutions, and government, but today downtown Cleveland is taking off—and giving the old Rust Belt city a future. There wasn’t a market for urban living in Cleveland until developers like the Marons built places where young professionals would want to be.

"Employers are looking for fresh, vibrant urban environments," says Chris Warren, the city’s chief of regional development. "Cleveland needs to compete." Until recently, Cleveland was on the sidelines. The city’s population has dropped by one-third since 1950. Although Cleveland includes two neighborhoods that are among Ohio’s top five employment centers, tax revenues from incomes go primarily to the suburbs where most employees live. As recently as 2011, about one-third of city residents lived in poverty.

When Ari Maron graduated from Rice University in 2000, he came home to Cleveland to find that most of his childhood friends had moved to New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. “None of them lived in neighborhoods like we grew up in,” Maron says. He realized that if Cleveland were to retain—let alone attract—young professionals, the city’s downtown would have to offer more than just office space.

Maron joined his dad’s contracting and development company, MRN Ltd., which had just turned a building on East Fourth Street into apartments and started to renovate a hotel in the same neighborhood. At the time, these were considered risky projects. East Fourth Street was a center for prostitution and drug dealing—not exactly a robust housing market. But the street was also close to public transit, the Cleveland Indians’ new ballpark, and the historic theater district. Maron decided to aim even higher: to turn East Fourth into an entertainment district.

Developers were reluctant to invest in urban residential and mixed-use projects in an unproven market. An urban development in a distressed area is a significantly more complicated, expensive, and time-consuming endeavor than planting a subdivision in open space. “It took us eight years just to buy all the property, and we got no returns for that period of time,” Maron says. It helped that MRN wasn’t beholden to preconceptions about how to make money in real estate. Its leadership consisted of Maron, a trained violinist; his dad, a contractor; and his brother, an accountant.

Urban projects also require a lot of cooperation with city hall, to make sure they are integrated with existing infrastructure and comply with city laws. The 16 buildings on East Fourth had 250 owners crowded onto their land-leases. MRN managed to acquire 80 percent of the property, but to free up abandoned or extremely neglected buildings, the city had to exercise eminent domain. Realizing Maron’s vision required working with the city to waive parking-ratio requirements and to make sure fire trucks could still access a street closed to vehicular traffic.

Financing the project was even more complicated. “What we call ‘baklava financing’ has been the way we’ve approached urban projects,” Maron says, referring to the Mediterranean layered pastry. Federal and state historic tax credits provided a layer of funding for every apartment building, restaurant, or entertainment venue. Cleveland Development Advisers, a subsidiary of the regional chamber of commerce, provided loans and New Markets tax credits. 

MRN was forced to get creative. Restaurateurs were wary of taking a chance on a largely abandoned area, so MRN opened its own Mexican restaurant, Irish pub, and bowling alley. “We’re in the hotel business, and the restaurant business—things that, at the time, we were forced to do because it was the only way for us to prove that there was a market for this kind of product,” Maron says.

But each project got easier to finance. The 224 apartments filled up almost as fast as MRN could build them. Crowds gathered at East Fourth’s entertainment venues, attracting new businesses and new investment. Today, tenants include Chef Jonathon Sawyer, whose Greenhouse Tavern was named one of the 10 best new restaurants in America by Bon Appetit. Rents on East Fourth have gone up 60 percent in the last decade, Maron says, and restaurant retail sales are double what MRN first expected. “As the market continues to grow, there’s less and less need for the baklava financing,” Maron says.

"Back in the ’70s and ’80s when we were trying to save our cities, they were constantly coming out with silver bullets," says Christopher B. Leinberger, a real-estate developer-turned-research-professor at the George Washington University School of Business. But attracting a flashy new stadium or new convention center is only one piece of the puzzle. Those projects—both of which Cleveland has pursued—didn’t do for shrinking cities in the 1970s and 80s, when professionals were fleeing to the suburbs en masse. East Fourth Street was the right project at the right time.

Nationwide, demand for walkable, urban living is on the rise—in a way that it wasn’t in past decades, when high urban crime rates kept professionals in the suburbs. Leinberger believes demand will continue to rise as millennials and Gen-Yers focus on paying off student loans rather buying cars and houses, and baby boomers downsize to apartments. In Cleveland, there’s now a broad consensus that mixed-use, urban neighborhoods will give the city a future, says Edward Hill, dean of the college of urban affairs at Cleveland State University. As an economist, Hill is usually wary of the interference of public money in private markets, but in this case he thinks social-sector investment is justified. “The city really is positioned to realize the gains. If they don’t invest themselves, they’re going to die,” he says.

Cleveland’s urban revival has required leadership at every level. Business owners voluntarily raised their taxes to fund special improvement districts. Cleveland State University built space for nearly 1,200 additional dorm beds downtown. A Transportation Department grant helped fund a bus rapid-transit line between the business district and the university, hospital, and arts district. City hall modified building codes to encourage historic preservation and created new walkable neighborhood zoning.

There’s little political opposition, in large part because gentrification isn’t an issue. “No one’s being displaced,” Hill says. Downtown, in University Circle, and along the lakefront, new developments are replacing vacant office space, empty warehouses, and parking lots.

Today, nearly 12,000 people live in the two square miles that make up downtown Cleveland—the largest number in 60 years—and residential occupancy rates are over 95 percent. In 2011, MRN developed new office space for Rosetta, an area marketing agency that relocated downtown. Cleveland has been able to persuade major employers like Amtrust Financial Services and Ernst & Young to expand their downtown operations. They were sold, Warren says, on Cleveland’s ability to attract talented professionals.


Just last week, we learned that Owensboro was ranked as the #6 small metro in the United States for job growth in 2013 (up from #21 in 2012). And today, we celebrate another great accolade:  According to Garner Economics, there were only 11 markets in the South that have seen wage growth in each of the past 24 months. Southern Business & Development used this metric to rank the top ten economic development markets in the South—and Owensboro made the list, joining metros like Winston-Salem, NC; Brownsville, TX; Jefferson, MS and many more. The article cites Owensboro as one of two Kentucky markets that have seen double-digit wage growth and rising wages each of the last 24 months. To read the entire breakdown, please click here

Also, thank you to Adam Paris of AP Imagery for taking the awesome photograph of the new park! 


This morning, the City of Owensboro joined developers Tim Turner and Mike Baker in announcing a new restaurant concept that will be constructed adjacent to the Riverfront Crossing in the spring of this year. The City of Owensboro and Turner-Baker LLC reached a preliminary agreement in December 2012 that involved the transfer of the parcel to the developer to construct the two-story,  4,120 square foot building. The project will involve an investment of $900,000 and will include two residential units.

Mayor Ron Payne commented, “The vision the Owensboro’s citizens had for their downtown revitalization very much continues to become a reality because of businesses like Fetta Specialty Pizza & Spirits.  We are proud to welcome the new owners to the ranks of our fine downtown business culture.”

 “We are very excited and humbled that the City of Owensboro has chosen Fetta Specialty Pizza & Sprits to be a part of the revitalization of Downtown Owensboro. This business model will be unique to Owensboro—our mission is not to be a new restaurant but rather a community destination for both citizens and visitors alike. Our proposed mixed-use building at Riverfront Crossing will include ample outdoor seating and residential spaces for downtown living. Our team is comprised of local individuals who have a passion for a producing a quality product and a hospitable environment,” said project developer Tim Turner. 

Fetta Specialty Pizza & Spirits is the latest private project announced for Downtown Owensboro since the adoption of the Gateway Master Plan in 2009, which has resulted in over $90 million in private investment.

Governor Steve Beshear and Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne announced today that U.S. Bank National Association, a subsidiary of U.S. Bancorp (NYSE: USB), plans to expand operations in Owensboro, add 332 jobs and invest more than $15.2 million in the project. 
The project is a phase III expansion of the Home Mortgage servicing division in Owensboro with an addition to the campus in the Mid America Airpark.
U.S. Bank National Association originates loans nationwide through a network of more than 2,700 branches in 24 states. The U.S. Bank Mortgage Servicing Center, located on Tamarack Road in Owensboro, supports U.S. Bank’s national portfolio of 1.63 million loans totalling approximately $266 billion. The expansion in Owensboro will meet increased demand for U.S. Bank’s mortgage services.
This is the third US Bank expansion in Owensboro since 2009, the 500-job expansion in 2010 exceeded expectations and job targets.
“Simply put, this is a victory, not only for the Commonwealth, but for Owensboro and for U.S. Bank,” said Gov. Beshear. “U.S. Bank plans to add 332 employees and invest more than $15.2 million in this expansion, proving how successful this area has been for such a respected institution, and showing U.S. Bank’s commitment to a promising future here in Kentucky.”
U.S. Bank National Association originates loans nationwide through a network of more than 2,700 branches in 24 states. The U.S. Bank Mortgage Servicing Center, located on Tamarack Road in Owensboro, supports U.S. Bank’s national portfolio of 1.63 million loans totalling approximately $266 billion. The expansion in Owensboro will meet increased demand for U.S. Bank’s mortgage services.
“As we announced the 500 job expansion in 2010, we anticipated having capacity through 2014. What we did not expect was the rapid growth of our mortgage company in 2012, along with expanded requirements and regulations,” said U.S. Bank Home Mortgage Executive Vice President Robert Smiley. “In partnership with the state and city, we are pleased to once again bring additional jobs to Owensboro, expecting about 330 over the next 24-36 months.”
“The economic partnership the city of Owensboro has found in U.S. Bank has been a great success,” said Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne. “This third expansion will create approximately 332 more jobs within the city. Owensboro is proud to support this employer as they continue to thrive.”
To encourage the investment and job growth in Owensboro, the City of Owensboro Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority (KEDFA) preliminarily approved the company for tax incentives up to $2,875,000 through the Kentucky Business Investment program. The performance-based incentive allows a company to keep a portion of its investment over the term of the agreement through corporate income tax credits and wage assessments by meeting job and investment targets. 

“I am thrilled with the expansion of U.S. National Bank in the area,” said Sen. Joe Bowen, of Owensboro. “Owensboro is making its mark with many industries, and I welcome the growth of our financial services.”
“Daviess County Fiscal Court is pleased to see the expansion of U.S. Bank at its Mid America Air Park location,” said Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly. “The 330 new jobs will provide employment for the Owensboro-Daviess County community, and the expansion is an encouraging sign of continued economic recovery.”

This is an awesome video about the future of cities and city-building presented by the Project for Public Spaces. It is definitely worth a few minutes of your time! Enjoy! 

Excerpted from Urban Land.

By Richard Florida

Why do people—especially talented Creative Class people, who have lots of choices—opt to locate in certain places? What draws them to some places and not to others? Economists and social scientists have paid a great deal of attention to the location decisions of companies, but they have virtually ignored how people, especially creative people, make the same choices.

This question first began to vex me more than a decade ago. In search of answers, I began by simply asking people how they made their decisions about where to live and work. I started with my students and colleagues and then turned to friends and associates in other cities. Eventually, I began to ask virtually everyone I met. Ultimately, in the mid-2000s, I put the question at the heart of a major survey I conducted along with the Gallup Organization. The same answers came back time and again.

Place itself, I began to realize, was the key factor. So much so, that I coined a term—quality of place—to sum it up. I use the term in contrast with the more traditional concept of quality of life to cover the unique set of characteristics that define a place and make it attractive. Over time, my colleagues and I have come to refer to these characteristics as Territorial Assets, the fourth T of economic development after Technology, Talent, and Tolerance (what I have elsewhere called the 3Ts of Economic Growth).

Generally, one can think of quality of place as cutting across three key dimensions:

  • What’s there: the combination of the built environment and the natural environment; a stimulating, appealing setting for the pursuit of creative lives.
  • Who’s there: diverse people of all ethnicities, nationalities, religions, and sexual orientations, interacting and providing clear cues that this is a community where anyone can fit in and make a life.
  • What’s going on: the vibrancy of the street life, café culture, arts, and music; the visible presence of people engaging in outdoor activities—altogether a lot of active, exciting, creative goings-ons.

What’s going on: the vibrancy of the street life, café culture, arts, and music; the visible presence of people engaging in outdoor activities—altogether a lot of active, exciting, creative goings-ons.

Quality of place can be summed up as an interrelated set of experiences. Many, like those provided by the street-level scene, are dynamic and participatory. You can do more than be a spectator; you can become a part of the scene. But while the street buzz is there to be found if you want it, you can also retreat to your home or some other quiet place, chill out in an urban park, or even set out for the country.

Creative-minded people enjoy a mix of influences. They want to hear different kinds of music and try different kinds of food. They want to meet and socialize with people unlike themselves, to trade views and spar over issues. A person’s circle of closest friends might not resemble the Rainbow Coalition—in fact, it usually doesn’t—but creatives want the rainbow to be available.

Authenticity—as in real buildings, real people, real history—is key. A place that’s full of chain stores, chain restaurants, and chain nightclubs is seen as inauthentic. Not only do those venues look pretty much the same everywhere, but they also offer the same experiences you could have anywhere.

Many members of the Creative Class want to have a hand in shaping their communities’ quality of place. Years ago, I attended a meeting of a downtown revitalization group in Providence, Rhode Island. One participant remarked, “My friends and I came to Providence because it already has the authenticity that we like—its established neighborhoods, historic architecture, and ethnic mix.” He went on to implore the group’s leaders to make those qualities the basis of their revitalization efforts and to do so in ways that actively harnessed his and his peers’ energy. Or as he aptly put it, “We want a place that’s not done.”

Quality of place does not occur automatically; it is an ongoing, dynamic process that engages a number of disparate aspects of a community. Like most good things, it is not altogether good: what looks like neighborhood revitalization from one perspective is gentrification from another. Rising housing values often go hand-in-hand with the displacement of long-term residents, a serious problem that demands a serious response.

Interestingly, a counterintuitive trend in current research suggests that gentrification is less disruptive of some neighborhoods than it has been given credit for. According to a study by Columbia University’s Lance Freeman intended for publication next year by the Journal of the American Planning Association, even when controlling for factors like age, race, and overcrowding, gentrifying neighborhoods retain poor households at a higher rate than do nongentrifying ones. Obviously, his study will be tested and challenged; but even if its statistical findings hold up, it bears remembering that gentrification imposes other tolls on long-term residents, even if they are able to remain in their homes.

Two often-overlooked factors that go into quality of place are the thickness of the mating market (only 48 percent of U.S. households include a married couple today) and, seemingly paradoxically, quasi-anonymity. Most people don’t want to live in tightly knit communities, with neighbors figuratively peering over back fences into their lives. Life in modern communities revolves around a set of looser ties that allows us to admit a greater variety of people and information into our lives.

An attractive place doesn’t have to be a big city, but it does have to be cosmopolitan—seething with the interplay of culture and ideas, where outsiders can quickly become insiders and anyone can find a peer group to be comfortable with and groups to be stimulated by. In her book Cosmopolitan Culture, Bonnie Menes Kahn says a great city has two hallmarks: tolerance for strangers and intolerance for mediocrity. These are precisely the qualities that appeal to members of the Creative Class—and they also happen to be qualities conducive to innovation, risk taking, and the formation of new businesses.

Some critics claim that jobs are the only amenities that truly matter. I point them to the Knight Soul of the Community study, which is an expanded version of the survey I began with Gallup years ago. “After interviewing close to 43,000 people in 26 communities over three years,” the Knight Foundation and Gallup concluded in 2011, “the study has found that three main qualities attach people to place: social offerings, such as entertainment venues and places to meet; openness (how welcoming a place is); and the area’s aesthetics (its physical beauty and green spaces).”

Some of my critics argue that my focus on quality of place, especially in regard to artistic scenes and diversity, is a trendy pose. Pointing to sprawling tech enclaves like the suburbs of northern Virginia, Silicon Valley, or the outer rings of Seattle, they make the point that the people who work in high-tech industries actually prefer traditional suburban lifestyles. My response is simple: all of those places are located within major metropolitan areas that are among the most diverse in the country. As colorless and bland as those suburbs might appear to some, they are constituent parts of a broader milieu. Silicon Valley, for example, can’t be understood without reference to the 1960s counterculture of the wider San Francisco Bay area—Esalen, the Grateful Dead, the Summer of Love, the Black Panthers, Harvey Milk, the Castro, and all. Had Silicon Valley not been receptive to offbeat longhairs like the young Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, it could not have become what it is today.

What people want is not an either/or proposition. Successful places do not provide just one thing; they provide a range of quality-of-place options for different kinds of people at different stages in their lives. Great cities and metro areas are not monoliths. As Jane Jacobs said long ago, they are federations of neighborhoods.

Think about New York City and its environs. When they first move to New York, young people cluster in relatively funky places like the East Village, South Slope, Williamsburg, or Hoboken, where there are lots of other young people, the rent is more affordable, and roommate situations can be found. When they earn a little more, they move to the Upper West Side or maybe Fort Greene or Jackson Heights; earn a little more, and they can trade up to the West Village or the Upper East Side. Once marriage and children come along, some stay in the city while others relocate to bedroom communities in places like Westchester County, Connecticut, or the New Jersey suburbs. Later, when the kids are gone, some of these people buy a co-op overlooking Central Park or a duplex on the Upper East Side. Members of the Creative Class come in all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, and lifestyles. To be truly successful, cities and regions must offer something for all of them.

Quality of place defines the very soul of a successful community; the factors that go into it—aesthetic, cultural, demographic—add up to the things that everyone wants in their communities. This is not to say that jobs, schools, and safety do not also matter. Of course they do. But those who frame the issue as an either/or proposition—jobs or scenes, quality of life or basic services—are offering a false choice. In my book Who’s Your City?, I likened what we want in our communities to psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Just as we want more from our lives than the mere basics of bodily subsistence, we also want more from our communities.

Quality of place is not a frill; it is a necessity.

At 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, community officials and top executives from Boardwalk Pipeline partners will break ground on the company’s new downtown location! This new office building will be located at approximately 600 West Second Street (the former site of Don Moore Chevrolet). Boardwalk Pipeline Partners (formerly known as Texas Gas Transmission) has been a corporate citizen in Owensboro for over 50 years, and we are honored that they have chosen Downtown Owensboro as the home for their new local offices!

This project kicks off a $44 million downtown investment project, which will also include a 130-Room Holiday Inn, retail, and riverfront condominiums. All are welcome to join our community leaders as they celebrate the beginning of this great project and this new beginning for Downtown Owensboro!

This year marks the 10th Anniversary of the groundbreaking book, The Rise of the Creative Class by social theorist Richard Florida—be sure to check out the interview with Dr. Florida above. It is impossible to overstate the impact of this work on economic development in the United States, and Owensboro in particular.

So, what is he talking about when he refers to a “creative class”? Florida says that the creative class is a class of workers whose job is to create meaningful new forms. It is composed of scientists and engineers, university professors, poets and architects, and also includes “people in design, education, arts, music and entertainment, whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology and/or creative content.” The designs of this group are seen as broadly transferable and useful. Another sector of the Creative Class includes positions that are knowledge intensive; these usually require a high degree of formal education. Examples of workers in this sector are health professionals and business managers, who are considered part of the sub-group called Creative Professionals. Their primary job is to think and create new approaches to problems. Creativity is becoming more valued in today’s global society. Employers see creativity as a channel for self-expression and job satisfaction in their employees. About 38.3 million Americans and 30 percent of the American workforce identify themselves with the Creative Class. This number has increased by more than 10 percent in the past 20 years.

How in the world does this relate to the work being done in our midwestern metro of 60,000 on the Ohio River? Several years ago, leaders in Owensboro decided that the traditional strategy for economic development—based on attracting capital investment in production of goods and lowering the cost of doing business—was no longer enough to ensure economic growth. In order to grow this community and allow it to prosper in the 21st Century economy, Owensboro decided to focus upon education and quality of place.

In addition to employing an innovative approach to entrepreneurial development that has been recognized around the United States for its success, Owensboro has begun to develop place-based assets (e.g. the Downtown Area) to make our community more attractive to talented people, as well as retain those talented citizens already living here.

Recent economic data indicates this strategy is working, and it is a very exciting time to live in Owensboro! Who knows? Maybe someday Richard Florida will write a chapter about us!

Area Development has ranked 365 MSAs across 23 economic and workforce growth indicators. Here is what they had to say about Owensboro:

Owensboro placed 4th on Area Development’s Top 20 Southern Cities, with a 9th place ranking for its “Recession Busting” factors among the Top 25 Small Cities. Its three-year employment growth as a percentage of population was 23rd-best among all of the 100 Leading Locations.

Helping Owensboro prosper is a diversified economy, as evidenced by announcements from both the tobacco and financial sectors: Pinkerton Tobacco and U.S. Bank are investing in the MSA. Other major employers (in addition to the local health system) include a Unilever Foods pasta sauce plant, a Specialty Foods Group meat-processing plant, and transportation manufacturers Toyotetsu MidAmerica and Metalsa. Four institutions of higher education serve the area, and even as the nation trudged through recession, the community’s eMerging Ventures Center for Innovation was nurturing two dozen startups, winning $50 million in investments, and creating 70 jobs with pay averaging nearly $100,000.

The New York Times last year spotlighted Owenboro’s downtown revitalization; New Geography placed it 22nd among its “Best Small Cities for Job Growth in 2012,” and Bloomberg BusinessWeek called it the “state’s best place to raise kids.”

With the goal of showcasing Kentucky’s growing biotechnology industry on a global stage, Owensboro economic development officials and Judge Executive Al Mattingly joined Governor Steve Beshear at the 20th annual BIO (Biotechnology Industry Organization) International Convention in Boston.

As the largest global event for the biotechnology industry, the annual convention attracts the biggest names in biotech, offers networking and business opportunities for Kentucky companies and research institutions, and provides insights on the trends impacting the industry.

“The Commonwealth is known worldwide for our robust bourbon industry, famous horse farms and championship basketball teams, but we’re also making great strides in emerging innovative and high-tech fields,” Gov. Beshear said. “Kentucky is home to some of the world’s foremost scientists and researchers, and the annual BIO convention allows us the opportunity to showcase our technologies and the advantages Kentucky offers to the industry.”

"Owensboro played a prominent role in the Kentucky Pavilion at the conference," said Daviess County Judge Executive Al Mattingly. "We have invested in infrastructure, including the Centre for Business and Research and our working on a strategy to grow plant biotech and food companies in our region."

As a result of Kentucky’s efforts to attract and cultivate homegrown innovative and high-tech companies, the Commonwealth now boasts more than 1,800 bioscience and life science companies with more than 100,000 people working in advanced research and development fields such as nutrigenomics and therapeutics to treat cancer, including those development in conjunction with Kentucky BioProcessing in Owensboro.

Kentucky supports innovators and high-tech entrepreneurs with the nation’s only comprehensive matching funds program for federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants.

“Kentucky is advancing every year in the areas of innovation and biotechnology,” said Gov. Beshear. “At BIO, we’ll send a strong message to the world that Kentucky is helping innovative companies move forward, making our world better for all of us with improved healthcare, more productive agriculture and a safer, cleaner environment.”

The convention attracts nearly 2,000 exhibitors and up to 20,000 attendees representing 1,100 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations from the United States and more than 60 other countries. Members are involved in the research and development of innovative healthcare, agricultural, industrial and environmental biotechnology products.