Tom Martin Q&A: Jessamine Chamber CEO talks growth, I-75 connector and embracing 'bedroom community' label

Contributing columnistJuly 14, 2014 Updated 17 hours ago

The most recent census found that Nicholasville was the fifth-fastest-growing city in Kentucky, and Jessamine County was the 10th-fastest-growing county, measured by population. What does this growth look like and mean to residents and businesses of Nicholasville, the county and region?

Discussing it with Tom Martin is Amy Cloud, CEO of the Jessamine Chamber of Commerce. In this role, Amy is on the forefront of many issues raised by the expansion Jessamine is seeing on many levels.

Tom Martin: Let's begin with growth. Where and how is it occurring?

Amy Cloud: Growth is happening with households. We are a bedroom community to Lexington; that's something that I believe our community is learning to embrace instead of that being a bad thing to say. We do have some growth in larger industry, but about 72 percent of our businesses are 10 employees or less, so our growth in business is definitely small business mom-and-pop shops and entrepreneurs.

Martin: You said you're beginning to embrace being a bedroom community. What does that mean?

Cloud: I believe that in the past, it's been seen as a negative; that a bedroom community was something bad because all you had were more people and not the industry or not the conveniences of a large city like Lexington. Jessamine County has proven that completely wrong. We have everything you need, we just have the benefit of having a metropolitan area like Lexington just down the road. So if you want to do something that we can't find in Jessamine County such as the Opera House or Rupp Arena or some large scale event that Jessamine County just doesn't put on, it's right there. And, you don't have to put up with one way street traffic every day like you would if you were living in a metropolitan area like Lexington.

Martin: Growth implies subdivisions, which gobble up a lot of green space.

Cloud: It gobbles up green space. It's been interesting over the last 10 years that our amount of green space or farmland has not changed in Jessamine County, but we are the fifth-fastest-growing city in the state. So you wonder where all that happens. Empty houses are now being filled, empty lots are being sold but our farmland is still the same percentage as it was in 2000.

Martin: In the past decade, there have been attempts made to bring about a more cohesive region in Central Kentucky, to foster more cooperation and collaboration among the counties. How is that going from your perspective?

Cloud: Great. I think the county lines are important when you talk about tax revenues. Lexington is the hub, and the counties that surround it form a large group called Leadership Central Kentucky. Those chamber directors meet periodically just to discuss what they have going on. We're very supportive of what's going on in the counties that touch Jessamine County even to the south: Garrard, Lincoln, Boyle, Mercer, Anderson.

Martin: Where are you seeing cooperation among counties?

Cloud: We are constantly receiving information from regional communities on events and activities that they're having that we help promote, and they do the same for us. We do regional networking events and we'll have people from all five or six counties around us come. It seems to be working. You know, progress is slow, but infrastructure helps. There's a four lane now to get to Danville out of Nicholasville going south, and improved infrastructure as you move north into Lexington. There is the proposed I-75 connector that — if I had my way — is coming to our community. So, it's not just people skills and marketing skills, it's also stuff like roads. I mean, if you build it they will come, so I'm looking forward to that part of our future.

Martin: About the I-75 connector; we here in Kentucky are certainly no stranger to the collisions that often occur between the environment and economic growth. ... Each view has its powerful argument for or against this infrastructure. You sit on the project's advisory committee and of course, you're looking at it from the perspective of business and economic development. I'm sure though that as a resident you must be concerned about the impact on green space and on quality of life. How do you balance those things?

Cloud: Whenever you're taking grass and dirt and replacing it with concrete, there's an issue. Granted, Kentucky is not anything like New York City, but you still want to make sure that you don't become that way where you lose the beauty of Central Kentucky because you put in too many roads. I love progress. I'm all about business prosperity. To me the I-75 Connector is a no-brainer because we are so fast-growing, we do not have interstate access. I can't imagine what will happen when we do. Granted there's always a downside. We just need to make sure that our planning and zoning is in the process of working out issues now, so when it's completed those rules will be in place where residents of our community can rest assured that it's green space on either side. It's a two-lane road with a bridge going over the river and a bridge going over Tates Creek and on either side is green space and it's protected and it's not going to have the easy ramp access.

It's beautiful over there. The Palisades are protected. I think that's the responsibility local government needs to have moving forward, along with the transportation department — saying this is what we need to do for growth and we listen to you and we understand. They've been very meticulous. It's been a study that's been in process for years, and there are years left to go. And I have faith that once it's done and people understand it was for the good of the community, for the growth of business, but also it didn't hurt our environment like people believe it may.

We're not putting in an autobahn. You know we're not putting in a six-lane, it's not 18 lanes of traffic like downtown Atlanta. It's just a two-lane road, and we need to protect both sides of it as well. I'm a dreamer maybe, but I think it can be done.

Martin: Jessamine is a county that still permits smoking in restaurants and public places. Fayette County banned it long ago and the much feared consequences for business never really materialized. Is resistance still prevalent in Jessamine or is this issue beginning to change?

Cloud: I believe the issue is beginning to change. We don't have an ordinance in place for a smoke-free Jessamine County. But the majority of businesses in Jessamine County don't allow smoking. They've done this on their own, they have listened to their own customers. The director of our health department is on the statewide committee for smoke-free Kentucky. So there is — there's definitely education there and there's definitely someone to represent that issue, and moving forward it may come to the forefront.

Tom Martin's Q&A appears every two weeks in the Herald-Leader's Business Monday section. This is an edited version of the interview. To listen to the interview, find the podcast on Kentucky.com. The interview also will air on WEKU-88.9 FM on Mondays at 7:35 a.m. during Morning Edition and at 5:45 p.m. during All Things Considered.

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