During a fast-paced meet-and-greet bus trip through seven southeastern Kentucky counties this week, a group of 35 Central Kentucky business people worked to build cooperation with community leaders and political leaders.
Commerce Lexington organized the trip, called the Kentucky Regional Tour, which took place Monday and Tuesday. The contingent made 11 stops, shook a lot of hands and toured facilities such as the Rockcastle Regional Hospital in Mount Vernon and the Laurel County Judicial Center in London, which opened in August.
"It's all about relationships," said Kim Menke, Commerce Lexington's chairman of the board.
It looked as if many new relationships were formed.
The businesspeople ate lunch with U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers at the Center for Rural Development in Somerset and dinner with state Sen. David Williams at Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park.
They toured the houseboat manufacturer Stardust Cruisers in Monticello and saw Trooper Island at Dale Hollow Lake, Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery in Russell County and Tarter Gate company in Dunn ville. The last stop was lunch Tuesday at the Bread of Life Cafe in Liberty. Proceeds from the restaurant help fund the Galilean Children's Home.
"We come without any agenda. We want to come, explore, see what they want to show us," said Woodford Webb, president of The Webb Cos.
The Lexington group received a warm welcome at their many stops.
"We are tickled to show off our facility," said Tyson Baker, supervisor of patient transportation at the state-of-the-art Saint Joseph-London Hospital in London. "We're proud you came, and come back again."
Wayne County Judge-Executive Greg Rankin welcomed the tour because, he said, those living in the region have not always done a good job of publicizing its benefits.
"You never know where that one new idea will come from that makes things happen," Rankin said.
In each town, Commerce Lexington Executive Director Bob Quick presented the mayor and county judge-executive with a basketball signed by UK men's basketball coach John Calipari and a football signed by football coach Joker Phillips.
Lexington's Chamber of Commerce — an organization that predated Commerce Lexington — made similar trips out into the state until 1977, when they were discontinued.
Three years ago while chairman of the Commerce Lexington board, Webb suggested the tours be resumed as a way to build a stronger sense of regionalism.
Last year, the tour went to cities in Eastern Kentucky. "We had so many things in common with places we visited," Quick said. "But until we went, and saw and talked, we didn't realize that."
"We have to stop thinking of Lexington as the state's second largest city and expect other people to come to us," Webb said Monday. "We all are seeing things that are very impressive."
The tour stopped at the Tarter farm and ranch equipment company in Casey County, the nation's largest manufacturer of farm gates, and those on the bus heard about the vibrant economy in Laurel County, where there are 1,000 "positions open for employment," said Rick Cochrane, the London director of risk management.
Judy Taylor, government relations director for Keene-land Race Course, who was on the tour, said learning about other communities firsthand helps erase the rural-vs.-urban schism that frequently divides parts of the state.
"We don't want it to be that way," said Taylor, a member of Commerce Lexington's economic development committee. "We have needs. You have needs. Where can we be supportive? That's the attitude we must have."