I came to Kentucky in 2003 to try out my ideas on how to position an academic medical center in a rapidly changing health care environment, intending to return to the east or west coast after three or four years.
Fourteen years later, Ellen and I are still here and intend to maintain a residence in Lexington for the duration. Why the change in plans? University of Kentucky Healthcare had some early successes and I thought I could help extend them. As important, we came to appreciate the wonderful lifestyle here.
In my opinion, Lexington/Fayette County has the potential to attract and keep people and businesses that will make it a successful 21st century city. We must harness this potential.
Let me explain.
My original concept was that UK Healthcare would best serve the commonwealth by focusing on building advanced subspecialty programs on campus that would rival the best in the country. At the same time we realized we needed to develop partnerships with local providers to make them stronger and more able to keep appropriate patients closer to home. This strategy worked better than anyone anticipated.
Not only has UK Healthcare evolved, but the rest of UK has also undergone explosive dynamic growth under the leadership of presidents Eli Capilouto and Lee Todd. UK is becoming a nationally ranked major research intensive institution with facilities, infrastructure and technology that support and engender new economy growth.
Likewise, legal, banking and other business-support institutions are serving regions beyond the Bluegrass. Lexington is positioning itself to become a successful new economy city that will be critical to much of the rest of Kentucky just as the university has been.
Lexington must leverage these tremendous economic development opportunities.
From a lifestyle perspective, it is difficult to beat Lexington and the Bluegrass. I enjoy being able to walk to Starbucks and neighborhood restaurants. Downtown has become increasingly vibrant.
To me, however, what is truly special is to have this maturing urban core surrounded by the beauty and accessibility of the Bluegrass. The serenity and charm of our farmland and scenic byways make our community a special, almost unique place to live.
When I set out to build world class clinical programs, I knew the people I wanted and needed had choices.
Initially, I thought Kentucky might be a disadvantage in recruiting them. In reality, Lexington became a distinct asset.
Recruits quickly realized that Lexington is a safe, family-friendly community with a city core that rivals much larger metropolitan areas, surrounded by the spectacular landscape of the Bluegrass. I often toured prized recruits through campus, downtown, past Rupp Arena and then out to the countryside for a horse farm tour, then lunch. Lifestyle issues are critical to the talented professionals that we need to recruit to fulfill Lexington’s ambition to become a successful 21st century city.
Consequently, I applaud Mayor Jim Gray’s efforts to strengthen the vitality of Lexington. I support continued aggressive, carefully planned infill development. Much has already been done; much infrastructure has already been put in place; much more needs to be done. Economic growth that this type of expansion creates will be sustainable and substantial.
At the same time, we must protect the specialness of the Bluegrass and understand how it uniquely enhances our lifestyle and thereby our competitiveness.
Central Kentucky needs economic development through advanced manufacturing and other industries but this expansion should be carefully planned with a long-term vision. UK has developed a 25 year plan on how precious real estate should be utilized. This plan will be modified but it provides an approach that avoids piecemeal development.
I support holding the urban boundaries for the immediate future and reinforcing the emphasis on improving the core of the city. At the same time, I support a more comprehensive planning process for economic development beyond the present boundaries to maximize best use.
Dr. Michael Karpf was executive vice president for health affairs at the University of Kentucky until his retirement in September. He wrote this op-ed from a personal perspective and not as a representative of any organization.