Recently, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced they had joined forces in a partnership raising their communities above any personal and local differences to create a new "super region" for manufacturing recruitment and development.
Supported and selected by the Brookings Institution, this new partnership entity will be a groundbreaker the nation will be watching and, hopefully, emulating as a collaborative initiative in economic development on this scale. Agreeing to steer it along initially is Ashland native Jim Host, founder of Host Communications. He knows what it is to be a risk taker, and I expect him to be up to the challenge.
Having been a Kentuckian all of my life and a University of Kentucky alumnus, I know firsthand the competitive spirit between the Lexington-based University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. They have been and most likely will continue to be intense rivals in athletics.
Courageously, the mayors of both cities have put any rivalries behind them and placed improving the future of their communities and state as the supreme goal. As Gray reportedly said, "This is about Kentucky." Amen.
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Manufacturing has always been a key component to successful economic development. Yes, you must have a good service industry base to be a well-rounded and efficient community. But a manufacturing operation, wherein you take raw materials and components, add value through modification and then export as a finished product to someone in another location is the key to raising the wealth of a community.
Not only does it bring funding to the manufacturer and community, but manufacturing creates additional jobs in other service organizations, its home community and those surrounding it.
Whether using coal, iron ore and limestone to make steel or taking complex components to manufacture and assemble motor vehicles, these processes create value and bring wealth to a company and community and support the creation of additional jobs.
I was impressed with the cooperative initiative begun several years ago by UK President Lee T, Todd Jr. and U of L President Jim Ramsey. They agreed to have their medical schools' specialities complement each other rather than compete with each other. This was a step in the right direction. So it is with the mayors of Kentucky's two largest cities.
I have never met Fischer, but I have known Gray and members of his family for more than 15 years. The folks at Gray Construction have been supportive of economic development for decades. The mayor's father, the late James Norris Gray, founded the company and was a pioneer in supporting economic development activities in Kentucky nearly 50 years ago. His son is keeping up the tradition.
Congratulations to Gray and Fischer. They have set a benchmark for more cooperation between communities. At some juncture, it's possible that some of the other 118 counties could set aside their rivalries and work together to transform to 50 or 75 counties and become more efficient and representative of a progressive state.