Critics of my Sept. 5 commentary, "Redirect land-use thinking; Open more agricultural tracts to manufacturing development," have taken the position that not a single acre of farmland in Fayette County's 127,818-acre Rural Services Area should be considered for manufacturing development.
Knox van Nagell of The Fayette Alliance summarizes the view: "We agree that our community should energetically pursue manufacturing and other job-creating opportunities, but that should be done on the 429 acres of land zoned for economic development, and the 12,000-plus acres of underutilized land inside the city."
Yet, the 429 acres inside the Urban Services Area — a total of 54,664 acres — are spread across dozens of tracts. The 12,000 acres she describes as underused are not zoned for manufacturing. A prospective large manufacturer could spend years attempting to get the zoning, permits and approvals to build there.
The Sept. 25 Herald-Leader article "More students, more headaches: Fayette schools cope with growth" reinforces this point. School officials say finding even the required 50 acres to build a high school is difficult. Attracting any new major factory requires hundreds of acres in a single parcel.
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I do not propose widespread development of farmland, and I do not suggest residential development of rural land. We should, however, consider developing some farmland for manufacturing, to bring more jobs paying middle-class wages. Building the Toyota factory has not destroyed Scott County's agrarian character.
Lexington is among America's 10 most-educated communities, with 38 percent of its adults having at least a bachelor's degree, compared to the national average of 26 percent. Yet the percentage of children living in poverty increased to 26.5 percent in 2010 from 14.7 percent in 2000. If we have such a highly educated work force and the unemployment rate was only 7.2 percent in August, why has the rate of children living in poverty here risen to 1 in 4?
The obvious answer is that too many jobs pay wages far less than middle-class, and that trend has accelerated with the loss of manufacturing and construction jobs. Too many of the recent new jobs pay $10 to $15 per hour and are in retail.
So the use of perhaps 1,000 acres for a manufacturing plant should not be completely foreclosed.
In an Aug. 30 letter to Jim Duncan of the Fayette County Division of Planning, Robert Quick, president and CEO of Commerce Lexington, said finding available land was one of the most difficult tasks his organization faces in attracting new businesses or getting existing ones to expand.
"After a thorough review of available land sites of 5 acres or larger, we found less than 75 acres currently zoned and usable within the urban service boundary," he wrote. "This situation often places Lexington at a competitive disadvantage when attempting to recruit new large-scale job creators to our community. They need land ready to build on quickly and do not have time for a lengthy land-use process and development. Therefore, it is an understatement to say that we need to have a sufficient supply of land that is readily available for economic development opportunities and job-creation projects."
One critic pointed out that agricultural land generates more income than it uses in publicly funded services: 93 cents in services for every $1 in taxes paid. That is compared to residential land needing $1.64 in services for each $1 in taxes.
However, the same report that outlined those costs, the 1999 American Farmland Trust's "The Cost of Community Services in Lexington-Fayette County," calculated that commercial and industrial land use takes 22 cents in public services for each $1 in taxes.
The report also shows that 70.38 percent of employee withholding taxes are withheld from commercial and industrial employees' paychecks, but only 2.87 percent comes from farmworkers' paychecks. And the critics fail to mention that only part of the money from horses sold in Fayette County remains here, and no sales taxes are paid on many sold here.
While the exact numbers for jobs and revenues indirectly generated by the Thoroughbred industry might be difficult to quantify, the total contribution is about 5 percent of the county's total economic activity, according to the 2005 report "Strategies for Developing Agricultural Opportunities in the Greater Lexington Area."
Therefore, it is more important for this community to provide good-paying jobs for thousands, rather than protecting the social and financial interests of the wealthy and a select few.