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'Innovision 2018' compares Bluegrass, other regions

Kentuckians too long bought into the notion that if communities had cheap land, cheap labor and some government incentives, companies would be beating down their door.

"That is the old-style thinking and it's becoming less true all the time," Gov. Steve Beshear said at a meeting Thursday sponsored by Bluegrass Tomorrow, a regional planning group.

The new reality, Beshear said, is that company executives explore every aspect of a community from tax rates to museums, recycling, emissions reports and energy supply.

At Thursday's meeting, findings were presented from "InnoVision2018," a study commissioned by Bluegrass Tomorrow in 2007 that compares 22 metropolitan regions around the country with the Bluegrass.

Every city had its struggles, but each one embraced changes to create a brighter future, Steve Austin told the more than 300 business, education and public officials from the 13-county Bluegrass region in the audience. Austin is former president of the Bluegrass Tomorrow. His consulting firm was hired to do the study.

Among the metropolitan areas Austin used for comparison were Austin, Texas; Raleigh, N.C.; Greenville, S.C.; Chattanooga; Fort Collins, Colo., and Athens, Ga.,

Chattanooga, for instance, was once called the dirtiest city in America, Austin said. "But Chattanooga is on the rebound," he said. Ten miles of river walk were built beside the Tennessee River. A fleet of electric buses links downtown landmarks such as the Tennessee Aquarium to the baseball stadium.

The Bluegrass must use the next 10 years to strengthen its position as a 21st-century economic winner, Austin said. By mid-21st century, India, China and Southeast Asia will form the world's dominant economic bloc, Austin said, and to avoid competition from Asian workers, American efforts should be focused on developing "place-based work that can't be outsourced." This includes new technology jobs, health care, arts, education, agriculture, historic and environmental restoration.

Mayors Jim Newberry of Lexington and Jerry Abramson of Louisville were the other keynote speakers.

Abramson said Louisville had created "buzz" about its downtown by reclaiming its waterfront, turning it into a park several miles long, and creating the Fourth Street Live entertainment district. Last year its downtown attracted 5 million people, he said.

One of Lexington's current initiatives is developing a higher-education triangle by linking the University of Kentucky, Transylvania University and the Eastern State Hospital property, slated to become the campus for the Blue Grass Community and Technical College.

"Right in the middle of the triangle is downtown," Newberry said.