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Survey finds Bluegrass malaise

Almost half of Bluegrass residents surveyed recently said Kentucky is not heading in the right direction and that economic development and jobs were their top concern.

Survey consultant Joel Searby presented the results on Friday to members of the Lexington-Bluegrass Association of Realtors and community leaders from 10 Central Kentucky counties that make up the area served by LBAR.

The 2,100-member Realtors' association paid for the survey as part of its push to encourage counties to work together more closely to bring economic, educational and cultural benefits to the Bluegrass region.

"Regionalism is the hot issue. It doesn't matter if you go to a meeting at the national, state or local level, people are talking about the benefits of working together across county lines," said Carl Tackett, a Scott County Realtor and a member of the regionalism survey task force.

Searby's firm, Strategic Guidance Systems in Gainesville, Fla., conducted the telephone survey over the past three weeks of 3,200 people in 10 counties served by LBAR.

Friday's results were the first phase of a comprehensive study of citizens' feelings about the Bluegrass.

Future surveys, to be conducted over the next several months, will focus on individuals' views on specific topics such as medical care, transportation and education.

Some of Searby's findings:

■ The Bluegrass region is not a clearly cohesive unit. Some 56 percent of respondents said the Bluegrass is just a geographic area. Only 34 percent saw it as an area where cities and counties worked cooperatively together.

"There is no grass-root sense that 'I'm part of something bigger than my county. Yep, I'm part of the Bluegrass region,'" Searby said. Respondents identified more with their city or county than the Bluegrass region.

"That is a big hurdle to overcome in bringing the region together, when the majority of citizens don't see the Bluegrass as a cooperative, cohesive unit," he said.

■ Regionalism is important in response to economic challenges. Studies show that people want to stay closer to home in hard economic times, but they don't want to become isolationists. "The middle ground is to identify with their region and support their region," Searby said.

Cities and counties that work together get more accomplished for their citizens and for the larger area.

■ When asked what defined the Bluegrass, respondents were uncertain. Their top four responses were elected officials, the University of Kentucky and its basketball team, business leaders and the horse industry.

■ Respondents did not have a clear sense of what factors can unite the region. "People did not have negative or combative feelings toward Lexington," Searby said, but at the same time, Lexington was not viewed as the unifying center of the region.

■ People are eager for a leader who will pursue economic and job development across the Bluegrass. Among the respondents, 40 percent said economic development was their No. 1 concern.

Promoting a regional spirit was a major focus in 2008 when Judy Craft served as LBAR president. "We can play off each other's strengths and weaknesses and have a more unified effort for the betterment of the whole area," she said after the meeting.

Because LBAR thinks the topic is so important, it will pay for Searby to return during March and April to visit all 10 Central Kentucky counties surveyed to present the results to citizen groups and community leaders.

The goal of the survey was to bring to light information to help people make decisions about the future of this area, Searby said. "It was not just about helping Realtors sell more houses."

Bruce Rankin, a Franklin County Realtor, said following the seminar he saw "great potential" in LBAR promoting regionalism. "If you cooperate, you can get a lot more done."