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Commerce Lexington launches fund-raising campaign aimed at growing jobs

A hot air ballon took flight during Commerce Lexington's official launch of the Full Stride initiative, held at Griffin Gate Marriott Resort & Spa, 1800 Newtown Pike, in Lexington, Ky., Wednesday, May 29, 2013. "Full Stride" marks the beginning of a new five-year economic development initiative for Commerce Lexington. As part of the breakfast event, a hot air balloon was launched to signify the launch of the initiative. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
A hot air ballon took flight during Commerce Lexington's official launch of the Full Stride initiative, held at Griffin Gate Marriott Resort & Spa, 1800 Newtown Pike, in Lexington, Ky., Wednesday, May 29, 2013. "Full Stride" marks the beginning of a new five-year economic development initiative for Commerce Lexington. As part of the breakfast event, a hot air balloon was launched to signify the launch of the initiative. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

Commerce Lexington unveiled a five-year private fundraising campaign on Wednesday to finance economic development efforts by announcing that it already has raised more than $2.5 million, or 65 percent, of its $4 million goal.

Initial contributions to the Full Stride initiative came from 26 local companies and organizations, with the largest amount coming from Toyota Motor Manufacturing. Individual donor amounts were not disclosed.

"Short of health and family, there is nothing more important in the world than a good job," Mayor Jim Gray said at the announcement event at Griffin Gate Marriott, which included a symbolic balloon launch.

Lexington now has 225,000 jobs, about 10,000 more than it had three years ago, Gray said. Still, he added, the local unemployment rate is more than 6 percent, which means the number of unemployed people looking for work would fill almost half of Rupp Arena.

"This effort is at the top of what we've got to do," Gray said.

Gray said job creation is the most important factor in keeping the local economy strong. And to get those jobs, he said, Lexington must "double down" on creating the kind of attractive, livable community that will attract the best people and employers.

The $4 million raised from private companies will be combined with economic development money appropriated by the Urban County Council. Commerce Lexington is seeking $2.275 million from local government over the next five years.

"This is a public-private partnership," said Bill Lear, managing director of the law firm Stoll Keenon Ogden.

Much of the money will be used to better market the Bluegrass region to employers. Strategies include encouraging companies already here to expand and recruiting diverse new businesses, including making calls on companies in Europe and Asia.

Other strategies include encouraging the development of small and minority-owned businesses through programs that provide loans and sales opportunities with area manufacturers. Also, the plan calls for several educational initiatives to improve workforce skills development.

"We have to create jobs," said Central Bank CEO Luther Deaton. "And we have to educate our workforce."

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