We've got ideas but not gumption

A couple of things stand out in the latest assessment of Central Kentucky's economic climate: We don't trust each other, and good ideas here languish for lack of capital to pursue them.

Let's talk about the second point first.

When you look at the draft market assessment conducted by Austin's AngelouEconomics for Commerce Lexington and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, it's no surprise there are lots of good ideas here.

It reports that in 2008 the University of Kentucky spent more than $336 million on research and development and Eastern Kentucky University kicked in another $540,000.

We also have a lot of very well-educated people in the region. The Bluegrass is almost an idea factory when you look at it that way.

But ideas remain just that unless there's the money to support the often long, arduous path from research result to marketable product.

One stop along the way is getting a patent and we rank very low there. Lexington was last among the comparison communities in patents issued per capita.

This sad result, the report dryly notes, "indicates a lack of connectivity between research efforts ... and the larger community, including entrepreneurs who may serve as a bridge from academic research to commercialization."

Even if that bridge were built, the report raises doubts about whether people with money in Central Kentucky would be willing to take a chance on a new idea.

"According to some stakeholders, investors in Lexington are hesitant to invest in high-risk or non-traditional ventures," the report says.

That uneasiness about taking a leap of informed faith seems to extend to public officials in the several counties that make up our region.

The very first point in the executive summary notes that communities gain competitive advantage through regional approaches but "currently, in the Bluegrass Region there is a scarcity of trust and collaboration," and "stakeholders across the region noted that public sector officials still need a significant amount of convincing that regionalism is a worthwhile concept."

This is not surprising, but it is discouraging.

Everyone knows that addressing many of our most pressing issues — congested roadways, poor air and water quality, urban sprawl, lack of integrated economic development — can't be satisfactorily addressed without true regional cooperation.

It gets regular lip service, and Bluegrass Tomorrow and Mayor Jim Newberry even took a shot at it early in his term, but the effort fizzled.

The report, of course, also notes our region's significant advantages. In addition to an educated population, we have a low cost of living, a high quality of life, a major university, strong public schools and low unemployment.

But nothing ever gets better by reveling in the strong points while neglecting the shortcomings.