Council should back jobs plan

Lexington Herald-Leader

The Urban County Council will consider a proposal Tuesday from Mayor Jim Gray to set aside $2 million for what it calls the Lexington Jobs Fund.

This innovative approach to raising the economic bar in our community deserves the council's support.

It's a small pool of money in the world of economic development but will be carefully targeted to attract businesses that raise the economic bar and to help those already here to grow. As the draft proposal says, "we are not looking to match what our peers are doing dollar-for-dollar, but we are looking to invest in our community in a smarter way."

That smarter way is to target companies that already have been awarded competitive federal and state grants because their innovative research shows real promise of developing into commercial applications.

The jobs money — loans and grants with an emphasis on loans — would bridge the final gap for entrepreneurs trying to commercialize their bright ideas.

The idea of this program, while simple, makes real sense for this area. Home to the state's largest research university and with a raft of other higher education institutions, Central Kentucky offers an educated work force combined with high quality of life and relatively low cost of living.

With a narrow focus on high-tech firms that already have been vetted by federal agencies, this small fund can have more impact because it's competing in a smaller universe. Plus, it offers the possibility that Lexington can brand itself as the city that supports innovators in the early stages of business development.

The Jobs Fund is competing with many other projects proposed from the $12.4 million fund balance, the money that has accrued in the city budget after two years of reduced spending, Last week the council approved $7.3 million in spending from that pool for fire engines, police cars and other public safety equipment; facility improvements; and to beef up the city's financial reserves, commonly called the rainy day fund.

Those are all sound investments: in public safety, infrastructure and economic stability.

The Jobs Fund would be an investment in an economy that creates not just more jobs but better ones.

The council can make a wise investment in Lexington's future by using $2 million of the remaining funds to make this good idea a reality.