Op-Ed

Farmland preservation makes area attractive to business

The Fayette Alliance, Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and Fayette County Farm Bureau would like to make three points:

First: For Lexington to become a great American city, we must balance a vibrant downtown, healthy, well-designed neighborhoods, affordable housing, farmland preservation and environmental initiatives with development of our resources to accommodate growth.

In this time of recession and uncertainty, quality of life is our biggest calling card for economic development and job creation, as 70 percent of workers pick city first and job second in today's technology age.

Cities with the strongest economies have a defined "sense of self" and brand that can recruit and retain the best and the brightest. Manufacturing plants on our farms would jeopardize the value and integrity of our acclaimed Bluegrass brand that has proved essential to drawing everyone from doctors and young creatives to corporations to Lexington.

Second: Our rural area is the foundation of a $3 billion agricultural economy that is a pillar of international commerce and local economic activity.

Because of this role, we strongly support the Purchase of Development Rights program and the Rural Land Management Plan that govern how to use and protect our precious farmland.

The rural plan was adopted about 10 years ago, after a cross-section of our community — including leaders from the homebuilding, real estate, business, neighborhood, equine and agriculture sectors — met for two years to determine how best to manage and promote our irreplaceable Bluegrass farmland and its economic, natural and cultural resources.

Their work led to our nationally acclaimed PDR program, the 40-acre minimum rule in the rural area, one of the largest National Historic Districts in the United States and countless other land-use initiatives.

Like Toyota and Lexmark, our equine and general agriculture industries are major economic drivers that, too, have a factory floor — our finite Bluegrass soils and farmland.

Any sound business plan manages and leverages its facilities for purposes of economic growth; our farms are no different. Here are some key facts about what our farms mean to our local economy:

■ Our Rural Services Area supports more than 21,000 local jobs, including farm laborers, suppliers, tour guides, lawyers, vets, animal science researchers and sales agents. Vet payroll alone contributes over $17 million a year to our local government.

■ Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton are the largest Thoroughbred sales agencies in the world. Last year, they attracted investors from 49 countries and sold over a billion dollars of Thoroughbreds.

■ The Thoroughbred industry has stabilized. The average and gross sales prices have increased 20 to 40 percent from previous years. While projected foal crops are down, Lexington remains the epicenter of an international industry. More Thoroughbreds are bred, foaled and raised in Kentucky than in all other states combined.

■ Kentucky is also the largest beef-producing state east of the Mississippi. The Bluegrass Stockyards is the second-largest stockyard in the United States. Last year, the stockyards sold roughly $144 million in cattle at its Lexington facility and $350 million throughout its statewide network.

■ With grocery prices, transportation costs and populations reaching record highs, farmers are growing more food to satisfy demand, with crop receipts totaling more than $14 million. Food could become an incredibly powerful industry soon with improved processing, distribution and marketing systems.

■ Tourism is huge here. The 2010 Alltech-FEI World Equestrian Games had a $201 million statewide economic impact and jumpstarted a growing and documented sport-horse industry.

Nearly 2 million tourists came last year to visit the Horse Park and Fayette County farms. Tourism generates $15 million in local tax receipts annually. The Horse Park is home to 35 national equine operations that contribute more than $260 million to our local economy.

And the last point: Fayette County farms pay their way. They cost the city only 93 cents in police, fire and other services for every dollar of revenue they generate, unlike more intensive land uses. From an infrastructure standpoint, farmland is a key component to sustainable city planning.

We agree that our community should energetically pursue manufacturing and other job-creating opportunities, but that should be done on the 429 acres of land zoned for economic development, and the 12,000-plus acres of underutilized land inside the city.

In light of our $500 million water-quality problems, this approach will ensure that the infrastructure needed for factories and other manufacturing uses will be where our city can most efficiently and sustainably support them — inside the Urban Services Area.

This growth boundary has served our community incredibly well since 1958 when it was established, and we should protect it.

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