As Frankfort navigates the most fragile economy in nearly a century, a lack of land to accommodate new manufacturing jobs is a crisis that must be addressed by elected leadership — especially the Franklin County Fiscal Court.
The Kentucky Capital Development Corp. reported last week that the county has just nine developable acres for industrial jobs, which are going to be more important than ever as government jobs — long our community’s economic anchor — shrink and the retail sector is disrupted in the short term by COVID restrictions and permanently by e-commerce.
Yet, a majority of the fiscal court has launched an untimely critique of the community’s economic development entities, casting one vote after another in recent months to undermine their efforts while offering no competing plan or vision for building Frankfort’s economy. To recap, the magistrates:
- Reduced funding for KCDC, a joint city-county agency tasked with recruiting new employers.
- Eliminated funding for Downtown Frankfort Inc. at a time when retail merchants and restaurants are hanging on for dear life.
- Were dragged kicking and screaming into merely studying a possible funding mechanism for public infrastructure needed to jumpstart the development of former Capital Plaza land downtown.
- Rejected the nomination of John Senter, one of the community’s most astute business minds, for the Frankfort-Franklin County Planning Commission.
- Refused to rezone land adjoining a current industrial park, heeding the complaints of environmentalists, preservationists and neighboring property owners while ignoring the pleas of the business community.
As KCDC Treasurer Zachary Horn wondered aloud at a board meeting last week, “Who would want to do any industrial development in Franklin County?”
At a time when most communities are working hard to tell the world that “We’re Open for Business,” magistrates have, through their actions, erected a flashing red “Closed for Business” sign at the county line. This at a time when Franklin County has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the state's 17-county Bluegrass region — an embarrassing ranking for Kentucky’s capital city.
Manufacturing is poised for a comeback in this country after decades of decline. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle have prioritized the need to bring those jobs back to America, after COVID-19 revealed the risk of relying on foreign countries for personal protective equipment and other essential goods.
Rural America stands to be the beneficiary of a manufacturing resurgence. Specifically, those communities that know how to balance economic and environmental interests in their land use management, have excellent infrastructure and a ready and willing workforce will prosper.
Franklin County right now is ill-prepared. It's on elected to leadership to fix that.