By Lance Minnis
We have a problem creating growth in our community. Without job creation, residents are forced to seek work further and further afield, eventually resulting in moving for those most able. Likewise with recent graduates, our schools do an excellent job of creating college-ready, career-ready young adults, who promptly leave upon graduation. Nine dollar per hour part-time work is not enough, and never will be. This is a problem faced by the entire nation. Rural areas are shrinking and urban areas are growing. Communities like ours that straddle interstates and are close to major urban areas face serious challenges in keeping residents, and in generating opportunities for those residents. It is very difficult to avoid the “bedroom” scenario, a small group of affluent who move to the country for peace and quiet, a larger group who sleep here (in our case, nearly 50%) but work outside the county, and the remainder- the elderly and very young, and those few who man what services and professions we have here. Other national trends of the last 13 years also work against us, making it harder for small businesses to start up, attract funding, create jobs and expand.
The good news is we have several opportunities available. They require vision and entrepreneurship. While local governments love bedroomers, because they typically raise property values (the basis of local tax revenue), yet require little in the way of local resources. Bedroomers, if engaged, can also be sources of capital and ideas. Our unique blend of well-educated students, ample farmland, labor, bedroomers, and town placement enable us to take advantage of them.
The recent hemp bills, and related Federal waivers, open a huge new cash crop that will require well-educated agriculture managers. Kentucky was once the largest industrial hemp producer in the nation. The same soil and family farms that thrived on tobacco can do the same with hemp. A revitalization of the community’s agriculture would go far toward maintaining the sort of rural lifestyle we treasure. At the same time, towns like Campbellsburg and Eminence have the opportunity to become warehouse and manufacturing centers — hemp can be turned into paper, fuel, cloth, rope, etc. Rather than ship the raw material down the road elsewhere, why not process it here and send the finished good down the road with our access to two interstates? Again, skilled and unskilled workers would be needed in abundance.
We have an opportunity right in front of us, of which I’m happy to say some few members of the community already take advantage. We are a breadbasket county.
We have the ability to produce a great deal of fresh food. This is already happening, albeit in a haphazard singular fashion. In Louisville, fresh food from Henry County is available all over: Rainbow Blossom, Whole Foods, The Root Cellar, and farmers markets not to mention restaurants and caterers like Eiderdown and Farm to Fork. The market is ready but it also needs for more providers and a coherent marketing strategy. Most producers are on their own at this point for the marketing and distribution of their products. The job opportunities are numerous, with proper vision and collaboration.
Lastly, there is opportunity to bring those same products here, to our community. As I said a moment ago, I can find all those wonderful products in Louisville, but not here. There is no central location to purchase locally farmed meat, cheese, produce, or fruit. To my knowledge, no restaurant here uses local ingredients in their meals either. Of course, I would be happy to be proven wrong on that score. This means we are a food desert in the midst of plenty. Junk food abounds, and more is coming, yet a fresh meal of all local ingredients is nearly impossible to prepare for those who keep traditional work hours and don’t have the ability to shop in Louisville. It could happen, with vision, collaboration, and leadership. These qualities need to come internally- no national retailer will make this happen for us. I think it can be done, and I think we would all be healthier, happier, and more prosperous to boot. Good goals to strive for.
Lance Minnis is Vice President of Commonwealth Financial Advisors, LLC, a Registered Investment Advisor. All opinions are his, and do not constitute investment or financial advice. He can be reached at 502-423-7420.