CATLETTSBURG Boyd County Fiscal Court is going “to put its money where its mouth is” in terms of economic development, according to Judge-Executive Eric Chaney.
The Boyd County Fiscal Court voted Tuesday to enter into a three-year contract with Retail Strategies, a firm that connects local governments and economic development authorities with retailers looking for new markets.
The three-year contract will cost $185,000 — $85,000 will be paid in the first year, then $50,000 per year for the next two.
The firm works with retailers to get site proposals from county governments in front of them, according to Boyd County Economic Development Director T.J. Morrison. Stressing the firm is not a developer, but a partner, Morrison said the idea is to facilitate growth, not force it on landowners.
Essentially, the firm will add additional resources to the Economic Development Director position, which Morrison and Chaney both said had devolved into a catch-all position for various special projects that had nothing to do with econ-development work.
Morrison recalled he spent months trying to get a site proposal in front of a company. Once the company had it in hand, all communications ceased.
“No emails or phone calls were returned,” Morrison said. “These companies don’t care about us, they care about their bottom line. I know Boyd County can help their bottom line, but they don’t know that yet.
“The fact is, there’s 12,000 people across the country just like me trying to get site proposals in front of these companies. They can’t field all of these proposals,” Morrison noted.
One of the advantages of Retail Strategies, according to Morrison, is the retirees from major retailers are often hired by the firm. Those connections can get a foot in the door for a site proposal to be seriously considered, Morrison said.
With 78% of the U.S. economy in the service industry, Morrison said the common wisdom of “smokestack chasing” in economic development “makes no sense.”
“We have to be realistic, because we keep losing jobs,” Morrison said. “If we want to turn this around, we’re going to have to focus on the service sector and quit waiting on the industrial sector to come back. If we’re going to get different results, we’re going to have to do something different.”
Taking a county-wide approach, Morrison said Catlettsburg and Ashland will be a part of the strategic plan the company draws up.
Morrison cited Florence and Bowling Green, Kentucky, as locales that have successfully used the services of the company.
However, Morrison did warn the fiscal court that this contract isn’t a magic bullet to Boyd’s economic woes.
“This isn’t the answer, but it’s a step forward,” Morrison said.
Chaney said he was impressed when he called Florence — which he noted had a lot of competition in the Cincinnati metro area — and its economic development director mentioned that while Retail Strategies is one of the best firms for bringing in retailers to his area, it is only one of four to six firms the city uses a year to bring companies to the area.
“That told me right there we’ve been spinning our wheels for 30 years,” Chaney said. “You get out of economic development what you put into it.”
Chaney issued a challenge to the fiscal court to find the money to up economic development expenditures from $100,000 per year to $500,000 per year.
Prior to voting on the contract’s approval, Commissioner Keith Watts said, “Go big or go home.”
Commissioner Larry Brown said he’s happy to see the results of the agreement, stating, “This is only going to be as good as we allow it.”
Commissioner Randy Stapleton said the first two years of the fiscal court cleared the way for the focus to economic development.
“This is a good start for doing what we said we’re going to do,” Stapleton said.
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