The Ashland Alliance's annual banquet on Thursday night was a great event for all the right reasons.
We've been to many of these types of gatherings across the nation over the years. Some have true meaning. Some don't. This one definitely had meaning because it highlighted actual, concrete momentum building in the economic development field in the region.
The keynote address was from Braidy Industries Chief Executive Officer Craig Bouchard. It was an informative presentation because Bouchard talked about the technology Braidy is developing, the commitment to the mill and the strategy for getting it all done. Bouchard talked about Braidy's "building a community -- not a company." Bouchard also made a presentation aimed at area youth, highlighting keys to success in life. And, Bouchard made some much-needed comments about the need for all of us to set aside political divisiveness and work together for a common good.
We write today, though, about all the other interesting news to be had at the gathering. First, the big news growth is growth is clearly happening beyond Braidy. This includes Wright Mix Material Solutions in Greenup County -- a project that is expected to create 130 jobs, the revival of a Boyd County rolling mill by SWVA Kentucky and Steel Dynamics, and growth at Portable Solutions. Many more examples were cited.
We were especially impressed by comments from Matt Satterwhite, chief executive officer at Kentucky Power. Satterwhite is working to promote economic development in the region, often behind the scenes. Kentucky Power was critical in making it possible for Braidy to set up shop in the region. Satterwhite spoke of going to the White House on several occasions to discuss strategies for growth and to promote the region as a place for new innovation. He highlighted the fact that our area has eight times the national average of workers with metal fabrication skills, and that this is now one of the most sought after workforce skills in the nation. We were most impressed by Satterwhite's comments aimed at instilling a culture of entrepreneurship in Boyd, Greenup and Carter counties. He encouraged attendees to think outside of the box when it comes to innovation, starting new business, and coming up with business models that could be completely new in their approach to generating commerce.
"We in Central Appalachia can be the growth corridor, leading the nation, and we can do it if we work together," Satterwhite said.
Why does all this matter? This type of thinking is required to transform the region into a leader of the new economy. There is huge potential ahead. It requires new ways of thinking, new approaches and new collaborations. Also the instances of actual growth at local companies show a lot of the public investment from the state and local governments is working. Sure, there is a long ways to go, and sure, it would be nice if none of it needed public money, but that's not reality. Private-public partnerships are required in many instances to get major movement on economic development.
It was also encouraging to simply to see all of the parties coming together under one roof to talk about strategy and approach. Nearly 1,000 people attended the event at Veloxint -- a remarkable, 50 percent increase from attendance numbers in the last couple of years. Ashland Alliance deserves credit for the progress made. All of it combined Thursday night demonstrated to us that it is, in fact, true: progress is being made, and more is on the horizon.