Owensboro’s Downtown Development Plan in New York Times

Downriver from Owensboro, KY, the Ohio River unfolds almost a mile wide. Photo/Keith Schneider

Downriver from Owensboro, KY, the Ohio River unfolds almost a mile wide. Photo/Keith Schneider

The New York Times today published my article on Owensboro’s downtown development plan, much of it financed by a local tax increase enacted in 2009. Though the public spending has spurred new development and thousands of jobs in the last two years — Owensboro has generated 2,400 jobs in 2010 and 2011, more than any other Kentucky metro area — just two of the seven elected leaders who voted for it are still in office.

Nearly 40 of those new jobs are at Kentucky BioProcessing, a biotech production company in Owensboro. More details on the company are here.

Like other places in the United States, Owensboro is in the distressing grip of the politics of austerity and disinvestment, though that may be weakening. During the reporting for this article Mayor Ron Payne told me he is considering entering the race for a second term. The 65-year-old moderate Republican is credited with leading the work to spur downtown construction projects currently valued at almost $180 million.

owensboro Kentucky BioProcessing

The reporting and details of the Times article are based on the six months of research and interviews I did for Citistates, which prepared a lengthy three-part report — What’s Done, What’s Next: A Civic Pact — that suggested a new development strategy for the Ohio River city of 57,000. When I first got to Owensboro in May I was told by a number of people that if Payne ran again he would lose. The sense was that he’d stiff armed the city commission and local leaders into embracing the tax increase against the public will. In other words, Americans want real leaders but when they actually elect a real leader they often can’t wait to get rid of him.

The new assessment of Payne is that he’s likely to win if he runs again. He will announce by the end of January 2012.

I also learned today from Rodney Berry, the president of the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro, that six community meetings are planned to review the Civic Pact study, its 12 recommendations, and “to identify individuals and groups that may be interested in being involved in implementation.” The foundation contracted with Citistates to conduct the study.

— Keith Schneider

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