Promise Zone delivers in first year

Jerry Rickett
Jerry Rickett

By Jerry Rickett

It’s been a year of firsts for Kentucky’s Promise Zone. We’ve hired a coordinator, created a strategic plan, established six working committees and conducted meetings in each of the eight Southeastern Kentucky counties in the zone.

Last year, President Obama announced that Bell, Harlan, Letcher, Perry, Leslie, Clay, Knox and part of Whitley would become of one of the five federal Promise Zones. As such, the area will gain a competitive advantage in applying for federal funds as well as additional assistance from various federal agencies that oversee housing, education, economic development, agriculture and safety. Those agencies also will provide increased coordination to help the counties maximize federal and private investment.

We’ve listened. We’ve collaborated. We’ve planned. And those efforts already are paying off.

Programs in the Promise Zone have attracted more than $109 million in funding. Investments already are being made in areas such as education; medical facilities; college and career readiness; online information technology degree and certificate programs; workforce training; health and anti-drug initiatives; and housing and energy-efficiency projects. Some of the highlights include:

• More than $44 million in grants for education projects that support a college-going culture and mental health initiatives.

• $23 million for hospital improvements to the Knox County Hospital, which not only will improve medical care but save more than 200 jobs.

• An announcement that Kowa Kentucky, Inc. will open a facility in Corbin to manufacture surface treatment for automotive suppliers and create 30 jobs. It is the first North American plant for Kowa and the first Japanese company to locate in the Promise Zone.

• Co-investment from the state and federal governments in local companies such as Phillips Diversified, which is headquartered in Manchester. KHIC completed two loans last year with Phillips Diversified — one loan in partnership with the Economic Development Cabinet and the other with USDA to create about 40 jobs.

• An announcement from Governor Steve Beshear and Congress Hal Rogers on awarding the construction contract for Phase One of the broadband initiative as part of SOAR. Promise Zone counties are included in Phase One.

During the first year, the Kentucky Promise Zone has held listening sessions for adults and youth in each of the counties. That information was then used to create a strategic plan, which was approved by our advisory committee last fall and identifies partners for every goal.

We have formed working committees around the six key areas identified in our Promise Zone application – agriculture/healthy foods, communication (broadband), education, economic development, housing and health care.

With input and effort from the entire community, we are well on our way to creating and implementing a sustainable, measurable strategy for the future.

Our growing number of strong partnerships is a reflection of the commitment and an indication of our likelihood of success. KHIC is coordinating and managing the process, but the number of Promise Zone partners has grown from 12 to 42 partners — ranging from the private sector to local governments to nonprofit organizations.

The USDA has given priority to the five Promise Zones and has hired a federal coordinator. Its Kentucky office also has helped with our roll-out.

Through the Promise Zone, we will leverage public and private investment to achieve locally driven initiatives that lead to a stronger, sustainable economy. How do I know? It’s already started in Year One.

The promise is federal, the plan is regional and the impact will be felt in communities, schoolrooms and homes throughout the zone.

You can learn more by visiting http://www.kypromisezone.com/ and participating in one of the annual listening sessions or periodic visits being held in each county.

Rickett is president and CEO of Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, which was founded in 1968 to stimulate economic growth in nine counties in Southern and Eastern Kentucky, now serves 22 counties in the region and has created more than 20,000 jobs