Recently, officials with the City of Prestonsburg and Floyd County Fiscal Court announced that they are jointly seeking to acquire the property that houses the former Thunder Ridge raceway.
In making the announcement, officials said they want take the property and make it an industrial site to attract potential employers to the community.
It’s an attractive facility in terms of economic development, because of its location in proximity to U.S. 23 and its infrastructure. In fact, one local business — Big Sandy Rural Electric Co-Op — has expressed interest in potentially moving its headquarters from Paintsville to the newly-proposed industrial site.
Overall, it’s not an unwise move on the surface. After all, in order for our region to attract business, there has to be land on which those potential businesses can locate.
And our region and the individual communities therein need new jobs.
However, as with most things, there’s a catch. An industrial park in Eastern Kentucky is no guarantee of success, either quick or otherwise.
In 1999, following then-President Bill Clinton’s visit to Hazard and the announcement of his “New Markets Initiative,” announcements were made regarding the Mossy Bottom Industrial Park just off U.S. 23 in Pikeville. The primary announcement regarded SYKES Enterprises, which was to be the first tenant of the industrial park which would then be filled by other tenants. More than 20 years later, Mossy Bottom Industrial Park has tenants, but mainly has served as an expansion site for already-established local businesses.
I joined numerous other reporters in covering the 1999 announcement of SYKES Enterprises, which left the industrial park just a few years later. Since that time, I’ve covered or overseen the coverage of numerous other parks like Mossy Bottom.
None have lived up to their vision of bringing hundreds of jobs to the region by bringing in outside industry, though some have seen limited success.
One recent project, the Kentucky Enterprise Industrial Park in Pikeville, has had a rough time getting off the ground, though there has been activity surrounding two spec buildings built at the industrial site. However, again, the promised spurt of activity has not yet materialized.
I’m not saying neither of these will ever serve to help build Eastern Kentucky’s rebound economy, just that it hasn’t happened yet.
What is occurring behind the scenes and what will have to occur if the Thunder Ridge site comes to fruition is work, and a whole lot of patience. I would caution that Prestonsburg and Floyd County not put all their eggs in one basket.
Work toward developing the park if it’s established, sure, but also focus on building and supporting small business and local entrepreneurship.
We all want to find that one quick fix that helps stop the hemorrhaging of jobs this region has experienced since the decline of the coal industry. But industrial parks are not a guaranteed win in that column.
I would challenge communities like Floyd County when faced with these kinds of opportunities to take chances and invest, but also focus on the small-scale and realize that an industrial park is a long-haul investment and may not be the final answer to what makes our economy recover.