This article was featured in the Paducah Sun.

By David Zoeller, Paducah Sun

The majority of people who took part in a recent economic development survey list attracting more higher-paying jobs as a high priority for Paducah and McCracken County.

A total of 312 people completed the online survey as part of Forward Paducah, the strategic planning initiative Paducah Economic Development initiated in September. The effort is being directed by Avalanche Consulting, a Texas-based firm specializing in economic development strategy, research and marketing.

“Overwhelmingly, the responses pointed to the desire for better-paying jobs,” said Amy Holloway, president/CEO of Avalanche Consulting. “It came up over and over again, not just (the need for) jobs, but higher-paying jobs. Not retail jobs … we want better jobs.”

In response to what words they would use to describe the community, “the word friendly came up the most, followed by things like art and creativity, and historic,” Holloway said. “The word potential came up, and opportunity.”

The positive responses are important, Holloway said.

“A big part of economic development success is the attitude of the residents, and them being a cheerleader for your community,” Holloway said. “For us, it’s a good thing to see a majority of the words people use are on the positive side of things.”

The community’s history and art were also mentioned as things that make Paducah a great place to live, Holloway said, as well as downtown, the area’s affordability, its health care system, the river and safety.

Respondents listed location, transportation, higher education, business support and workforce  as reasons the area is a great place for business.

“When we asked about challenges, the word leadership came up,” Holloway said. “From the answers in the survey and our conversations in the community, I feel like it’s a perception that in the past leaders didn’t work very well together, but they’re on the right track and making progress there.”

Attracting and retaining young people was also listed as a challenge, along with power rates, Holloway said.

“We looked at power rates, and in some ways they’re (respondents) right and in some ways it’s not as bad as people think if you look at (national) comparisons,” she said.

When asked if they could wave a “magic wand,” and radically improve the economy, respondents again alluded to higher-paying jobs. “It’s an opportunity and a challenge, obviously,” Holloway said.

“The word manufacturing came up as an opportunity, along with keeping young people in the community,” Holloway said. “We need to make sure when we talk about manufacturing we talk about advanced manufacturing – operations that are very high-tech, very clean. I do think that’s an opportunity for Paducah. You have some of that going on within the region. It’s a manufacturing-focused area of the country.”

The high number of people who commute to work in Paducah was not addressed specifically in the survey, but Holloway said it is an issue that will be addressed in a data analysis.

“If the commuting patterns are greater than you would see in a comparable community then it does affect the strategy,” she said. “You really have to dig into the skill set of the people in surrounding counties so you know what your real labor base is.”

Forward Paducah is about at the halfway point, Holloway said. An initial report providing baseline data from the survey and community focus groups is expected to be completed this month. In January, work will begin on a second report that will contain a vision, goals, strategic recommendations and a time line. That report should be completed in March.

Strategic planning is crucial for economic development success, according to Holloway.

“No community in the country has the resources to go after every business out there,” Holloway said. “There are going to be businesses that are not a good fit for McCracken County and Paducah and other types of businesses that are a brilliant fit. That’s what we call targeting.

“I feel this strategy is about getting all your information together in one place and having an approach of organizing and telling your story better,” Holloway said. “That helps the entire community coalesce around the vision and goals. That’s been lacking in the past and that’s OK … we are working on improving that.”